Choosing the Mission-Driven Life

Social entrepreneurs take the world's future into their hands. We understand that new solutions to urgent problems are needed, and that profit-driven corporations and short-sighted political interests won't provide them. To provide them is our collective mission.

But to take the world's future into our hands, we must take our own future into our hands. We must change ourselves by living meaningful, mission-driven lives. Deciding to do so is where social entrepreneurship begins.

As I recounted in my last blog, my life as a social entrepreneur began with a life-changing epiphany in a hotel room in Peru, when I realized that I could no longer stand participating in what I felt was a destructive and unjust system -- that I had more to offer to the world and that it was my responsibility to do so.

Leading to that epiphany, I had a recurring dream that haunted me deeply. I saw myself as a wealthy old man on the brink of death, and felt a visceral pain for having wasted my life on the greedy accumulation of wealth at the expense of others.

I had never felt such anticipated regret before. The dream had the power of a memento mori: an image of the spiritual death that awaited me if I didn't change my path.

So I changed it.

I now understood my responsibility in life: to take the gift of my talents, energy, and time and give something back to the world beyond myself.

Each of us receives those gifts. Each of us comes here with a purpose and talent. No one tells us what it is. We must find it out for ourselves. And once we do, we must put it all on the table and offer it up to the good of the whole.

It isn't easy. Social conventions often cut against us. Finding your unique mission -- and committing to it -- takes courage.

In my case, I gave up the certainty of a very high salary and a stable career to leap into the unknown. I had no idea what awaited me. That I would discover my mission in starting a fair-trade agriculture social enterprise in Mexico (in a different language, country, culture, and industry from my previous life) would have seemed unbelievable to me at the time. Only by seeking -- and risking -- did I find it.

Though social entrepreneurship begins with a decision about our own lives, ultimately it's about something much larger. A social entrepreneur knows that he or she is fundamentally part of an interconnected whole. We only benefit when the broader collective and environment benefits.

But it always comes back to how we live and value our lives, moment after moment, day after day. Valuing the world's future means valuing our own. Changing the world means changing ourselves.

The good news is, we can't lose. We can only win. Because the biggest loss of all is a wasted life.