By Greg Reyneke, MWS

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to travel. I travel a lot and I travel far, an average of 200,000 kilometers (124,274 miles) each year. In those travels, I have the pleasure of meeting and working with individuals and teams around the world from various cultures, backgrounds and faiths. The people that I have enjoyed working with the most are those where we find a shared sense of purpose and meaning in the work we are doing together.

On a recent flight, while fidgeting with the irritating mandatory COVID face mask and realizing that I had been awake for the last 32 hours straight, the inevitable question came to mind: ”Why do I do this?” I reflected during my journey on the business of water quality management over the last few decades; how much I enjoy what I do and how much I appreciate my teams. I enjoy what I do because I have a sense of purpose. Our unique skills help us to provide products and services to fulfill people’s needs, while generating sufficient income to provide for our families and those people and causes we care deeply about.

2020 has been a challenging year and a lot of business owners, leaders and employees have been stretched to their limits in stress management. While low levels of stress have been found to be good, elevated levels of anxiety and uncertainty for extended periods of time have been demonstrated to negatively impact physical and mental health. 2020 has been the year where many folks have struggled to be happy. Businesses are struggling to adapt to a world ruled by governmental edicts that morph from one crisis to another, and being an election year in the United States, there are tough financial decisions to be made based on potential election outcomes. None of this promotes calm or happiness. Studying the psychology of human happiness leads one to conclude (albeit simplistically) that the easiest way to be happy is to find a sense of purpose in life. WHY you do it is far more important than WHAT you do or HOW you do it.

Every business knows what they do: they provide products and/or services for their clients. Not all businesses know how to do that well; this is a sad reality of business. Even fewer organizations know why they do what they do. It should not just be about the profits and paychecks; it should also be about the sense of purpose that galvanizes the team to truly excel.

Vic Strecher, Director of Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health suggests these six steps to find your company’s authentic purpose:

  • Consider the top three to five core values of the company. What are the things the company cares about the most? What is non-negotiable?
  • Consider other companies you admire and would want to emulate (not imitate).
  • Assume your company went out of business. In retrospect, what would you want it to be known for? What legacy would you like the company to leave?
  • Now that you have primed the pump, it’s time to ask: “What are the goals of your company that matter most?” These goals naturally emerge from what you value most.
  • Assemble these valued goals into an overall company purpose. This is where you stop and ask yourself: “Does this purpose transcend revenue?” Make sure the suit fits—your purpose can be aspirational, but it must be authentic.
  • Wear the suit. Make sure everyone in the organization understands the purpose. If the purpose does not fit, change it until it does.

Make it personal
In our personal lives as leaders and employees, this sense of purpose can be represented by a Japanese concept: Ikigai (生きがい), which is directly translated into English as reason to live, or reason for being. In the European tradition, we refer to this as our raison d’être, our reason to exist. Ikigai represents a state of being where you feel innately satisfied and fulfilled by matching your passion, mission, profession and vocation into one consolidated effort.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both.”—L.P. Jacks

As a consultant, one of my responsibilities is to ask questions—usually pointed and uncomfortable questions—that help expose the needed information to make critical decisions. When working on self-improvement or business-improvement, those questions are much more uncomfortable than simple business metrics or water-chemistry information.

Here are some tough questions for you to ask yourself:
What do I love? This does not necessarily have to be something you are good at, just something that you really enjoy doing.
What am I good at? You have certain talents you were born with, like comedy, compassion, art, math, learning, work ethic, etc.List everything you’re good at, whether or not you enjoy doing it.
What does the world need? This is not a market analysis; this is more of a philosophical question. The world needs a lot of things that transcend regular ‘business needs.’ Here are some common needs that some of our clients have identified: environmental sustainability, respect, empathy, integrity, punctuality, peace of mind, safety, clean and safe water.
What can I be paid for? What can you ethically do that will allow you to receive the money that you need and want? Do not be afraid to list everything from the macro level right down to the micro level.
Putting it all together. Once you have answered those questions, you will be able to compile your own personal Ikigai-wheel based on the Venn Diagram in Figure 1.
Now cross-reference the categories above and find your reason!
“If you are doing the work that you love and are devoted to the value that you hold highest, you are being as selfish as possible and yet are also being unselfish and altruistic.”—Abraham Maslow

The process of finding your reason is actually more important than the reason itself; this is an exercise you should engage in every year to help remind yourself of your established motivators and possibly even discover new ones as you grow and progress. When you find your reason, you will be happier, more motivated, more productive and more fulfilled. All our reasons are different and unique, but when we spend our days (and nights) feeling like we are working toward something meaningful and bigger than ourselves, we live fuller, happier and less stressful lives.

Additional reading
Richard P. Feynman. “What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character.” W.W. Norton, 2001.

Image Credit: The Innovative Water Project

About the author
Greg Reyneke, Managing Director at Red Fox Advisors, has two decades of experience in the management and growth of water treatment dealerships. His expertise spans the full gamut of residential, commercial and industrial applications, including wastewater treatment. In addition, Reyneke also consults on water conservation and reuse methods, including rainwater harvesting, aquatic ecosystems, greywater reuse and water-efficient design. He is a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee, currently serves as President of the PWQA Board of Directors and chairs the Technical and Education Committee. You can follow him on his blog at


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