Why We Need To Keep Asking Why: Purpose and Intention in Business and Life

Ah, home photography. Why you've gotta keep asking why ... keepin' it light.

Intention guides most of us in the day-to-day. What do we need to get done in order to keep our customers or clients or teams happy? To keep the lights on in the business? To make it through the day or week without going completely nuts? But if intention rules for too long, there’s something in the soul begins to shrivel up. Intention needs purpose. And here’s why. 

Me, I’ve been lucky during this pandemic. I have my own office, for one thing. I still, in spite of all the time we’ve spent together in person this past year, have deep love for my husband and 10-year-old son. And I still, in spite of all the time we’ve not spent together in person, and spent together on Zoom, have deep love for my family, for my friends, and for my team at work—which has, during this time, become an extension of my family. I also still love my business, in all of the ways that love and business are messy, challenging, demanding, and utterly mind-boggling beasts.

After all, I lead a team that helps purpose-driven brands to tell their stories and to amplify their impact. What’s not to love? 

But like many of you I’ve struggled at times during this pandemic, grown weary and discouraged in bursts, just as I’ve been inspired and heartened. The ups and downs have felt higher, and deeper.

It’s the nature of my business to help others interrogate their purpose, and to express it through content. And so I’ve often found myself considering it. What is purpose? How does it drive us? And what happens when it fails to guide and lead us?

Here’s what I know: purpose is not the same as intention. And while intention has a habit of nosing in and leading us down some enticing garden paths (I really must download that ebook–wait what’s that new shiny thing?) we should be cautious when it leads without purpose. (This may be why well-known phrases like ‘She acted with the best of intentions’ never lead anywhere good.) 

Purpose is the anchor. It’s your why. Let purpose guide intention when you can.

Purpose is the big picture; it’s what we care about deeply, what we would be proud (secretly or otherwise) to be known for. It’s what, at the end of every month, day, or year, if we didn’t do it, we wish we’d done. 

What do you regret not yet doing in your life? As you unpack that one, my bet is that you’ll find clear illustrations of your purpose, not yet lived—or maybe that you’ve expressed in other ways. 

Intention, on the other hand, is more tactical. Intention is what you set out to do in order to get somewhere. It’s the spark, if you will, that becomes the flame. 

Intention is often close at hand. We can explain why we’re doing something right now, and even a little further down the road. The fascinating thing is that if we use something like the ‘Five Whys’ approach to interrogate our intentions, we can get close to a root cause—which just might be close to purpose. 

Purpose Vs. Intention: A Quick Illustration

I intended to write this article when I woke up this morning. 

Why? 

Because I know how important it is to publish content that engages my audience of clients and potential clients, and that lets them see me, my values, and my human-ness. 

Why this article? 

It’s been driving me up the wall: the difference between purpose and intention in life and business, and I wanted to explore it. 

Why write it, rather than just think it? Why publish it? 

Because I know that expression matters. Profoundly. Expressing what I know, or think, or am curious about, helps another to understand what I know, or seek, and that makes us feel connected, and less alone. 

Why does that matter?
It matters. Having lost people in my life to depression and suicide, I know the importance of feeling known, feeling seen, and feeling genuinely connected to other humans. 

There’s a particular feeling in the body when you get to the truth, isn’t there?

Intention to purpose. In a few strategic ‘whys’. 

The Purpose of Purpose in Brand Storytelling and Content Marketing

Most businesses know their purpose when they come to see us about telling their story. But some don’t. 

Particularly after a business has grown, and evolved, answering that question can be tough. Any business owner or leader can so easily get lost in the minutiae. In the spreadsheets. We have to be profitable, after all. We have to pay our employees. Wouldn’t it be delightful to pay ourselves? But note: making money is never a good enough ‘why.’ It’ll motivate you, and maybe others, for a while, but as humans, we respond to other callings.

And I shouldn’t have to elaborate further on why making money is not a compelling or even interesting brand story. 

If you’re unclear about your business purpose, try the Five Whys. Still not there: make it Ten Whys. Ask why in different ways. 

Or ask yourself these questions, as a business owner: what prompted you to start this business in particular? Why are you good at what you do? What prompted you to devote time to honing your expertise? Why does it matter to you? You’ll get to the root. 

And when you know your purpose, you’ll have a damned good story to tell. 

Our Purpose-Driven Story at Forge and Spark 

Purpose is the object to be reached, or reached for, by your actions. It’s the bigger picture. It’s the why. Intention is the specific motion to move toward it. It’s the focus of attention to make something bigger happen. 

Our purpose as an agency is really an extension of my personal purpose: to use communication to help people know they belong somewhere. As an agency, we’re a group of women who care deeply about communicating effectively, with care and kindness, in a way that allows leaders and brands to show up, and to be seen and heard, as humans. Why? Again, expression matters. It connects us. 

Our intentions: to develop and share an expertise in telling brand stories online and in social media—an arena with tremendous power that’s so often mis- or poorly used. To help business owners and leaders to clarify their stories, and to tell them with power—and with purpose—online. 

Go, with purpose. Tell your stories. Every single one matters. 

Want to feel proud of the stories you’re telling, and how you’re telling them? Schedule a call with us today. We’d love to chat about how we can help.

Check Out Our Portfolio

We work with purpose-driven companies and organizations on content strategy and implementation. Take a look at some of the work we’re proud of:

Shannon Emmerson
Shannon Emmerson
With 20+ years experience in creating and publishing digital content for a range of organizations, Shannon knows it’s all about stories. Inspired by: small acts of courage.