New Lessons on Purpose from Harry Chapin, my Hero

New Lessons on Purpose from Harry Chapin, my Hero


People often ask me how I was inspired to create a life of purpose. As someone who has been writing about purpose and helping companies and their leadership find it for twenty years, I define purpose as an “aspirational reason for being that is about making life better now and in the future.” It’s a desire that benefits more than the self. For a company, it’s about wanting more than profit. For an individual, it’s about having deeper desires than pay or ego gratification.

One of my purpose heroes growing up was a singer named Harry Chapin who is most famous for his #1 song Cat’s in the Cradle, about a father too busy to be there for his son. I first saw Harry perform in Greenwich Village when I was sixteen years old, but I saw him about sixty times following that.

I loved his music but that isn’t what made him my hero. Most people don’t know that Harry Chapin performed almost half of his concerts for charitable causes. He often focused on hunger, an issue he cared deeply about. Long before rock stars started doing occasional benefits, Harry gave over nearly HALF of his income away to a variety of causes he chose.

He often said that “when I was young I always ranted that famous people didn’t give more and said if I ever become famous that’s what I will do. When I became successful, then I had to call my own bluff!” I learned from Harry-our purpose is not what we say it is, it’s what we do!

Having a purpose is one thing- many companies and many people have one- but calling your bluff is about really living your purpose when you might choose otherwise. This happened to me when a large tobacco company came to me about helping them with their corporate culture. The pay check would be big, but I’d just spent years saying I would only work for companies that cared about society. I said no.

The opposite happened when a large charity contacted me recently to support an event they were doing to launch support for social businesses. They admitted “we can’t pay you, but we think you can help.” I was very busy- with work that was paying- but I called my own bluff and it was deeply rewarding.

How do you need to call your bluff in your life, your leadership and in your company?  If you or your organization were REALLY serious about your purpose, how would you be acting differently?

If you have read this far, I want to share a new offer I am making. Any company that books me to speak, I want to see if I can also do a free session that same day for a charitable organization your organization supports. If you think your organization might be interested I would love to hear from you.



Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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