11 Unlikely Places Awesome People Found Their Purpose.

Sometimes inspiration shows up where you least expect it and when you least expect it.

Sometimes you search deep inside your soul for that one thing that ignites it and gives you a reason to live.

Other times, you are minding your own business, just looking for a plan and “BAM!” the answer is just sitting there staring at you. And you just know. You know. It's time.

What you are doing now is what you should be doing for the rest of your life.

You are not alone. Here are a few unlikely places awesome people have found their purpose. 

1. In People’s Faces

Brandon Stanton lost his job as a bond trader in 2010. Instead of polishing up his resume and trying to find a job doing the same ole thing, he decided that he would try something different with his new found love of photography.

So he started taking pictures - portraits - of people in New York. After a year of living broke with a refusal to give up, Humans of New York found traction.

Brandon has since raised millions of dollars for numerous causes, he’s published 2 books, and generates income speaking to audiences about his path from bonds to photos. 

2. On the Runway

Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss were just two Harvard Business pals who met weekly to brainstorm new and innovative ideas because they knew one day they would start a business.

One Thanksgiving, Jennifer Hyman’s sister needed an evening gown but was reluctant to pay the high-end price tag for the brand name dress. The Jennifer’s immediately knew what their new endeavor would be. A platform where women could rent designer evening gowns at a fraction of the price of purchasing. After all, women only wear those dresses a time or two so why not rent?

And so, Rent the Runway was born and has earned a cult following among women who love getting dressed up for life.

3. In an Oven

Debbi Fields was a happy housewife until she went to a dinner party one night and was made to feel inferior to the other guests who “had a career.” Devastated, Debbi decided she needed to do something with her life. And the only thing she loved was cookies.

So, Debbi Fields visited every bank with sample cookies until someone finally said yes. Even though her family thought she was crazy, she opened her first bakery and the brand Mrs. Fields Cookies was born.

It has grown over the years to a $450 million business all for the love of chocolate chips. 

4. In His Two-a-Days

In 1996, Kevin Plank was drenched with sweat in his cotton tee. He was doing two practices a day in the Maryland heat. He would have to change his tee shirts numerous times. He thought there had to be a better way.

He started researching synthetic fibers for use by athletes and came up with a synthetic blend that would pull the sweat away from the skin leaving the athlete more comfortable during practices and games. He spent his off time driving up and down the coast trying to sell his new invention.

A year later Kevin sold his shirts to a whole team. His first sale was for $17,000. A year after that, he moved from making the shirts in his grandmother's basement to a state of the art facility in Baltimore.  Under Armour clothing has been on an upward climb since then creating athletic wear for all seasons. 


5. In Vinyl

Richard Branson, having always had an entrepreneurial spirit, had an idea to sell discounted and import records via mail order in 1970. He wasn’t sure how to get started since he and his cohorts were all “complete virgins at business.”

After a rocky first year due to a postal strike, Richard opened up two stand-alone shops. Over the year, 12 more would follow in England and become hippie hangout spots. By 1973, Richard’s company was producing and distributing music and Virgin Records started their forty year climb in a thriving industry.

The Virgin label has become an umbrella business with more than 400 companies under it and is now worth billions of dollars. 

6. In Short Videos

Jonah Peretti sent an email to Nike questioning its labor practices. He then sent the exchange to 12 of his friends, who sent it to their friends, and so on until the email had been seen by millions of people and Jonah Peretti was briefly a household name.

Shortly after that, he was invited by John Johnson to come work for him in research and development. Jonah soon came up with the idea to create a site that delivered news in short, breezy video form.  

Buzzfeed was born and has since grown into a profitable venture that has received over $46 million in funding. 

7. In a Box of Groceries

In 2011, Matt Salzburg quit his job and started trying to come up with ideas for his own startup company.

After brainstorming and dismissing quite a few. Matt Salzburg, Matt Wadiak, and Ilia Papas came up with the idea of giving busy people the option of chef-designed meals carefully measured out and easy to prepare.

It was an immediate hit and Blue Apron has been growing ever since. It currently delivers recipes and fresh ingredients to millions of subscribers every month and is estimated to be a $2 billion business. 

8. Under Feathers

S. Truett Cathy started an Atlanta diner in 1946. Twenty years later he opened the largest chicken-based chain restaurant in the US and founded it on Christian and philanthropic principles.

With a deep love for customers and a heart for employees, Chik-Fil-A continues to be a favorite go to.

And you don’t have to go far to see the good works and deeds of its employees from feeding the homeless to giving new moms a night off from cooking, Chik-Fil-A stands beside the principles it was founded on. 

9. In a Green Bottle

In 1988, Jeffrey Hollender set out to revolutionize the way we cleaned. With eco-friendly cleaning supplies that were safe for kids and the environment alike, Seventh Generation became his passion.

For 23 years, Jeffrey lived and breathed green products. Until he was recently kicked out in one short, not-so-sweet phone call. But instead of sulking around like he could have, Jeffrey decided to get busy living.

After a quick week-long vacation in Italy, Jeffrey came back to the states and started living his new purpose that he found after being given the shaft: he’s now working on a new company that will invest in and support worker-owned businesses.

10. In a Bee Sting

Mikaila Ulmer got stung by a bee when she was four. Two bees, actually. At the same time, she got her hands on her grandmother’s family cookbook. Also around the same time, Mikaila was encouraged by her family to enter a local children’s business competition. The three things coincided at just the right time.

Mikaila started researching bees to find out why they were important at all. She decided to make her grandmother’s lemonade for the contest. And she chose to use local honey to sweeten it. From that experience,  Me-And-The-Bees Lemonade was born. Her product has since been picked up by Whole Foods Market and other natural food suppliers worldwide.

All from a bee sting.  

11. In the Shower

In the most unlikely of places, one of the most famous people in Hollywood finds his purpose for now. “In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you've left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you. It's the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that's crippling you when you're trying to write,” says filmmaker Woody Allen.

Sometimes Woody Allen stands in the shower for an hour just to get his creative juices flowing. Essentially, without the shower, Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris, and many others may have never existed. 

Finding your purpose isn’t always about looking for your purpose.

It’s more about keeping your eyes open to the possibility of something new and exciting. And watching as that becomes your purpose for now.

I wouldn’t recommend standing in the middle of a bees nest, but maybe taking a one-hour long shower or a long walk (or run) to clear your head are not bad ideas. Nor is brainstorming with friends or fellow classmates.

Inspiration hits when it’s time for it to hit.

Your job is to be open to it and to be listening when it whispers in your ear. 
 

Dan Waldschmidt