At some point—during a formal meeting, while you’re mentoring someone or doing some community service, or maybe while talking to someone new to your life—be ready to hear the question, “Why do you do what you do?” Ahhhh. The “Why?”
It’s a powerful question, a popular question that pushes one to consider their mission, their purpose. Additionally, it is a question that might need more time (or times) than you have to answer completely. The next time someone starts with Why? remember to smile…you read this article. The conversation will be a good one, you will be equipped to get more from the discussion.
The Path Followed
I recently took a new position, moving internally from one organization to another. During the first four weeks, I met with people (via video). I asked if I could get on their calendar for a little bit of face time; I want them to know me, and I want to know them. In just about every conversation, as we shared some of our experiences and our backgrounds, we got to the question, “Why?” Often, it was me asking them, “Why do you stay in this organization?” And they asked me, “Why did you join this organization?”
Often, people tell me about the path they followed to get from where they were to where they are. When I ask, “Why do you work here?” they reply with, “Well, because…” They then share what happened through time. It’s a good exercise that I encourage all my friends, clients, and students to do.
In fact, if you want to try it during your next off-site, here is what I do:
- Fold a paper in four; label each of the four sections a “reality” or a “role” of your life. I could write: “Author,” “Supervisor,” “Husband,” “Triathlete.”
- For each one, write a minimum of four “Because…” statements. I could write, “Because I feel it is important to write what I have learned through my challenges.” “Because a friend of mind dared me to register in a race AND helped me train for it.”
- Once you’ve filled each quadrant (write as much as possible for each), take that page and “buddy up” with someone you work with. Better even, take that page home and share it with someone you live with…someone you love with.
In your writing, you’ll see your answers to “Because…” When you think “because,” you’re going back in time to bring yourself to the present. The life you’re living today can be explained by what you did, where you were, and what happened; because you went through that program, to that school; because you took that job, met that person; because you took that chance, or that thing happened. These are answers to Why? that got you here, to the present. But those answers may not be enough to keep you here.
Driving Toward the “So That”
Here’s a thought: Have you ever met someone who accepted their “dream job” years ago because it was offered and today…it’s not so much of a dream? What happened? My hypothesis: They didn’t build (and drive toward) the second answer to the question.
There are OTHER answers to the “Why?” question. Personally, these are the answers I drive toward when I’m coaching a leader, facilitating a workshop, or journaling my future. The answers (and there are ALWAYS more than one) to this “Why?” pull us out of the present toward a future that is brighter, bigger, and more meaningful. They force a focus on the future.
Traditional leadership literature would say that this “Why?” helps us define our—our North Star. Answering with “So that…” can motivate one to say on the path they chose and move into the future. For some, it represents purpose, mission, a raison d’être. It transcends the day-to-day-ness of the tasks and projects they manage and bring to life the core of motivation.
Strengthen your answers to Why? by defining “So that…” Do it, and you’ll persevere when times are tough, and you’ll celebrate as you make progress. By focusing on the future, you have less of a reason to rely on excuses. “So that…” is a driving force, fuel that propels us to surpass our limitations, spurring us to push for growth and change.
Introspection and Honesty
Responding to the question, “Why?” can be one of the most challenging tasks we face in our lives. It requires us to look deep within ourselves, to explore our motivations, and to confront the harsh realities of our circumstances. To truly understand our motivations, we must be willing to dig deeper and uncover the deeper, truer ambitions that lie beneath. It is through this process of introspection that we discover transformative insights and compelling reasons for pursuing our goals.
When we begin to see the world through a lens of possibility, we become more proactive in pursuing our dreams. We stop waiting for opportunities to come our way and start creating them ourselves. Answering “Why?” with “So That…” helps us to identify (and identify with) the journey we’re on. Embracing our true “Why?” is not always easy. It requires us to be honest with ourselves about our motivations and passions. It can be uncomfortable to confront the things that truly drive us, especially if they don’t align with what we think we should be doing. This understanding has the power to transform our lives, empowering us to become the leaders we aspire to be.