What is your “Why”? – Finding Purpose

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Your why at its core, is often simple. The journey to understanding it in greater depths is usually not. Your why is not a destination. It is continually evolving. It is rooted in the intersection of a burning problem, your unique experiences, and the resources around you. It can take expression in countless ways. Staying true to your why is not just advisable, it's paramount because it is likely how you will define success in your life.

One of my favorite authors, Clayton Christensen, died last month. Though I never met him, I read his books, and strongly identified with them. His death felt like that of an old friend, but I am relatively confident he lived a good life. My most favorite of his books is "How will you measure your life," and I wrote a book review that same month before his death here.

The theme of that book has a lot to do with this post - living a life of meaning. Last week I took a class with a small cohort of startup founders on 'designing a sustainable business model,' and there is a section when we talk about their "why" as a business. I believe in articulating your why before you start anything. Over time it will become both an anchor and a compass. It brings sustainable clarity of purpose.

For a long time, at the company I currently lead, every new staff watched this video by Simon Sinek on "How Great Leaders Inspire Action " It talks about businesses, and the importance of articulation your "why". It talks about how it is more effective to communicate from the inside out; Why you do what you do -> How you do it -> What you do, instead of the other way around.

Although the video focuses on this from a business point of view, there is a more profound perspective. Beyond the products, processes, people, technology, financing as a business, your "why" should permeate through your business. It should shape them towards creating a company that has an identity that is evident all through its fiber, the reason it existed in the first place.

As a business owner sometimes, it is not as straightforward. Not all businesses have their why figured out from the start. What if your why is super basic? I needed money and decided to start a business, or I saw a problem and wanted to fix it. Is that deep enough?

Irrespective of the current form of your why it is crucial to figure out what motivates you and shape it into something sustainable. There is a core motivation that permeates most of what you do. It often exists in the intersection between a burning problem you identify firmly with, to which a solution is possible that combines your unique experiences, personality, passion, and resources.

There-in, lies where your why resides.

It's Okay If It's Not Super Clear

Really, it is. Very few people can describe their why with clarity. It isn't always clear. It takes different expressions in different things. Business. Family. Friendship. But pay attention, in all these infinite expressions there is a uniting thread. That there is the pulsing stream of your why. Our experiences shape our motivations, and so long as you are alive still experiencing, your why is always evolving. Find a common theme, and you have begun to the journey of unraveling your why.

Strong Sense of Self Awareness <> Why

You have to first really know yourself before you can understand your motivations. Knowing yourself is a never-ending journey. The more we expose ourselves to new situations, we learn depths to our personalities, our motivations through our reactions and musings. The key to beginning the journey to finding what profoundly motivates you is genuinely understanding yourself and why you act the way you do. Peeling the layers of your intentions without judgement or opinion but merely trying to understand, and potentially shape.

Something Bigger Than You.

The most enduring and impactful why's are those that are linked to something bigger than you. This is how value is created, and imagine that at scale, it is beauty. Where everyone is committed, genuinely committed to serving a bigger impactful purpose that brings value to the world. As you shape your motivations, try not to limit yourself to creating one that helps only you. The laws of the universe favor those who create value for others beyond themselves.

Yes, You Can Shape Your Why

You have a say to what your why is. It isn't some pre-determined expectation of you. Through careful analysis of your experiences, your personality, your resources, and what you have identified matters deeply to you, you can shape your motivations. You are in the best position to choose and develop your why and commit to staying true to it.

Your why is how you measure your life

I truly believe your "why" is how you will eventually measure your life. When all is said and done. Your core will bubble forth and make an assessment using that as the true north on if you lived a good life or not. It will be more binary than gradient, it will almost be a simplification.

We all need to reach deeper to find that which is most meaningful to us and be sure that our motivations right now align with that. It is the only way we find meaning in anything we do. Family. Business. Friendships and life, generally.

Whether or not you live by your "why", it is how you will eventually measure your life



If you haven't, read my book review of " How Will You Measure Your Life" by Clayton Christensen, you should.


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