The Authentic Why

A few months ago, I was speaking at a conference, after which there was a book-signing.

At some point, I turned to my daughter, (traveling with me, as you know, during her gap year) and said, “Their line is longer than mine.”

You can probably see what’s coming miles away. Because our children are, after all, the ultimate truthtellers…

“Let’s take a step back and think about your ‘why,’” she said. “Do they write and speak about ideas that further your why?”

Sheepish yes.

“Then does it actually matter whose line is longer?”

A most excellent question.

This wisdom of youth motivated me to really revisit my ‘why.’ When I say my ‘why’ what I mean by that is what I claim my ‘why’ to be. But I had to ask, “Is it really my why? Or do I have a shadow why?”

It’s likely we all do, of course. It’s the ‘why’ that wants our line to be the longest.

Our challenge over time is to learn and grow in our humanity so that our noble ‘why’ gradually eclipses the self-focused shadow one. Maybe we’re low and insecure on our ‘why’ S Curve, but we don’t have to stay there, and with a little effort, we won’t.

I did some thinking and processing; I was already in that mode because I was preparing to interview Simon Sinek for the podcast. Simon is very clear about his ‘why.’ He can state it as quickly as he can tell you what he had for breakfast. As quickly as he can state his name.

You’ll enjoy this conversation. Simon is direct, clear-thinking, on a mission…those of you who leave a podcast review will be eligible for a copy of Simon’s latest book The Infinite Game.

Now let’s close the loop that opened with the story about the longer line:

This speaks to a principle that I shared in Podcast Episode 100 about taking the right risks and thus only competing against yourself. Two quick thoughts I heard Simon share at WOBI in Madrid: “It is easier to channel uncomfortable energy into a competitive spirit, than it is to do self-reflection.” He then said, “The only real competitor is yourself. You have to do better than you did before.”

Self-reflection can be difficult, but it’s essential to defining our ‘why.’ What do you want to contribute, how do you want to be better, so much so that you’re happy to be only competing with yourself—to make progress? If you struggled like I did with this, Simon offers a great exercise to do with friends—the basic idea is that what our friends love about us is our ‘why.’ After receiving a nice note from a friend this morning, I realized that I had a ‘why’; I just wasn’t comfortable stating it.

But maybe that’s when you know you are getting close. You need to feel just a little bit vulnerable when you state our ‘why.’ Here’s mine—at least for now:

I want every person I interact with to be left with an impression of increase, a greater sense of who they are––their fundamental value––and of their possibility––who they can be.

I’m going to be terrible at it sometimes––if not in the next five minutes, then by the end of the day. But that is what I aspire to do.

Once you’ve identified and articulated your ‘why’ you’ll have a better sense of whether you are on the right S Curve of Learning or not. But when you are on the right curve, the what and how more easily fall into place.

What is your working why? Would you like to share?

Happy January, and the new beginnings of 2020.

My best,

P.S. If you want additional inspiration on a why, read this article in the New Yorker titled A Powerful Statement of Resistance, by Yegor Zhukov.

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