During our “Escape” from Vietnam, my mom had to leave two of my sisters behind. They were only 13 and 14 years old. Why? Waiting any longer would have meant none of us would have made it to “freedom.” There was just no time and she instinctively knew it was a sacrifice she had to make.
Not long after that, my mom suddenly died in a car accident due to a drunk driver. My sister, who was only 21 at the time, was faced with either taking care of the family or sending the other 8 of us to foster homes. She chose to become our guardian. Why? Because we had already been through too much to be broken apart at this point.
Clearly, my mom’s and sister’s circumstances are some of the most extreme situations that any of us will ever endure. Not surprisingly, they were THE most difficult decisions of their lives. Looking back and now a parent myself, I am truly amazed – and forever indebted – that my mom was able to make the heart-wrenching decision she did, and save the majority of her family from the tragic aftermath of the war. By the same token, I am equally amazed and indebted to my sister for keeping the rest of us together so that we could grow up knowing our siblings.
While I’m sure you’re still wrapping your mind around the gravity of these examples, it does raise the very real question of what “allows” us to make such hard decisions and take such extreme actions. What gives us the strength, the courage, the discipline and the power to ‘stay the good fight,’ to overcome all obstacles, to struggle through and stay committed?
The bottom line is our “WHY.” Our “WHY” is our purpose and our motivation. More importantly, our “WHY” must outweigh our “what.”
The Power of the “WHY”
Without a powerful “WHY,” the necessary motivation to drive and deliver on the “what” is either non-existent or unsustainable. Think about this for a minute. How many times have you given up because you thought something wasn’t “worth the effort?”
What’s more, without the “WHY,” there is no sense of true ownership. Discipline drops to the wayside and we can be easily swayed from our course. It’s simply human nature that if our “WHY” is not greater than our “what,” then the likelihood for success drops dramatically.
Give me someone who is clear and committed to their “WHY,” and I will give you someone who is determined to “cross the finish line” regardless of obstacles in their way.
The “WHY” Applies Both Personally and Professionally
Folks, what I’m talking about here is not a business skill. It’s a life skill. It’s all about understanding the significance – and meaning – for your actions.
For instance, most of us have entertained the notion that we should exercise more and eat better. I use the term “entertain the notion” because it clearly conveys that NOTHNG will happen until you have a concrete reason to pursue – and maintain – a more active lifestyle. Whether it’s a desire to lose weight, improve your health, be around for your kids as they grow older, or whatever it is. Until this “WHY” means more to you than the “what” of exercising, you will NEVER get started, much less keep it up.
I speak from personal experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to learn piano. Over the years, I’ve had at least 5 different attempts with 5 different teachers. I’ve failed every time. It wasn’t until recently that I finally turned the corner thanks to a $60 program on my Ipad. In fact, I’ve learned more in the past 3 months than I have ever learned in the previous 10 years combined! What made the difference? Yes, the app is fantastic and far more conducive to my busy lifestyle. But what really changed was my “WHY.”
My 7 year old son is also interested in learning the piano. My “WHY” is now more about a bonding experience between my son and myself versus just the goal of learning to play. And it’s working! Because we’re sharing the experience together, I am totally motivated to keep at it despite giving up so many times before. My “WHY” is finally greater than my “what.”
Channel The “WHY” Factor Into Your Professional Life
It is super-critical that you take time to reflect on the “WHY” behind your “what” in the workplace. Needless to say, part of your “WHY” is the dutiful responsibility to your company to deliver in your job.
But what is your personal “WHY?” The answer to this question is what determines your ability to consistently and reliably deliver with the ability to “go the extra mile.”
Regardless of your level in the organization, do you feel a sense of motivation and purpose for what you do? Does this motivation and purpose help you persevere through the more trying days? If not, then you need to dig deeper into your “WHY” to find that sense of personal commitment an satisfaction that can sustain you through even the toughest of times.
Without a personal connection behind our workplace “WHY,” we risk becoming a “walking zombie.” We all know folks and co-workers like this who have unfortunately lost sight of their “WHY.” They’re the ones that have mentally checked out just to go through the motions and watch the clock for 5:00 pm. Essentially, they have allowed their “WHY” to become unimportant to them or anyone else.
This is an important point. It is within your control to make your “WHY” greater than your “what.” Sometimes this is a mental readjustment or a soul-searching exercise. Or, sometimes it may mean a change in job or workplace. Whatever it is, the goal is to realign and personally connect with a strong “WHY” that outweighs your “what.”
The result is a higher chance for sustainable success, long term ownership and genuine commitment. Bottom line, the “WHY” is your driver that helps you “stick to your guns” and “stay the course.” Without a personally committed and strong “WHY,” it’s only a matter of time before you give up or check out.
Your Leadership Challenge:
For The Manager: Realize your employees are human “beings,” not human “doings.” Motivate them, inspire them, help show them the “WHY” so they can buy in to the “what.” Your success, their success, and your team’s success depends on them getting behind the mission, the vision and the purpose.
For The Individual Contributor: Take an honest assessment of everything you are currently working on in your life and of your role. Ask yourself, “why I am working on these things and in this role?” Quiet your mind, and I mean really quiet your mind, and arrive at your answers. If there are gaps between your “WHY” and your “what,” have the courage and discipline to address them. You don’t have to leap across the Grand Canyon, just take “baby steps” that move you closer to your “WHY.”
At the end of the day, our regrets won’t come from you not completing your “what,” but you not living out your “why.”
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