First Things First: Start With Why
If you could have anything you want, a realistic opportunity (no fantasies) to get one thing, would you be ready to ask for exactly the thing you want?
I wasn’t, and the realization I didn’t know what I wanted in that moment has opened my eyes, and woken a determination I didn’t know I had inside.
What does this have to do with business? Everything. Read on…
I’m winding down from a crazy work week and getting ready for Blogathon, “an annual day-long event facilitating blogging, collaboration, tech support and roundtable discussions led by Austin’s brightest blogging experts and social media enthusiasts.”. I’ll be co-hosting a session called “Room For Improvement” with Julie Gommoll, a self professed geek and crazy smart thinker. We’ll be doing our best to help bloggers find out what they can do to improve their blogs.
As part of our hours-long session anything is game: design, user experience, technology, information architecture, strategy, etc. If it’s anything like last time I was there, it’ll be a blast, and by the time we’re done, we’ll have a roster of thankful bloggers walk out with an improved blog. As a way of digging into the rationale for the way their current blog is, I’ll ask “Why?” a lot.
That Pesky Question: Why?
It seems to me asking “why?” gets a bad rap. Is it our culture, where it may be received as impolite questioning or a person’s intentions? Could it be it was taught out of us as kids, when we probably asked it once too many times?
Maybe we’re in too much of a hurry these days to slow down enough to consider the reasons –and consequences– of actions. So much can be learned from just asking why, but we’re in such a hurry.
Many people know about Toyota’s “5 whys” method of problem solving, an iterative process where, by asking successive “Why?” questions, one typically identifies the underlying issues causing otherwise superficial problems.
In Design disciplines, asking “Why?” helps weed out the arbitrary, subjective points of view that have nothing to do with the business objectives behind commercial design.
So much potential benefit, and yet, we skip right right past this most important question all the time.
To get a sense of just how important this question is, take a peek at Simon Sinek’s now famous Ted talk (yes, there’s a point to it, watch it):
You’re Confusing “Why” with “What”
Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Did someone say: “You’re so good at this, you should do this for a living?” and a little something you used to do because you liked it became this unmanageable, oppressive behemoth of a business? Or worse, it’s not much of a business, but rather, feels more like slavery?
Are you doing what you’re doing because it feels like there is no option?
You see, much like the “Whys” in marketing make the emotional connection that the “Whats” and the “Hows” can’t, the “Whys” in your life –your goals– have infinite more power than the “Whats” (expertise, abilities, passion, etc.).
How I know
In a recent post, I referenced an interview that taught me more about myself than I could have imagined.
It started with a question about my “bucket list”, which took me down a reflective path that involves one of my life’s loves: mountain biking.
(vinyl scratch: “What?”)
Yes, you see, I love cycling, a lot. In particular, I love riding my bike on dirt trails. This is not just weekend warrior riding. To me, this is time for mediation while I challenge my body and skills past their known limits. It has also enabled some of my most meaningful friendships, and allowed me an outlet for the stress of insanely challenging work schedules.
I don’t take mountain biking lightly, so that means I take my equipment seriously, and the kind of bicycles this involves cost a pretty penny. For the longest time, I could never afford the bicycle I wanted. For years, I’d buy and sell used bikes as a way to secure the best used parts I could to build my ride. A pretty frugal way to participate in an otherwise expensive sport.
About a year ago, I had the opportunity for a deal that would change that for good: a bartering deal where I could get the bike of my dreams. Imagine my surprise when, faced with the prospect of having anything I wanted, anything, I found myself stumped.
I couldn’t specifically ask for what I wanted.
I couldn’t specifically ask for what I wanted.
That’s when I had one of the biggest realizations of my life: I realized I had spent most of my life in what I now call “survival mode”.
Let me explain: When I learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs I also learned I had been focused on basic needs most of my adult life. After my parents divorced right before High School senior year, my lifestyle went from comfortable middle class to poor in a hurry. Long story short, this would eventually translate in not being able to complete what at one time looked like a promising college education, struggling for many years to make a living in early 90’s recession, until eventually I managed to build a little sign business. A few years into it, it became obvious the economic situation in Puerto Rico was headed downhill, and competition had become fierce, to the point my vendors were going after my clients, a hopeless situation I couldn’t compete with.
We moved to Orlando, Florida, where I found a job that at least offered a steady income, but we were on a tight budget. After all the bills were paid, we had around $10 to play with. As I told Melissa in my interview, when you’ve lived in that situation for so long, anything is good. You are happy with whatever you can get.
This is where the bike build comes in.
As I faced the opportunity to customize the bike of my dreams, I struggled with calling out exactly what I wanted.
Suddenly, years of reading and listening to talks about “goals this” and “goals that” made perfect sense. Years of struggling to get ahead made sense. It all made sense. How could I achieve anything if I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to achieve?
How could I achieve anything if I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to achieve?
When you’ve “gotten by” for what feels like your whole life, goals for anything beyond basic needs feel superficial. You must find the goal that drives you, and that’s difficult. It’s not money, cars, stuff. It’s the really big things.
For me, it’s my core values: Health, Freedom, Authenticity, Fairness, Connection, Creativity, Fun, Happiness.
You may want to ask for help, get a coach, take a test. Whatever you do…
Find Out Why. Your Life Depends On It. Success Depends On It.
There’s something about having the clarity of what it is that you want that makes choices easier. There’s something about life that sends the right opportunities your way when it knows you’re ready for them. And there’s something scary about it, because deep down inside, you know your life is about to change, and change is always scary.
Seriously, find out Why. Your life and success depends on it. Subscribe to my email list, and sometime soon we’ll look at just how scary and exciting it can be.
Until next time,