What’s Your “Why”?

by Shana Montesol Johnson


It’s a question I hear frequently as the parent of two kids under the ages of 6.  I can’t say that I particularly welcome it.

“Why” is also a question that I’ve been trained NOT to ask people when I am coaching them.  Reportedly, it puts them on the defensive.  (“Why did you decide that?” as opposed to “What were some of the considerations that went into your decision?”)

What is your “Why”? By this I mean: what you believe in, what motivates you, what fuels your action in the world, at work, at home.  Knowing your “Why” — being able to articulate and explain it, and being able to recognize when your work is aligned with it — can be extremely powerful.  In fact, I’d say that it’s critical to having a job and career that you love.

Often when we start a new job, particularly in fields like aid and development, we are motivated by a specific “Why.” We believe in the cause behind our jobs, and the organization that employs us.  We want to to make a difference, have an impact, contribute to something we believe in.  It’s easy to know our “Why.”

Yet our “Why” can become buried amidst the business (and busyness) of work.  There are reports to write, budgets to defend, staff to coach, projects to manage, proposals to draft, applications to evaluate.  Not to mention the hundreds of emails, endless hours spent in meetings and conference calls, and the demands of business travel.

So every once in a while it can be helpful to remember our “Why.” Simon Sinek speaks eloquently and persuasively about this in one of my favorite TED talks.  Watch it below, it’s only 18 minutes and I think it’s well worth your time.  (If you have trouble viewing it here, you can view it on the TED site.)

This TED talk reminds me that my “Why” is anchored in my belief that everyone ought to have the opportunity to have a career or job that they love, that makes an impact on the world, and that enables them to have a life outside of work. I believe that this is good for individuals, making them happier, more satisfied, more fulfilled.  I also believe it is good for their families, friends, and the people whose lives they touch.  And I believe it is good for their employers and the organizations they work or interact with.  And this “Why” has led me to a vocation as a career and executive coach.
What about you? What is your “Why”?  What do you believe in, what motivates you, what inspires you?  What in your work or life is aligned well with your “Why”?  What might be out of alignment?  I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below.
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