What’s your why?


At my company’s annual general meeting a few days ago, we had the pleasure of listening to a talk by a well-known TED-like speaker. The main purpose of his talk was to help us identify why we do what we do.  Think of your company as three concentric circles. The outer circle is the “what”; the middle circle is the “how” and the inner circle is the “why”.   Many companies focus only on the immediate or the “what” without digging deeper into why they do what they do. Their raison d’etre is making a profit.   The lack of “why” is the reason for employee disengagement and sets it miles apart from great companies where there is a clear purpose.  The speaker gave  the example of Starbucks. We all associate Starbucks with their coffee, but Starbucks’ mission statement is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit”; Starbucks is not in the coffee business but in the people business!  This clear “why” statement is the reason that Starbucks has been ranked as one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Although the talk was targeted at a corporate audience, its message rings true in the lives of millions of white-collar and blue-collar professionals. When somebody asks us what  we do for a living, the default response is “we do “X” for a living”. I am an accountant or I am a food production worker.  I am a barista or I fly planes.  Why do so many people switch careers? It’s because for too long,  they cannot get past the “what” circle to find out their purpose in life or “why” they do what they do.  They have not found a career that aligns with their mission in life so the goal of each day is to do the bare minimum to collect a paycheck.  Keep your head down because your livelihood is at the mercy of your employer.  So many of us have struggled to find the “why”, and often years go by without an answer.  The happiest people are those who found their “why” and they feel motivated to wake up in the morning, not to go to work but to build on their passion.