I know Simon Sinek is a world-renowned speaker and coach, his book sold like hot cakes across the globe, but hear me out first.
Humans have been seeking out purpose in their lives for centuries, some of us use faith to provide that direction and fill the ‘purpose’ gap. Others are looking for more scientific ‘physical’ if you prefer ideas to plug that gap and set off reading self-help books and heading on ‘their journey’ others believe capitalism can fill the gap if I can just… earn X a year, buy that house, get that job title (insert your own trinket in this space) or for many, they live a life without intention seeking their next dopamine hit from the latest social media platform presenting an image to the world to validate their ‘success’ as a human being.
As someone who has always been more about getting to the next station than actually enjoying the journey, ‘my why’ (to be clear my own personal ‘Why’, not that of my business Hurren & Hope) would be a brilliant North Star for me to shoot for, so I set out looking for my ‘why’ 8 years ago, alongside peer groups, coaches, friends, family members, self-help books, Ted Talks and my many years experience of working with professionals and high performers through my work, some of whom claimed to be very clear about their ‘why’ while others had given it less thought, and here it is…. It’s a myth!
Let me explain…
“No one has ever reached their death bed and whispered to those nearest and dearest to them, If only I found my Why!”
Life is made up of a series of events and it’s our role to make sense of it all and try and strive for the best possible outcome. Those of you with a faith are able to make sense of what is a random world of chance by putting your faith into a higher power, the dips are covered off by “through adversity, we grow” statements, and humility and gratitude are retained through the highs by placing faith in the fact the higher power has controlled those outcomes. It’s common knowledge people with a Faith are in general far more “Happy” (though Happy is a very elusive beast and one for another post)
Control is a key part of ‘the why’ few people relish the prospect of living a life focusing on the fact the veneer of ‘life’ is a very fragile one that could be snatched away from us at any given moment, all the ‘trinkets’ the modern world claims we need to fulfill our lives mean little to those in Mariupol Ukraine right now.
Far better to apply a sense of ‘control’ by having a clear guiding light as to what it’s all about, for me I believe this is the Root behind our need to have a purpose in our lives, the normal functioning human brain is wired to optimism it’s the reason the pain of childbirth becomes hazier over the years, and enables us to bounce back from setbacks and overcome our fears, we all live in hope for a better future, something else to strive for.
Yet I’m sure we can all relate to points in our lives where you make it to that ‘next station’ (life milestone) the one that was going to complete your ‘Why’ and fulfill your every desire, yet we then set our sights on the horizon and decide we need something else. If we can underpin that sense of hope with a ‘why’ then it’s a very powerful tool to push us forward.
So hold on Mark, Having a ‘why’ sounds like a great thing! Yes and no, if like those with faith you can commit yourself wholly to the idea of a why, believe it 100% no matter how your faith is tested, and more importantly live with intention (every day your making decisions to take you closer to your ‘why’) then yes it’s useful, but unlike religious faith, a ‘why’ is often a far more narrow goal and often fails to remain relevant as we move through the chapters of our lives.
I believe ‘Why’ is in the moment, ‘why’ reflects a chapter in your life, to hold it up as a north star to guide you through your life is a fallacy. What many refer to as their ‘why’ is more to do with their values and their belief systems “ I do it for my family” that’s a paternal instinct to provide for your family, do your family need a mansion on the hill and four holidays a year? Or would they like to you sit with you every night to eat a meal? Both behaviors in an individual can be covered with a ‘why’ that focuses on your family but it’s more important to live a life with periods of reflection and self-awareness so you can live with intention and change what is no longer working, adapt to your changing environment
So what have I learned over my 8-year search for my ‘why’ and talking to others about theirs? In a very crude way, life can be split into three key areas, none are in isolation and I use the below categories only to try and bring some clarity to an article that could very easily become a novel.
In the world of work:
A career is made up of a mixture of chance, opportunities, relationships, hard work, and a roller coaster of emotions. Not all of these elements can be controlled but it’s important to have a sense of direction (intention) as to where you are looking to take your career, this will ensure your efforts take you forward and opportunities that further your medium to long-term goals are not replaced with short term decisions.
How to live a career path with intention:
Give thought to where you are in your flow, where do you feel your values are best utilised what do you enjoy? These areas are likely to be where you will find the most purpose in your working week and where you will likely find the most success.
Struggling to work out what you enjoy? Start with what you don’t and work backward.
Once you have clarity over these points target job roles and company cultures that will enable you to work in your flow for most of the week, though don’t kid yourself the perfect job for you exists, every role has periods we all just need to grin and bear.
Ambition and Endeavour are not directly linked to a ‘Why’ do you honestly believe Elon Musk has a ‘why’
Focus! If you want to achieve something it’s going to be your actions that matter, not your intentions, it’s all very well talking about a good game, what you are “going” to do doesn’t mean a thing in the game of life. Ultimately if you don’t focus on the work that’s going to bring you success you will not succeed. Find your ‘why’ should be replaced with find your ‘grit’ or as a famous sports brand put it, JUST DO IT!
- Don’t spend too long focusing on the bigger ‘why’ all the time you’re comparing your life with others, seeking the big meaning of it all, obsessing about the great unknown you are missing out on spending time with loved ones or learning genuine life skills to further your personal growth. It’s okay to reflect on how you feel, what you want to improve on, the areas of your personality you want to change, etc.
- The intention is less important than the action. In many areas of our lives, we make decisions based on previous experience, knowledge, advice, and intellect all of these decisions are made without thought to why we are doing it. Feeding our children, supporting our loved ones, sharing your time, etc. the lack of ‘Why’ attached to these activities makes them no less important.
- Mental Health has fast become a new commercial marketplace with everyone claiming to have the answers. New labels exist for basic behaviors humans have exhibited for years, an unfortunate side effect is we have all become far more self-analytical looking for the key that will unlock Happiness, Purpose, and Fulfilment whatever label you wish to give it. Strive for contentment instead, Moments of happiness, purpose, and Fulfilment will follow but do not kid yourself the showreels we are bombarded with on social media are real or that you will constantly be happy and fulfilled, life will always offer you challenges, “without the dark, we cannot see the light.”
- Help others… If you are craving a ‘purpose’ fix then help someone, offer your time your skills your knowledge or just grab that heavy shopping for someone and take it to their car. Humans are wired to be part of a tribe helping others is the quickest way to feel fulfilled.
- Picture your life as a book, there will be difficult periods of your life where you should be focused on making it to just the next page, if you are just keeping your head above water don’t overload yourself looking for greater clarity when there is none to be had. There will also be periods where you can look to write a chapter in one go, where you have a real sense of vision as to what you want to complete, don’t be foolish enough to believe your ‘Why’ will help you write your entire book.
- Frame your version of success, not those that are presented to us by modern media. The world spins by consumerism, marketing bombards us with what success looks like, the car we should drive, the watch we should wear, how many bedrooms we have, recognise our modern lives are the cause of our mental health issues, and don’t get caught up with the promise of a perfectly fulfilling life that completes your ‘Why’. Material goods are an outcome, not a starting point. If your life goals or ‘why’ focus solely on “being Rich” I promise you, you will never be rich enough. After 21 years in talent, I have worked with the same people on many occasions throughout their careers I can hand on heart say every single one of them reaches a point in their career path where money is very low down on their list of motivations it can’t be a goal in its self.
- Appreciate life is lived in chapters, change is constant, both inside you and your environment, be realistic about what you can control.
- Your mind is a tool and like all tools, you should apply it to the job at hand and then put it down. Find some downtime, see friends, walk in nature, spend time with your loved ones, and be present in the moment. Your mind doesn’t need to be constantly obsessing about what might or might not happen next or looking for the eternal answer to your life. It’s okay to just ‘Be you’.