I recently had the pleasure of watching Simon Sinek’s video on TED titled, Start With Why (YouTube link). The premise behind his talk is quite important. He speaks to how answering the question “why” for yourself and your company allows you to achieve monumental success and, in the process, attract the people that share the same values, leading to the results you seek.
I gave this some thought…and by “some thought,” I mean two weeks worth! I realized that although I knew what I wanted to achieve in life and why I wanted to do it, I hadn’t really made it clear for my company. As a result, I hadn’t communicated the message to the people I work with and clients or partners I was trying to attract.
It turned out to be a lot tougher than I thought, like all things worth having or knowing. I spent two weeks mulling it over and finally decided to take a week and rewrite the company business plan based on what I would discover. Even after spending two weeks talking to various people, spending time thinking about it while driving or before falling sleep, it wasn’t easy when I started out this morning to answer just this one question.
In fact, I’d become quite anxious as time came closer to today. This morning I realized the source of anxiety: I was afraid I would have to ditch all of my efforts from the past nine months if the answer to my “why” didn’t fit what I was already doing.
So, I made a deal with myself. I’d accept the answer no matter what the consequences, even if it meant starting all my efforts over. After all, I’d rather realize I’ve made a mistake about my path nine months into the business rather than nine years!
After that bit of mental wrestling, I sat at my desk and opened the company business plan. I went directly to the Vision and Mission section. This is where I would declare our “why.”
I still couldn’t do it. There was no moment of inspiration. I got up, paced, sat back down, talked aloud to myself, asked why I do all the things I do. That last one was easy to answer. For the past decade, I’d envisioned my life goal to be to “live an inspiring life.”
This still didn’t help me.
I decided to watch Simon’s video again. I listened intently to every word. I heard his story of Apple’s why, why the Wright Brothers pursued what they did and how so many of their contemporaries pursued the same goals and failed. The Wright Brothers had a purpose. They knew that the dream of a “flying machine” would revolutionize life on earth. They didn’t have the funds nor the education that many others did. In fact, neither even had a college degree, but they knew WHY they wanted to do it.
That was the spark. I started thinking of my days in Berkeley and seeing so many students find causes they believed in. Berkeley taught me what it meant to serve others and how it was so important to consider the effects of my actions on generations to come. I realized then what it meant to give by seeing some schoolmates sign up for the Peace Corps. I’d heard about Big Brother Big Sisters and became interested in joining. In fact, I did some time later.
These days I enjoy all of my volunteer activities, including being a Big Brother. I’m very selective, though I shouldn’t be. I believe anything that will help better our society is worth doing.
That was my moment of truth. I realized I want to make the world a better place. We will make the world a better place, one company at a time. And it won’t be just for those living now, but for generations to come. I want us to have goals that span centuries, not months or years. So, anything we do, the services we provide, how we treat our partners and employees, has to focus on this carefully selected goal. Even our partner selection criteria must be that they too provide services or products that are socially conscious and somehow improve people’s quality of life, thereby making our world a better place.
That’s when I started typing. It just came naturally and felt good. I kept writing, refining, and rewriting. I lost track of time. The next thing I knew, the day was ending. Wouldn’t you know it? I lost track of time because I was in the groove. I had my flow. It was one of those moments of clarity we all aim for and sometimes find.
My professional life came back into focus and I realized truly why my previous businesses had failed, and why I’d done poorly working for certain companies. In every case, I either didn’t know what was the company’s purpose or reason for doing what we did, or I didn’t agree with it. The opposite was true for those where I’d excelled in a very short amount of time and delivered the highest value to my employers and our customers.
What I recommend is that you do the same. If you’re hesitant, ask yourself whether it’s more important to run toward nowhere, than toward a destination. If you think now’s not the right time, I’ll tell you what you already know: there’s no better time than now. Get started now, if only to committing your every inactive moment to think about your “why.” You’ll naturally then commit a time to putting pen to paper and writing it down.
What Do You Think?
What are you doing still here? Get started with your “why.” If you already know it, share it below.
Photo Credits: Marco Bellucci