#21 Finding My WHY: A Personal Example

It’s 6:30 AM on a Tuesday. The covers are off and my foot is about to hit the floor.

Beyond all the routine crap of daily life, WHY am I getting out of bed?

It’s an important question and there are lots of people willing to help me answer it. A 10 minute web search netted this list of ideas for discovering my WHY/Purpose/Passion. It hits on ideas for finding both your personal WHY and your business WHY. A good thing since we'll be looking at both over time. Here's the list.

  • What do you do that makes the world a better place?
  • How do you measure yourself?
  • Where does your mind go when it’s quiet?
  • If you died what would the world be losing?
  • Why not just close your business? What would customers miss that they couldn’t get elsewhere?
  • Nobody’s watching. No fear of repercussions. You can hit rewind if it doesn’t work. No one will ever know you gave it a try. What would you do?
  • Gonna die tomorrow and your spouse, kids, friends are already gone to a better place. Besides prayer, what would you do?
  • What’s something that most people consider to be drudgery that you kind of enjoy?
  • What’s something you do that gives you noticeable energy?
  • What did you love doing when you were a kid?
  • What do you do even though you sometimes get in trouble for it?
  • Pick something that angers you and ask yourself the “Five why’s”.
  • Pick something you enjoy and ask yourself the “Five why’s”.
  • What captures you so completely that you sometimes forget to eat and maybe even breathe while you're doing it?

I’d suggest you grab a couple of these and wrestle with them a while. I’d also suggest one more thing before you dive in. Make a rule that your WHY can’t start out being about your spouse, kids, etc. I had a couple false starts because I was hiding behind my various roles - husband, father. So even though it sounds a bit callous, start by deleting your loved ones. 

That’s all the instructions I have. Other than that, I’m just going to give you an example by walking through my personal WHY. I found mine by focusing on the last question from the list above.

“What captures you so completely that you sometimes forget to eat and maybe even breathe while you're doing it?”

My answer - Learning About Stuff That Interests Me. Reading - almost all non-fiction. Online research. Lively discussions. This gets me out of bed.

I’d read so much about WHY/Passion/Purpose that my answer was obvious before I started. But we’re not even close to finished. Next I want to figure out where my WHY came from and see if it can explain some past choices.


Back we go to the 1960’s and `70's…I still remember mom and dad praising little Keith for getting good grades. They even bribed all six of us kids for getting A's on our report cards. Tight asses only offered ten cents per A, but I still remember it. I also remember mom helping me study for tests when I needed someone to quiz me. So from my earliest days I received positive parental attention for learning. And we never stop wanting to please Mom and Dad. This could definitely be a seedling for my WHY.

And there's more kid stuff that might be important to my WHY. I grew up on a farm and my ability/interest in farming was next to zero. So I'd screw up or be screwing off and Dad would call me out - "You're as useless as tits on a boar". I, being a devoted smart ass, would always fire back. I still chuckle when I think about the sparring we did.

But what does this have to do with my WHY? 

Well, did I maybe double down on my studies to compensate for my negative farming interest - to impress Dad -to make sure he knew I wasn't a total screw off? Sounds reasonable to me. 

And that could be a pretty powerful one two for the creation of my WHY. Lot's of positive reinforcement for good schoolwork. And then doubling down on the academics as a "cover up" for my zippo agricultural skills. 

I'll never know for sure, but it's at least a reasonable theory. So let's test it. Let's look at some of my biggest career decisions and see if they reflect this WHY.

Makes sense that I would choose electrical engineering, a challenging major that’s respected. More positive academic feedback. 

Then comes a trickier one. I graduated with an engineering degree but I took a job in sales and marketing. I would guess that I realized I was a middle of the pack engineer at best. So rather than being the guy that brings the real engineers coffee, I headed for an area where I could be the smart guy. I became the engineer in the sales and marketing department. This wasn’t a conscious thought, I was a dumb ass kid drinking beer for a living.  But looking back it does fit my WHY.  So I took a job selling and marketing commodity electronics. It was a slow growth company and the technology got boring fast. It quit feeding my WHY - so I left.

That's when my greed muscle kicked in and I decided to get an MBA and head to Wall Street. Another "smart guy" pat on the back for gaining entry to a top business school. “Look ma and pa - ain't I brilliant?”. 

Unfortunately, most of the Wall Street stuff felt like a Ponzi scheme. The sleaze factor led me out the door and into the arms of a software company. Makes sense - lots of tech goodness to learn there.

But, my bosses boss was adamant that I NOT understand the technology behind the product line. He worried I’d waste too much time talking product and not enough time closing deals. Which, by the way, is a legitimate concern as ex-techs tend to do this. But this guy was off the charts in his distaste for product knowledge. For this and other reasons, I despised this job. I missed the security of knowing the tech details behind the product. Makes perfect sense if you know my WHY.

Next job involved a new piece of software in a new market with a steep learning curve. I spent my weekends diving into object oriented programming and relational databases. I spent my weekdays explaining and demonstrating the product. I was in hog heaven, just as my WHY would predict.

Bottom line, I’m 99% sure that my WHY is about Learning. And I'm also sure that when I'm aligned with my WHY I'm in a better place.

But there’s more to it. I still need to UN-delete my loved ones and make a few other adjustments. And I’ll do all that next time...

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