4 Techniques to Help You Find Your “Why”

Start with why.

Follow your passion.

Determine your destiny.

Pursue your dreams.

Find your purpose.

We’re bombarded with these messages by high performance coaches, life coaches, executive coaches as well as mentors and bosses (if you have a good one).

Admittedly, I am a fan of these messages and I think it is important that each of us takes a step back to consider our life’s purpose.  After all, we only have one life to live.  Shouldn’t we make the most of it?  (The good news is it’s never too late.)

The problem is that we all get consumed with our busy day to day lives.

Before we know it, look at all the years which have elapsed!  This concept was memorialized in the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime.”  The song opens with:

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

If you haven’t taken the time to think about what mark you want to leave in your life, now is the time.

But how?

How do you figure out your life’s purpose and what do you do if you are well into your career and feel like you are stuck?  Here are some ideas.

#1 Set Aside Time to Think

Set aside some time to think about it.  Stephen Covey offers up a grid to help us create time for what is most important.

How much time do you spend in quadrant #2 “Quality & Personal Leadership?”  Not as much as you would like?  It’s easy to get caught up in quadrants 1, 3 and 4, isn’t it?

Once you carve out time to think about your life’s purpose, what is next?

#2 Conduct an Inner-interview

Ask yourself a series of self-reflective questions.  Tony Robbins said, “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask yourself.”

In Scott Mautz’ book, Make It Matter, he suggests an “inner-interview” when you ask yourself questions such as:

  • What are your superpowers? What are your unique strengths that you can use like a superhero to do good for others?
  • What are your values and beliefs? What matters most to you?  What is not open to compromise?
  • What would you do for free? What are you doing when you lose track of time at work?
  • What have been your happiest moments?
  • What deed needs doing? What is my cause?  What is my calling?

This last question is critical.

#3 What Matters Next

Andrew Shatte has spent his career studying resilience.  In his TED Talk, he explains that it is not what matters now but what matters next that is most important: to find a connection to something bigger than yourself, a legacy, something that will be here long after you are gone.

You may be reading this thinking, “all this is well and good but I am a 45-year-old accountant.  I have a mortgage, I have bills to pay, I have a family to support.  I can’t just run away to ‘pursue my passion.’”

I get that and I have some thoughts on how you can deal with that reality which I will share in a moment.  Before I do, here is a thought-provoking article about the limiting belief “But I have bills to pay…”  I highly recommend it.

If you are the aforementioned accountant (or mechanic, teacher, etc.) and feel like you have to remain in that career path, you can find your why elsewhere.  If your profound why, your purpose and your passion cannot be found in your vocation, you can certainly find it in your avocation such as:

Volunteer work.

Writing a book.

Starting a non-profit.

Investing in the next generation. 

Here is an example of this last approach as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

When Isabelita “Lita” Marcelo Abele’s daughter was 6 years old and her son barely a year, Abele, a college-educated teacher, left her children with her parents in the Philippines and moved to the United States to work as a cleaning lady, nanny, and housekeeper.

Abele’s story is an American one, showing how an immigrant who came to this country with nothing now runs a business — in her case, U.S. Lumber Inc., in Woodbury Heights. As president and chief executive, Abele, now 65, leads a company that supplies lumber to subcontractors, has 12 employees, and had sales of $7.8 million in 2016.

In the Philippines, “my salary was not enough for me to raise my two children and send them to college,” Abele said. “So I applied to Europe, to Saudi Arabia, to Iran, everywhere, as a domestic helper, because to get out of the country, that’s what you have to do — domestic helper.”

Abele found work in New York. Isolated, unable to use the phone or leave the house, she felt trapped because she had no options. “I didn’t know anybody and didn’t know how to use public transportation,” Abele said. “I didn’t have a bedroom. I slept in the den on a couch. My clothes were in my suitcase. My plate and my spoon were in the cabinet under the sink.”

How did you keep from being discouraged in your darkest moments?

I reminded myself of my dreams. Determination. I didn’t want to go back. When I’m down now and want to give up, I think about my children and grandchildren. I want to see my grandchildren educated. And now my dream is to make enough money, so I can donate to something. I want to leave a legacy.

#4 Job Reframing

Another technique is what we call job reframing which is rethinking what you are doing and how it contributes to the greater good.

For example, during a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

To most people, this janitor was just cleaning the building. But in the more mythic, larger story unfolding around him, he was helping to make history.

In another classic story, a man came upon a construction site where three people were working.

He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.”

He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.”

As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?”

The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a place of worship!”

The Bottom Line

Here’s the point: No matter how large or small your role, you are contributing to the larger story unfolding within your life, your business and your organization.

To unlock your purpose will drive your resiliency up and you will be able to overcome feelings of procrastination, insecurities and limiting beliefs.

And when you embrace that type of attitude and belief system, incredible things happen.

You don’t have to necessarily make a sweeping career change (although you may), sometimes it is a matter of reframing your current situation and tying your purpose to something bigger than yourself.

Call to Action

Enjoy this article? Here are a few more things you might like:

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