Freelance life

Why oh why oh why oh why

A post two-years in the making. A step-by-step evolution of how to write a Why statement, and what’s really important about living through the process.

Your why is what gets you out of bed in the morning. It underpins and transcends everything you do in life – hobbies, work, life, passions, relationships. It’s your self-made reason for being.

I’ve been working on my ‘Why statement’ for a few months now. And this post has been a long time coming, during my two-year love affair with the whole Why, How and What way of thinking about business – courtesy of Simon Sinek.

When I started writing this post, my intention was to describe how it took two iterations to articulate my Why. And how I’d finally arrived at a statement of Why that neatly summed up what I stand for.

Then I realised it wasn’t quite there yet: cue another iteration. Then another. And another.

What soon became apparent was the importance of time and space when you try to grasp why you do what you do. I’ve realised it’s absolutely crucial to experiment with your Why – test the ideas, sit with them and allow time for them to mutate and mature. It’s a process of trial-and-error – sketching something out, living with it and seeing whether it holds true.

I also now realise that it’s important not to get hung up on whether it’s correct. Because it’ll evolve, like people do – in character, with changing priorities in a changing world.

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek describes Why as a visceral feeling, rather than a rational, quantifiable idea. It has its origins in the limbic system – the part of your brain that regulates emotions. That’s why it’s difficult to grasp and express in words. In a day-to-day context, some things just feel ‘right’ when they happen in the right way, with the right kind of people. That’s when your Why is in effect.

In this previous post I wrote about getting more purpose behind my copywriting business. I also alluded to my Why – which was in a state of flux at the time. 

So here’s how my Why statement evolved

At first I came up with this:

To help people understand and fix their problems with useful, creative ideas so they’re able to live more productive lives.

Because I’ve always been about building and making things for people that make their lives better. I like whatever I do to be useful to someone, so they can get on with life. The problem is this Why statement is quite focused on the How. 

It also sounds very generic, doesn’t it?

That then evolved into this:

To discover and share useful knowledge that solves problems, so life gets better for people.

You can see what happened here: I’ve gone too specific on one aspect of my life – this knowledge-based copywriting business. Although correct, it doesn’t apply to all the other things I do that help me help others and give that deep sense of fulfilment we all need in our lives. It’s also still focused on the How.

Again, solving problems is very generic – everyone does that. There’s got to be more to it. 

Purpose comes from pain

So I did a bit of research and stumbled across a useful idiom – that purpose comes from pain. That moved me from functional Why statements, to more emotional ones. 

I stopped looking at what and how, and focused more on the drive behind it all – what problems plague you throughout my life? What’s been your ongoing battle? How do you persevere and put that experience into the service of others?

I’ll save you the private reflections that ensued – suffice to say they’re very personal (as they should be). What I would say is don’t get too introspective – because this isn’t all about you. It’s about:

  • Looking at your pain objectively
  • Figuring out your unique understanding of that situation and how that can help other people so they avoid the same pain
  • Articulating the value your understanding has to like-minded people

Working on your Why needn’t involve endless navel-gazing, and dwelling, revelling even, in misery. All you need is a good sense of self, and a willingness to look objectively at past suffering. Your pain doesn’t define you, it’s what you do with it that counts. We’re focused on putting this into the service of others, not raking over the past and dwelling in self-pity. 

Back to my Why

Here’s where we’re up to:

To empower people with control so they realise their true value and potential

We’re getting there. The outcome is far clearer and there’s less how – it’s more emotionally-charged. I love helping people be their best, and it’s really important to me that people are valued and worthwhile. 

Control is quite a loaded word though, and I’m concerned with the negative connotations. It’s also an illusion and not always the healthiest response to uncertainty. Can you ever really control anything?

So this extension came along:

To empower people to take responsibility, so they realise their true value and potential.

Bit of a mouthful but another step in the right direction. Responsibility has been a central theme in my story – you can’t always control something, but you can take a lead, ownership and act to make things better.

You can see how the Why is evolving. You should ask yourself – does this apply to everything you do. Does it excite and inspire you? It must encompass your very being – every motivation and manifestation of what makes you you.

We’re almost there

The next big turning point was paying closer attention to outcomes. In copywriting, whenever we write something, we continually ask ourselves so what? and therefore..? whenever we make an assertion. We chase back some claim, promise, benefit or feature until we get to what we’re really getting at.

So I did that with my Why statement. I looked at why I did anything for anyone. Yes, it was empowering them, but why? I fixed things so they wouldn’t get in the way anymore. In the way of what? I asked. Well, whatever it is that matters (to that person or the people they serve). Yes, it’s fixing a problem – but once a solution is in place, what then? They can focus on the important things – what really matters.

This is where another theme in my story, that of truth and honesty, came into play. When I help people achieve something, they’re less distracted and frustrated. They’re free to be honest with themselves, to focus on what truly matters.

Here’s where I’m up to (to date):

 To empower people to focus on what really matters so they realise their true potential 

It’s snappy, clear and the more I think about it, the more I find it applies to everything that’s important to me. It’s also all about service to others, not me.

Where do we go from here? 

I think realising true value (as well as potential) might come into my Why statement. Also, there’s scope for wider impact. I could add and make the world a better place onto the end of that statement, though that does feel a bit generic. 

I’ll let it mature, for now.

The broader point I’m making here is that your Why statement takes time to get right. And right is a feeling – quite different to correct. If it feels right for now, run with it. If it’s not right you just know, it feels at odds with you, and you have an irrepressible suspicion that there’s unfinished work. 

So stick at it.  

Finding your Why is a rewarding, creative process like any other. It puts you in closer contact with the people you’re best placed to serve, on your quest to find ever more meaningful work.

It’s also very fulfilling. 

It gives you an everyday way to connect with your mission, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you do. Whenever you feel challenged, demotivated or stuck, you can always check back in with your Why. If what you’re doing aligns with it – keep up the good work. If not, reprioritise. 

With your Why as good as you can get it, now it’s time to get on with living it.

By Chris Kenworthy | Coach

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