Finding Your (Work) Why
Finding your “why” is a really big, deep, and ongoing discussion that plenty of books have been written about and plenty of gurus have dedicated their lives to exploring. But the do-gooder blog isn’t about figuring out your life’s purpose (maybe someday but not today). The do-gooder blog is about how to help you create good and share good, specifically in your small business or nonprofit. Today we’re just dipping our toe in this philosophical pool to help you do your job even better than you surely already are. Let’s get started by asking, “What is your ‘why’?” Or at least, “What’s your (work) ‘why’?”
Why is finding your “why” important?
People can tell when you’re being authentic and when you’re putting on a show. Getting in touch with your “why” will help you create genuine good that people will be able to identify with. To be a do-gooder in your work and marketing, you need to think about your “why.” When you can identify and communicate your “why”, all of the sudden things will fall into place. Identifying your “why” will help you stand out from the crowd. In a world where it feels like everyone is clawing for a piece of our attention, we only have time for people who are really connected with their “why.”
Identifying your “why” will also help you get your creative juices flowing. Remembering “why” you’re doing what you’re doing will realign you with those you serve, and will give you new ideas to better serve others and to share your story.
Identifying your “why” isn’t just important to people in regular businesses. This is also important to folks working in nonprofits. We often think of nonprofits as being more mission driven (and generally they are) but that doesn’t mean nonprofit employees aren’t guilty of getting just as caught up in the tediousness of day-to-day responsibilities. Heck, they might be more susceptible since it’s pretty stressful when money is always tight. Identifying your “why” will be your reminder of what makes your work purposeful to you and those you serve. Pinpointing your “why” will make it easier for you to communicate your works value to others, and it will also be a source of inspiration for new ideas.
The “Why?” Game
Let’s look at identifying your “why.” To identify your “why,” we’re going to play the “why” game. It’s a really easy and effective at getting the job done. In fact it’s so easy, even a toddler can do it! Think of it like a young kid who keeps asking why and is never satisfied with the explanation you give them, “Why? Why? Why?” Just like, “Because I said so!” isn’t a good enough answer for a toddler, it isn’t a good enough answer when identifying your why. This is an opportunity for you to really re-connect with the what makes you feel purposeful or driven in your work! Don’t cheat yourself of this and give the answer of, “What I’m doing is important because it helps others.” That’s the equivalent of “Because I said so.” Start by asking yourself, “Why is my work important? Why makes it purposeful to me?”
Playing this why game will help you identify your why and put context to it. I use this game all the time when I’m interviewing people. People relate to people, and being in touch with your “why” gives others a way to connect with you. Being able to identify your why will help you communicate why something is so important to you and others will relate to it.
How many times should you ask, “Why?” That depends. Some people are more in touch with their “why” and can identify it easily, so you only need to ask a couple times. I always love interviewing kids because they are always in touch with their “why.” I only need to ask them once, maybe twice. Most adults take a little more prying though. Depending on how emotionally in touch a person is, it can take a lot of “Why?’s.” I normally average having to ask a person about 8 times. Hear that ladies and gentlemen? I have to ask someone “Why?” about 8 times before an average person gets to the root of their why. Start asking yourself, “Why?”
How will you know once you’ve found your why?
Oh you’ll know. If you don’t know if you’ve found it or not, the answer is you haven’t. Once you’ve identified your why you will feel all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings and that amazing feeling of calmness. If you’re lucky enough to be at a company, either for profit or non profit, whose mission you believe in, this should be quite a bit easier for you. If you’re at a company where you feel really disconnected from the mission, think about something that brings you joy at work. Don’t say your lunch break. There has to be some moment where you helped someone and made a difference. Why did that moment stand out to you? Probably because it put you in touch with your “why.”
What is not your why?
Let’s get something out the way real fast. You saying things like, “Because what we do matters” as your “why” isn’t enough. Good for you that your work matters. I do have some disappointing news to tell you though: that doesn’t make you unique (sorry). In reality, everyone’s work matters. Every job serves some purpose at some level. So just saying that your work matters isn’t enough. Plus, depending on you how say it, it could even come off kind as kind of righteous because it implicitly implies that other people’s work doesn’t matter. Accidentally insulting others isn’t a good way to get people on your team. So if your work matters, why does it matter? Start playing the “Why?” game.
You know what else is not your “why?” Facts and statistics. Please, please, please, do NOT try and use facts and statistics as your “why.” Facts and statistics definitely influence your “why”, but that’s not the end all. And also a lot of people glaze over when you start spouting all your facts. I hate to say this but a lot of us don’t care about numbers. Humans are emotional, not logical. All humans make emotional decisions, not logical ones. That’s why we do a lot of dumb stuff and why we sometimes have a hard time doing things we know are right. After all, all the facts in the world point that getting consistent exercise and eating healthy is important but how many of us are perfect about that every day? Is it because we don’t know any better? No, it’s because we all make emotional decisions, not logical ones. Facts can help you identify a need, but your “why” helps you identify why that need is important.
Let me give you a quick example. If you have a company that delivers free food to kids during the summer (like Lodi Unified School District Nutrition Services Program) you might be really tempted to start spouting facts about how many kids in our community don’t have access to food. Use some self restraint. You can use some facts but that shouldn’t be how you start this conversation. Start with why does that matters. Say something like, “Kids are our future. I believe it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe all children deserve an equal opportunity to healthy and happy life. Many children are going to bed hungry and this greatly impacts their chances of growing into the successful adults we want to be part of our community. That’s why we’ve created a food program to keep kids fed even when they’re not in school.” Doesn’t that sound more engaging than, “37.6% of kids in the 95242 and 95240 zip code aren’t having their daily nutrient needs met”? Those numbers just tell us there’s a need, they don’t identify why it matters. Your stats are important, but they’re not the hook. Your “why” is the hook.
Identifying your “why” will help set you apart. There’s a lot of great people doing great things. We’re all busy and wrapped up in our lives and we don’t always have time to think about others. Not because we’re being unkind, just because life is crazy and busy and we all have families and responsibilities. Once you can identify your “why” you’ll be able to connect with others in a way that gets their attention. You’ll also start having a wave of brilliant ideas of how you can help those you serve better.
So start asking yourself, “Why?”
Until next time, do-gooders!