By July 12, 2009 Read More →

Discover Your Why

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post on discovering your why from Janine de Nysschen.  Her clients call her a change maker and a purpose strategist – helping bring clarity, direction, and a sense of meaning. Janine, trained as a change agent and intelligence professional, has more than 25 years of experience in strategy and change.  Before starting Whytelligence, she worked at Microsoft as a strategist in audience intelligence and globalization.  Before that she worked for the South African government where she was on the core team that transformed post-apartheid intelligence structures – a feat that many thought was impossible.

Janine believes there’s a sense of purpose instilled in everyone. It defines the difference you want to make in this world, and it inspires everything you do. … Do you know why you do what you do? Here’s Janine to help you discover your why …

Every day you make a choice about how you show up in this world – at work, in your business, in life. Some of us show up because of what we do. We measure our success by the number of product features we build, how many goods we sell, how many client calls we make. Others show up because of how they do things. Their success is measured in quality and precision, speed and efficiency, even the depth of client relationships. The third, and smallest group – are people who show up for a distinct reason. They have a cause that drives them, a belief that inspires them. They want to challenge the status quo, help people find the power to do what matters to them, show others how to reach their full potential… For them, success is fulfilling their purpose.

Working for Passion Outweighs Working for a Paycheck

It’s these people who thrive, who do well professionally, and who love their lives. They make better choices about where they work and what they do, because they know why they do it.  And it’s simple. If you want a more purposeful life, then you should be doing things you love – not just the things you’re good at. Working for passion far outweighs working for a paycheck.
But how do you get clear about your purpose – how do you know what your real reason is for showing up?
Well, this past week I’ve had a flurry of resumes in my inbox. I’m not a recruiter. But I am on a mission to help people make changes that will let them find the jobs they want, be more successful in their careers and live more meaningful lives.

Why is More Important than What

For the people I help, my starting question remains the same: “Do you know your purpose in life?” When you’re looking for work, communicating why you want to do things is always more important than what you can do.  No matter how many Profiles and Objective statements I read, they mostly focus on skills, achievements, or ability to do the task at hand.  But we sell ourselves short when it’s all about what we can do, and not what we stand for.

It’s Not What You Think, It’s What You Feel

Any basic search of the Internet will return a plethora of purpose guides. That’s always a good place to begin. But if you really want to discover true purpose, you have to break through the limitation of saying what you think is expected versus what you really feel.

A Story …

Take my client, Summer. She went through a purpose exercise and announced that she was passionate about creating and building an energetic place to work, where it would be fun to come every day. That sounded good, but my first question to her was: why was it important for her to build that kind of work environment? She answered that if people want to really take care of stuff, they had to first look after themselves and then look after each other. I found her reply – all the “looking after” – interesting. So I asked why that was significant. She said she believed people could only do good work when they were enabled and empowered. Her belief was a strong clue to her passion. I asked her to explain it to me. Then Summer told me the story of how she’d been sickly and shy as a child, but when she joined a gym class, her coach helped her find inner strength to compete not just with others, but also to succeed in the world. Why did it matter so much to her? Because she discovered that when you help people through their vulnerabilities, you can show them that life gets better.
Understanding the why behind Summer’s passion helped her discover that she thrives in job roles where she can help people who are in vulnerable positions. And no, this didn’t mean that Summer was destined to be a nurse. Any job or project where she could help people overcome a challenge and find a better way would satisfy her passion.

Spot the Difference Between What You Do vs. Why You Do It

There’s a simple test that let’s you spot the difference between selling yourself based on what you do versus why you do it. It’s how it makes you feel. Because passion isn’t logic – its emotion.
If you were a manager, which statement would convey more to you about this person’s purpose?

  • I have 14+ years of experience with computers: installing and configuring operating systems, and doing many various hardware/software upgrade. I have experience managing and maintaining a well-running IT environment, configuring/securing/encrypting wired/wireless networking, and much more. I am looking for a role as a IT / Tech Support / Network Administrator.

OR…

  • I am passionate about helping people find solutions that make their lives easier. That’s why in the jobs I’ve had until now I have become the natural go-to-guy who is always interested in solving problems, helping people make smarter choices and finding better and more efficient ways to get things done. I am drawn to working in IT because technology is at the heart of all the things people do these days – it’s how we manage our lives, keep organized and connect with others. A role in IT / Tech Support / Network Admin would therefore allow me to help people live more fully. I have 14+ years experience managing and maintaining a well-running IT environment…

Purpose is Powerful

Helping people find their purpose is powerful, because you watch them have a visceral response to something that they feel deep inside, and have a hard time expressing. So when you think about your purpose, remember to ask yourself why at least five times: why is it important, why is that significant, why do you believe that, why do you feel strongly about your belief, and why does that matter to you?
The answer may surprise you! You’ll find some guidelines in the attached Purpose Pack PDF, but if you’re curious to know more about your purpose, try this quick two-step process.

Step One: Answer 10 Purpose Questions

The trick to this exercise is to be candid with yourself, and to write down the first thing that comes to your mind. After your initial answer, write down why you feel that response is significant to you – why does it matter to you?

  1. What one thing do you wish your parents had known about life that would have made things easier or better for them?
  2. What did you miss most in your childhood – the thing you would like as a do-over?
  3. Is there any guidance that would have influenced your life positively that you wish someone had given you when you were a teen?
  4. What is your believe statement? (I believe that … )
  5. How do you support or contribute to this ideal or principle that you believe?
  6. What profound impact would you like to have on other people’s lives?
  7. How do you know when you have done a good job?
  8. If you had $10 Million to spend on any charity of your choice, how would you spend it?
  9. What personal qualities or achievements do you want to be remembered for?
  10. If you could supersize one thing you do well, what would be your superhero skill?

Step Two:  Identify Your Purpose

In this step, you boil your answers from the 10 purpose questions down into a one-liner purpose statement.  To do so:

  1. Review the answers to your 10 Purpose questions.
  2. Write down the empowering words that appear most often.
  3. Choose the words that inspire you, that make you feel good – link them back to times you felt happy and successful.
  4. Write one sentence that sums up why those words or phrases are important in your life.  Keep this sentence as simple and clear as possible.

Here are some other people’s purpose statements that answer the question: Why do you do what you do?

  • I love to empower others to overcome limits so that they are free to keep pursuing new challenges.
  • I want to help others find their power so that they can make better choices.
  • I believe in working with others for the benefit of all.
  • I want to inspire people to do the things that inspire them, so they can find their special contribution to the world.
  • I love to connect people and opportunities so that potential can be realized.
  • I believe in helping others find the best life has to offer, so that they can achieve great things.
  • I make good things happen, so people can be more and do more.

And remember. The next time you apply for a job, don’t tell people what you want. Tell them why you want it!

Download the Free Purpose Pack PDF

The Purpose Pack PDF includes exercises and worksheets to help you discover your why.

PurposePack

27 Comments on "Discover Your Why"

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  1. Lance says:

    Hi J.D.,
    Thanks for the introduction to Janine!

    Janine,
    What a wonderful article! There’s so much to “why”. And reading this, it is such a powerful thought about how that can get us closer to what our own deeper meaning is (and why that’s significant for us). Janine, this is so good to read today! And I’m really looking forward to working through these questions, to further understand who I am. thank you!!

  2. Hi JD,
    Thanks for introducing yet another wonderful writer! Keep up the great work.

    Janine,

    This is sort of paradigm shift for me, it gives a different meaning the way we look at things. The article is very thoughtful and the exercise with it makes you involve – even before I could start the exercise to deduce the purpose of me, I was so excited I had to congratulate you.
    Once again thanks for such a wonderful article.
    Regards,
    Prashant

  3. Love this post! I’m always thinking in terms of “what.” What are my goals? What do I want to do with my life? What do I want to be? But WHY is real question. This was such a great post. Thanks for sharing it with us! :)

  4. Praveen Rangarajan says:

    WOW … awesome … simply mind blowing !!!
    A lot of surprises for me today :)
    I found “why did the answer to the purpose question matter to me” unique and interesting. I found that I was able to write the why rather easily when I truly “felt” the answer.
    Its strange that my purpose in life is philosophical while my biggest desire in life is practical. A mix of emotions there I guess.
    Regardless, I have had a great start to the week – thanks to you.

  5. What a powerful exercise. I’m excited to work through these questions.

  6. Jason says:

    This is an interesting and challenging post. I can see the power of why, but I also see the difficulty of finding it. Like your story about Summer, you may think you’ve found your why but in reality your aren’t looking deeply enough to find the core truth. Or maybe you are picking a why that you ‘want’ to be true but it really isn’t. I noticed that all of the examples above are highly altruistic, yet in real life I don’t often see this level of altruism and commitment to humanity. Are these examples wishful thinking? While an inspiring why may make you feel good, what if it isn’t true? It lacks power doesn’t it? Can you pick a great why and then build passion around it, or do you need to find the why that you already have passion for?

    Can you predict happiness based on the achievability of someone’s why? If your why is to end world hunger, you may never satisfy it but you’ll be challenged along the way. If your why is to feed your family, and you achieve that, will you live a simple, satisfied life?

    I can see how your why may change with time. This feels like a highly introspective exercise that also requires input from people who know you well in order to get right. And then it may drift, so you may need to keep a close eye on your why in order to keep it from getting away from you :).

  7. ‘Working for passion outweighs working for a paycheck’ is a great explanation of why companies can’t hold onto some of their most talented…

  8. Paul says:

    Thanks for the pointer JD… working through the questions now. More clarity is always a great thing. I think I’m already discovering some things from the questions.

  9. Thanks for all the great feedback and shared insights. Becoming why-centered does require a paradigm shift; but with that shift comes a change in energy. If you tackle every task that you do, or make each of your decisions with why in mind, you start to align with the things that are important to you.

    @ Jason – a why is altruistic because it represents the good you want to do in this world. It’s what gives your life meaning. But people don’t pick a why – it gets shaped in their childhoods, and it’s how their brain is hard-wired. You’re right about how you use your why though. Most of us live out our purpose in our families and communities. I’ve noticed that the more why-centered people are, the more they’re driven to keep applying their why in bigger and bigger contexts. It’s like a drug, you get a high from living your why!

    The result: people like Tony Robbins. There’s a great TED video with Tony talking about being the why guy. If you watch it, you’ll see instantly the moment he connects with his why. He says its the day he discovered that people care. But in reality, it’s when Tony realized that life is about the choices you make, and how you respond to the situation you’re in. It’s the only time he gets visibly choked up, because purpose is in the limbic, feeling part of the brain.

    Thanks for reading. And I would love it if some of you posted your why statements!

  10. Feelings are such an underrated part of our lives. I know the more that I’ve become intuned with my feelings the better my choices are. It comes down to understanding what makes me happy and how to optimize my life, that’s what I shoot for every single day.

    I downloaded the PDF and I’m looking forward to looking through it.

  11. I applied several times to a job for Microsoft. After reading it I understand even better why i failed many times and succeeded only once ;)

    Thanks for great story telling experience and fantastic guidance packed into the PDF.

  12. Kevin Lam says:

    My favorite nuggets from this post:

    1. Working for Passion Outweighs Working for a Paycheck

    You said it! As someone who’s once sat in the parking lot contemplating for 5 minutes if I really wanted to go into work many years ago, once you make this small life switch things will never be the same!

    2. Why is More Important than What

    If only the information security folks would embrace this notion more, it would revolution this space in ways that it’s needed to be for many years.

    Great article Janine,

    –Kevin

  13. Very very interesting and useful. I’m all about feelings.

    And that is one free download I’m definitely going to take advantage of. Thank you, J.D. and thanks Janine. I’m sure I’ll get a lot out of it.

    Luckily I’m now getting my life do-over, in music and songwriting. I’m living proof it’s never ever “too late.”

  14. Jimmy May says:

    A friend asked me last week about going into management. I had the presence of mind to share with him that he must pursue his passion (he’s very good at what he does), & asked whether management could provide that level of gratification. Only he can answer that–and he can only do so after he asks himself the question.

    You ask hard questions, Janine. I am intrigued & look forward to working through them. Thanks in advance for making me think!

  15. Julie says:

    Janine! This is a wonderful way to pair my purpose with my strengths! Those things I’m good at and I love. They make me stronger.

    I will share this with my team. We’ve been doing some personal visioning and I love your step by step approach.

    Thank you.

  16. Patricia says:

    JD,
    Excellent guest post and thank you for the introduction. I had a computer freeze up today, so I am going to start here tomorrow morning so I can really study this post and make a more intelligent comment..
    Thank you, I look forward to coming back..

  17. Rob Boucher Jr says:

    Good stuff. the why is so important to keeping yourself going during those times when
    1) you don’t know why you keep doing what you are doing
    2) you need to generate energy to continue on a certain path that you know leads to a good outcome.

    When I’ve had a why, I can generate a huge amount of energy with much less effort. when I don’t, I tend to drift or use will power, which burns you out of time.

    I’m going to do these exercises this week.

    Thanks!

    Rob

  18. Please don’t find me as a voice of dissension. I disagree on your point of why being more important than what. Why is a never-ending journey that leads one to conclude things that makes little to no sense. For instance, why did she go to the gym, why did she get that trainer, it could go on forever.

    What, in my opinion, starts off with “Being”. In every case, it is who one is that determines what one becomes. Prime example is the futile effort of solving poverty with money. Give a poor man a million dollars and he is just a poor man with a million dollars. One with a mindset of abundance will never suffer lack for long.

    Since you probably live your life, to some extent, from the point of view or attitude of ? Why?, and since life good and bad, always
    seems to come of its own accord, with no clue as to why, let us examine the whole question and attitude of asking ?Why? in life.

    The truth is you haven‘t the slightest idea why anything happens the way it does. We do not know why the sun comes up every day, how it got there in the first place, or why trees grow. Not so obvious, you do not know why the simplest things happen in your own life. I know that you think you do. You are always trying to figure out why, so you make it all up.

    Life is a question of “what”, not “why” (My Success Secret #1). You can observe what is happening in your life, but you cannot know why. For example, why are you reading this? Every time you come up with a reason, ask yourself why.

    If life was reasonable then why would make perfect sense; however, life is unreasonable. It goes on despite how we feel about it. The reason why we do anything is simply because we do.

  19. Patricia says:

    JD
    I am so glad I came back and reviewed this outstanding post. I was to tired when I read it the first time, my perception was off from the writer’s intention and now when I read it this time, I can see that and that we are truly on the same page about life purpose and meaningful whys. Thank you for sharing this information and your introduction to another good teacher.

  20. @ Dr Howard – Found your perspective interesting because it revealed something about your Why: you define your life by choices. Your purpose is to give others the tools they need to free them up to make better choices. Reading between the lines, I’d say your hard-wired pattern is to a) first question things; b) find expertise and learn; c) create a new framework; d) do something real and e)measure the impact of your choice.

    Of course I’m always up for a challenge and would love to show you that your own Why is what allows you to make sense of everything you do. I suspect though that we’re talking semantics, because it’s clear to me that you are purpose-driven :)

  21. Gordon Meier says:

    J.D.,
    I’m very proud of you; your tenacity and desire for self improvement for yourself and others. It is clear that many of your colleagues take inspiration from your thoughts.
    For myself, as you know, I’m a ‘bottom line’ kind of guy. The words of Dr. J Kyle Howard resonate with me. Amen brother. His blog brought to mind words that I wrote years ago and I find myself repeating often. “and yet the day was born anew with all it’s grand and gracefull beauty; your trials and tribulations cannot keep it from it’s duty”
    And so, perhaps there is something to be taken from both points of view. The ‘why’ and the ‘what’. While you cannot escape reality, perception does rule. Brings to mind a cartoon I remember seeing behind the counter of an auto parts store. It showed a wrinkly old woman with the caption “before six beers”. Then you turned it upside down and it showed a beautiful young woman with the caption “after six beers”. It does make you realize that it’s all how you look at things. Hopefully it doesn’t make you start drinking.

  22. Adrian says:

    [quote]If your why is to end world hunger, you may never satisfy it but you’ll be challenged along the way. If your why is to feed your family, and you achieve that, will you live a simple, satisfied life?[/quote]
    Ending world hunger would not be a why but a what you want to do. It begs the question, why do you want to end world hunger.

    I think if you know your why, you also know your passion. Maybe find what you believe is your passion, then ask why it is.

    Loved the article. My job is an expression of my passion and what I believe to be my purpose in life, I know the why behind what I do. I am satisfied, happy, proud of what I do, believe in it, hope to inspire others to find their passion/why, turn their ‘dream’ into a goal and succeed in life.

    At my interview my boss to be asked me how I defined success. I said I have two answers, both of which I will not change. If one person a year says “Thank you, you inspired me to follow my dream” I am a success. When I die if people say “he was a good person, I will miss him” I am a success. Success is being remembered for what you did in life, not by how rich you are in $$$$.

    I got the job, got promotions quickly and was told, “You are a victim of your competence”. That is success.