The first time I remember hearing someone ponder what their purpose was, or why they were on Earth, I was a sophomore in college. One of my roommates was ruminating on the subject, and in a heavy tone tossed her ideas out into the room. The others in the room jumped right in to discuss her thoughts. I hung back.
I’ve come a long way since that college dorm-room, philosophical discussion.
The next time it came to me, it was part of my thought process and discussion as an aspiring bed and breakfast innkeeper. When I took a How-To class, the innkeeper asked us to visualize our ideal bed and breakfast. It was an easy exercise for me. Though I was new to the concept of becoming a B&B innkeeper, I knew what my inn was like. I knew its looks, tastes, smells, sounds, and views. I’d found a physical manifestation of my why — my purpose.
A few years later, as the manager of that same B&B, I took over teaching the How-To seminars. I was the one asking the students to visualize their ideal inns. Some grasped their vision immediately, others wobbled with the concept. I heard reactions like “I’ll know it when I see it.”, “I don’t want to lock myself into one idea.”, or “I’ll know after I finish this workshop.” — and I reacted in surprise because that was so different from my experience.
I explained the concept to them this way: the vision of their inn was like a 4-dimensional snapshot of a moment in time. A moment that captured the inn experience for their guests. A moment that engaged all the senses.
I worked on this because I knew that without a strong vision for their B&B, they wouldn’t be able to plan for it, know how much money they’d need, design the marketing, or even how to operate their baby. It’s clearly an important concept to grasp early on in the process.
For some, my analogy was helpful. Others still resisted or wobbled.
Applying WHY to Real Life
As I moved on to other chapters of my life and careers, I became the person who resisted seeing my vision and wobbled. I sensed what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. I recognized that continuing as a B&B innkeeper wasn’t in the cards for me, but it was the physical manifestation of my essence. I just couldn’t quite put it into words or action. I thought I’d know it when I saw it.
Time passed. I wandered around this concept I sensed was my vision, my purpose — my WHY. In the framework I was taught in the high performance coaching program I joined, Clarity was the first topic of discussion. It took me awhile to realize that the concept was the same my B&B clients struggled with. With enough conversation around the topic, I started being able to know the words I needed to see my vision, and thus my purpose.
When you know your WHY, you can align your life and all its activities so you live in integrity. When you maintain your integrity, your life flows more smoothly — you’re happier and more fulfilled. Your WHY is like your Purpose, so it helps you set your vision and start on the path to creating it in living color. Knowing your WHY helps you take that 4-dimensional snapshot of a moment in time so that you know where you are going, what you are striving for. It not only makes it a lot easier to get there, but also you should be able to see why you need this figured out early on in your journey.
When I first discovered the concept of WHY, I saw it was about your driving force, that reason you do what you do. I’ve come to understand that’s a reasonable beginner’s understanding, but there is more to it.
WHY is the story of where you came from, like your origin story. It’s your history. It’s the statement of your beliefs and values. Your WHY acts like a foundation for your life. It shapes what you build on it. Your WHY grounds you.
Then there’s Clarity. It gives you an understanding of who you are, where you’re going, and how you’ll live your life. With time, I came to see Clarity and WHY as being connected.
Purpose seems like an easy word to define, but it’s really not. Everyone has their own definition of the word, which makes it harder to discuss. Through the years, I have come to see Purpose and WHY in the same light —the driving force, someone’s raison d’être.
So, why does any of this — all of this — matter? It may have made some sense to you when I was talking about why aspiring innkeepers needed to know their vision, which was based on their WHY. But, that’s probably not your path, so how do you apply it to what you are doing, or trying to do?
I have several thoughts and reactions to your questions. Knowing your WHY helps you live an intentional life, which makes it a well-lived life. When your life is intentional, your hands are “on the wheel”, you are in charge, and you move forward toward your vision.
When you know your WHY, you can create a vision for your life and move forward with the end in mind. I know that’s an age-old concept, but that’s because it’s a truth. We all need a vision, something to strive for, something to live for. You don’t need a path, you need a destination. You need a vision.
When you are advancing toward your vision, you are engaged in your life. That engagement makes you a more vibrant person — and vibrant people live longer, healthier lives. You become a role model for others. You change the world with your involvement.
When you know your WHY and are moving toward your vision, you are thriving, not just existing. When you are “just” existing, your brain gets bored of sitting around, doing the same nothing and looking at the same four walls, day in and day out. You are meant for more than that. Much more than that!
You were born to be free. And having a WHY, a purpose, and a vision gives you that freedom.
Part of my work is to help people discover — and then clearly communicate — their WHY, and then Clarity so their destination is much more achievable. Their path becomes clear, and they can get out of their own way. If you need help with that, get in touch.
A Real Life Demonstration
This is the video mentioned by Piet in the first Comment that perfectly illustrates between technical competence and knowing your WHY.
My follow-up video thoughts are here: More thoughts on Knowing Your WHY