A firm grip held the microphone steady above the scene in the boom operator’s hands. His breathing was steady and quiet for each take until the director called, “Cut.” Qualified to do any number of creative tasks – writing, storyboarding, set designing, shooting, lighting, editing – he was there to do one job that day and do it well.
Then several thoughts and questions suddenly flooded his consciousness revealing a dark and lonely crossroad. I’m 30 years old. I know how to do a lot of cool things, but where the hell is all this going? I’m good at what I do and it’s fun, but why am I doing it? Is this what I really want to be doing forever? Shouldn’t I be further along in my life and career by now? Something needs to change. Something’s missing.
This true story happened 17 years ago. That boom operator was me.
While I knew how to do certain things, my struggle was with why I was doing them. I questioned: Is this why I exist or is there something else? How can I be true to my truest self? Am I reaching my fullest potential and making the biggest difference with my talents?
What I needed was vision clarity (the why) to bring deeper meaning to the level of expertise (the how) that I was bringing to my craft (the what). Simon Sinek wrote about the what, the how, and the why in his uber-popular book Start with Why. I wish he’d written this 20 years sooner:
“A destination without a route leads to meandering and inefficiency … A route without a destination, however, may be efficient, but to what end? It’s all fine and good to know how to drive, but it’s more fulfilling when you have a great place to go.”
The premise of Sinek’s book is essentially that anyone within an organization can easily state what the company does and how they do it. Rarely, however, is there a universally understood why. What’s needed is charismatic and inspiring leadership that clearly and consistently communicates a vision for a bigger, brighter future. A vision that reinforces the value of the product or service in the mind of the customer. Otherwise, why exist at all?
Nearly two decades later, here’s what I’ve learned. What Boulevard and How Parkway are wide, level and easily-traveled. Any mode of transportation will do just fine. The path along Why Street is often uphill, winding, rocky and narrow. It requires a bit of stamina, commitment and knowing how to choose the appropriate hiking boots. But the journey is far more worth it when you can look across your life and work from the higher perspective of Purpose Point. The views are much more breathtaking and the water is purer.
Here’s the truth. You don’t just “arrive” there. Knowing why is a continuous journey of discovery. The means of what and how are directed by an ever-evolving why. People are moving targets. Markets change. Preferences shift. Products quickly become irrelevant. Competition is fierce.
But the constant quest to answer, “Why?” makes a remarkable difference in just about everything. For starters, interestingly, it removes the focus from yourself and places it onto others. You become a better listener. You’re more in tune with others’ wants and needs. Subsequently, concerned with the impact of your work, you’re a more visionary thinker and strategic planner. It will make you a better writer and producer. You’re a more responsive designer and story teller. Communication pieces are more appropriately targeted and marketing campaigns are more effective. I believe it’s made me a much better leader (though that’s debatable, of course).
As painful as it was, I’m grateful for that depressing day in 1999. It challenged me to grow and led me toward an unquestionably rewarding sweet-spot-of-a-career. I hope you’re as fortunate to experience the view from Why.
Let’s share the journey together. If you’ve begun looking at your what and how through the lens of why, I would love to hear about your experience and results. Please leave a comment below.