Realize Your Why

I wrote earlier about finding your WHY. In this draft, we’ll talk about why it’s important to realize our WHY, so we can go on to action our HOW. Before we do that, it’s important to address a couple of issues that come up. Firstly, it’s easy to get the WHY and HOWs mixed up. Secondly, we get so focused on our WHY that we forget our HOWs. That leaves an organization that is inspired and talks about their WHY all the time, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of HOW they are going to work together to realize their WHY. Remember, inspiration (WHY) without action (HOW) is akin to leadership without management. While inspiration precedes action, we do need both.

To recap from the earlier draft, a WHY is a purpose, cause, or belief. It is this deep-seated visceral emotional force that naturally inspires and drives us. It’s our North Star that guides us to true fulfillment, if you will. Our HOWs are the actions we take (how we do things) when we are at our best. WHAT we do simply serves as the tangible proof of our cause (our WHY). In other words, our WHY is a result of our WHAT.

Let’s delve deeper into our HOWs. Our HOWs are more than words on a poster or screensaver. They are value-based actions we take to realize our WHY. They are our strengths and unique abilities. They are our values and guiding principles that bring our WHY to life. They are actionable. They are always in the affirmative, meaning they are for something, and not against something.

They are how we do everything, from taking an inconsequential action to a major decision and everything in between. In other words, HOW we do certain things affects how we do everything else.

For some reason, we only ever have up to 5 distinct values (HOWs). Any more is probably some overlap of our other values.

One of our HOWs is more emotional and visceral than the others. In other words, one of our HOWs is likely our WHY, because it seems to contextualize all the other HOWs.

Here’s my example. My WHY is to inspire people (myself included) to live a meaningful life, so that together, we can create a better future. My HOWs are to simplify (to distill ideas to their essence), set things in motion, act with intention, think long-term, and do the right thing. My WHAT is the advising, writing, and speaking that I do.

For me, to act with intention is the HOW that is more emotional and visceral than the others and comes closest to my WHY.

This is a tangible representation of me acting in line with my HOWs in order to fulfill my WHY and the result is inspiration. When I am able to do these things, I’m most effective at inspiring people to be their best selves. This is also how I work best with others. As Sinek writes, when we are clear in our WHYs, disciplined in our HOWs, and consistent with our WHATs, then the result––our WHY is fulfilled.

So how do we find our HOWs? Well, they surface from experiences in the past, when we have been at our best. We need to identify the commonalities among those experiences to find our HOWs and then we choose environments that allow us to act in line with them. Knowing when we are at our worst will also give us insight into what we need to do to be at our best.

Our values have to be simple and actionable. They can’t be nouns. They have to be verbs. For instance, a value isn’t integrity, but to do the right thing. It’s not innovation, but to think from an alternate viewpoint. A value isn’t honesty, but to always speak the truth. It’s not about being authentic, but to choose to say and do what we believe.

When we phrase our values as verbs, it makes it easy for us to hold ourselves accountable to them (and to hold others accountable to them as well). Asking ourselves if we did the right thing is easier to answer than asking ourselves if we acted with integrity (which seems vague), because it puts us on the hook. We then have to answer to ourselves. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. In essence, our HOWs are how we make decisions in our everyday lives as well as the organizations we work in.

We bring our HOWs to life by simply doing it. We create an environment in which we naturally work at our best. The ability to be at our best is not only us holding ourselves accountable to those actions or our guiding principles or values, but also being in an organization or culture (environment) that enable them as well.

Our pursuit of WHY becomes more stressful or difficult when even one of our HOWs is missing. Therefore, it’s important to find clarity of the WHY, discipline of our HOWs, and the consistency of our WHAT. It’s only when those three are in balance that we can be at our best.

It’s worth noting that a WHY for one person could be a HOW for another and vice-versa. When we work with others, our WHY might be similar, but if our HOWs don’t align, we won’t work as well together. Likewise, our HOWs might be similar, but our WHY might be totally different.

If we want to love what we do, we need to find those who believe what we believe and who operate optimally in a similar way to us. The environment that we need to be in and the actions we take all work towards helping us inspire and feel inspired. When we are clear on the purpose that drives us (WHY) and we act in line with who we are at our best (HOW), we thrive and we are fulfilled in all aspects of our lives.

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