What's Your Why?

By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES Consulting

Take a second to ask yourself, "Why?"

Why ask why? Well, it's all about efficiency in goal attainment and personal satisfaction. I'll explain. I have a new client who is at a bit of a crisis. She's considering doing an MBA more than a decade after graduating with a bachelor's degree in a major completely unrelated to business. So, when she approached me for a consultation aimed at helping her get admitted to an MBA program, the first question I asked her was, "Why?" Her answer....


I think, as many people do, she assumed that doing an MBA would generally assist her in attaining the next level of career achievement. Unfortunately, she hadn't really considered what she had hoped to gain from an MBA. After deliberating for a few days, she told me that she wants to be an entrepreneur - she's currently a VP in a family-owned company - and she expected the MBA to help her achieve that goal. My quality management background took over and launched a very Socratic '5 Whys' line of inquiry, and unfortunately, she discovered that her goals were misaligned with her approach.

I have seen far too many people dream of success in various fields not achieve their goals because they either: A) lacked an intrinsic motivation for attaining the goal, or B) employed a strategy that wasn't properly aligned with attaining the goal. The root cause of both problems is failing to ask yourself, "Why?"

If you don't know why you're doing something, how will you know when you've achieved your goal, and, more importantly, how satisfied will you be upon its completion? I've met a number of high achievers who are shockingly empty because their achievements were mechanical exercises that were undertaken just because they 'seemed like a good idea at the time' or 'that's what was expected (of me)' or 'the market is so competitive that there was no way to succeed without it'. 

Ultimately, I gave my client the same advice that I give aspiring entrepreneurs who come to my office for a consultation:

First, find your passion.

What is it that keeps you awake at night brainstorming ways to execute your plan and wakes you up after only a few hours of sleep so that you can get started on your grind? Fair enough, maybe you haven't yet experienced that, but if you could do literally anything in the world without fear of failure, what would you do? If you could only do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

First, you have to find that thing. If you are considering devoting time and money to pursuing something, you will ultimately be better off doing it for something you are passionate about because of the opportunity cost involved. Once you spend an hour doing something, you can't have that hour back. After you spend $100,000 on an education, you hope to get an ROI, but no one is going to hand you a check for the $100,000 you spent on your education just to repay you (we're not talking about VC funding here - and they don't pay for education; they pay for ideas and execution).

Maybe what you're passionate about is less related to a particular business or career pursuit than it is taking care of the people who depend on you, and that's fine. Having other people depend on you can help keep you accountable so that selfishness (read: laziness) doesn't derail your plan. All that matters is that you find your why.

Then, identify your skill set.

Having a passion is the first step, but you then need to figure out what you have the aptitude to achieve within the scope of that passion. Why? Two words: Tim Tebow. Tebow was one of the most decorated college football players of our generation, a passionate leader and a hard-nosed competitor, a quarterback who could rally his team around him with a fiery exhortation or by truck sticking a flat footed defender and scoring a key touchdown. There was just one problem: he couldn't throw to save his life. In college it was less problematic because his receivers were usually so wide open that his errant passes didn't land in the hands of defenders very often. However, in the NFL, it's literally a different ballgame. He had a magical run with the Denver Broncos for one season before his career hit the skids. For all his passion for the game he'd played since he was 8 years old, Tebow simply didn't have the skill necessary to make a career out of playing quarterback. 

Aligning your skill set with your passion is a must. If you find that there is a misalignment between the two, you have three choices: A) develop a new passion in line with your skill set, or B) develop the skills that will help you make a career out of your passion, or C) start a business related to your passion and hire people with the skills needed to make it successful. 

Next Steps

After you have done this brief, but critical, self assessment, you can start to chart your career path. If need be, engage a career coach or a mentor to help you set appropriate goals and craft a strategy for achieving them. Whether you choose entrepreneurship or employment is up to you, but mapping out a plan that takes into consideration the critical factors mentioned above is far easier once you know not only what you want to do, but why.