Thanks to my friend Evan, I recently picked up a book called Start With Why by Simon Sinek. The title intrigued me from the get-go, since one of the tenets I tout in how to build a personal brand is to start with genuine purpose.
Call it what you will. Strategic planners call it MISSION, life coaches call it PURPOSE, spiritualists call it BELIEF, but the WHY that’s at the root of what we do, that is the very the core of who we are, is one of the most important things we can take the time to discover in ourselves.
And so few of us actually take the time to discover it.
How many times have you heard someone say, “You need a personal mission statement.” At least once, right?
Next question: have you actually taken the time to write your personal mission statement? Most people will probably answer no, for the sheer reason that it’s really, really, really hard. It takes time, and introspection, and reflection, all of which are luxuries in our fast-paced, high-pressure society.
Red flag, folks.
Without a purpose statement, a mission clause, and the knowledge of WHY we are making each next move, we can often cause ourselves to misstep. Instead of traveling down the road of our own WHY, we find ourselves ambiguously and aimlessly traveling down the path of other people’s whys, doing what they want us to do, and ultimately leaving us empty and unsatisfied. Without a solid WHY, we get caught in performance traps, we get focused on what others think about us, rather than focusing on who we truly are, and what we can uniquely contribute.
Chances are, if you’re feeling empty and unsatisfied in life, your WHY is out of whack. You’re lacking a mission statement. You need a cause to rally around when you get down. You need purpose.
Allow me to relate personally.
Confession: it’s been several months now, but there was a point a while back when I woke up and realized I lacked a WHY, and because I lacked a WHY, everything around me was suffering. My work was suffering, and uncreative. My kids weren’t seeing me. My husband saw me even less. There wasn’t much of me to go around. I was operating at 10% capacity. Everyone was getting less of me than they deserved, as all I had to offer was a tiny sliver. When I look back at the circumstances now, the word miserable comes to mind. It’s embarrassing to admit.
Realizing that I lacked a WHY was not easy. At first, when I asked myself, “Why do I do what I do?“, the answer I replied with was, “to make money“. But making money is not a WHY. Money is not a cause, or a mission. If making money is at the root of your WHY, your why is still out of whack. Management 101 taught me that money is not a motivator (thank you, Dr. Mott).
Moving on to the second line of reasoning, I’d answer “to provide for my family“, but that was an excuse, not a WHY, because obviously what I was doing wasn’t providing for them–emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I was on another planet and almost completely disconnected from them. So the search for a WHY continued.
From a spiritual perspective, I believe that I’ve been placed on this earth to bring God glory. That’s a good WHY, but it obviously wasn’t helping much, since I was still operating at 10%, so I had to keep digging. There had to be other WHYs that I had not yet discovered. I’ve got to give credit where credit is due here: it was an exercise from Natalie Norton that pointed me in the right direction. The exercise forced me to narrow my priorities way, way, way down, taking into context spiritual, personal, family and financial/business goals. For the first time ever, I hammered out a rough mission statement.
Almost everything you read about writing a mission statement will tell you that you’ll have to refine it over time. I now see why we’re warned on that account. The goals I outlined in Natalie’s exercise definitely took me to the root and core of where I needed to focus, but they were rough. That first mission statement draft I wrote was about concepts that needed to be further verbalized, better communicated, and tested over time and with fire to prove that they really stood. Searching for the WHY took (and takes) commitment. But, I told myself, if I was going to do this mission statement thing, I was going to get it right (by golly!).
In hindsight, I realize exactly what I was leaving out of my WHY equation. A mission statement is a sum of several important things: it’s rarely just one thing, and it’s probably not more than five. In formulating my statement, I had a couple of basic principles in place: God and family. Check and check. But for a very, very, very long time, I was leaving out an important piece of the puzzle: myself. At risk of ruffling feathers and sounding hokey, allow me to explain.
There is an old saying floating around Sunday School classrooms that reads: JOY = Jesus first, Others second, You third. Well, I was leaving off the “Y”. I was trying to operate on “JO”, doing what I was supposed to do in my faith, and always putting others before myself. I was completely ignoring my personal needs, and on an even sadder note, in doing so, I was ignoring my family’s needs. My family needed ME, at 100%, or at least more than 10%. And because I wasn’t taking any time to just work on Whitney, I wasn’t getting the exercise, the eduction, the encouragement or empowerment to offer my family, or frankly, anyone else around me, 100%.
The missing puzzle piece fell into place as I finished reading Start With Why. Most companies, and individuals, can tell you WHAT they do. Some can tell you HOW they do it. But very few can tell you WHY. When a company or individual can reverse the order of that equation, telling you first WHY they do it, then following up with the HOW they do it, and then lastly telling you WHAT they do, trust and value is created. Starting with WHY is acting from the inside out, not the outside in.
So what’s my WHY, the missing mission-statement-puzzle-piece?
I love to empower others to be creative. I feel like I actually want to shout: I LIVE to empower others to be creative!! I love to be creative, personally, but little to nothing gets me more excited than helping people put the framework in place to express themselves. It’s why I love imprintable invitations–a blank canvas for allowing others to make their mark. I love seeing how people personalize each piece, put their own twist on it, and make it uniquely theirs. My WHY explains why I love working with other designers, helping them building their brands. My WHY explains why I love Stationery Academy so much, and consulting. In the words of Simon Sinek, I love to inspire others to do the things that inspire them. I love to pass along these learning curves, in the hopes that it will encourage and empower others to go be extraordinary.
If you’re looking for your purpose, your WHY, or if you’re trying to formulate your mission statement, I’d encourage you to take a couple of these steps:
- Look at every area of your life: business, financial, spiritual, relationships, and personal (your mental and physical self). Force yourself to hone in on top priorities in each area. (There are people who can coach you with this–call Natalie Norton for some consulting, if you need to–I’ll guarantee that she’ll help you figure it out!)
- Read The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee if you want some spiritual help on WHY. (You have to get your personal WHY figured out before you can figure out your business WHY. The two WHYs end up being interdependent.)
- If you’re looking for how to express WHY in your business, read Start With Why.
- Determine to start every morning with a recap of your WHY, your mission, your purpose. I put a pen and paper beside my bed, and before I even get out of bed in the morning, I scribble my purpose statement down. Not only does this help refine it, based on continuous life experiences, it keeps my WHY at the forefront of my mind as I head into the decision making that each day requires.
- If you want to sample a taste of the Start With Why book, watch this video:
In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be posting some more WHY-focused thoughts. If you have any of your own you’d like to contribute, email me.