In one of the most popular TED Talks of all time, a man named Simon Sinek introduced the idea of “Start with Why.” Too many business owners focus on the How and the What of their businesses, but Why we run our businesses needs to be at the center. We need to remember why our businesses exist in the first place.
Your business needs a Why, a stated reason for existing. Possibly several reasons. Your Why is the most impactful messaging on your website (especially your about page), and it’s the strongest personal motivation you can latch on when things get tough.
But while Sinek approached the idea of Why from a sales perspective, it has deeper, human element. The question of “Why?” in business is most impactful when it aligns with the question of “Why?” in life overall.
In today’s post, we’re diving into the significance of Why, and how to identify it in your business.
But first, let’s get the big question out of the way.
Can my Why be “because money?”
Well, let’s think about this.
First, what is money? I mean, literally. It’s fibrous paper with a dude’s face on it. Not even a cute dude (though some may argue… let’s not go there).
Money has little inherent value. So of course, when people talk about being motivated by money, they mean they’re motivated by what money can buy. The lifestyle that having money brings.
But what’s the goal of buying things? What’s the goal of that lifestyle? In a general sense, the end goal is happiness. We want to buy things or experiences to make our lives better.
Therefore, it’s much more effective to skip all of the middlemen and simply ask: What makes you happy? Then focus on that.
What makes you happy?
Many people never slow down long enough to answer this simple question. To be honest, I’m still figuring it out.
The reason why this question is difficult to answer is because we all grow up with “should’s.” You should work hard in school, you should go to college, get a well-paying job, work hard, get married, have a kid, buy a nice car and a big house.
We’re taught that happiness comes from following the model, and if we can only achieve these things, we will finally feel content.
But you know how this goes, right? You pay your dues, you work your ass off, get the stuff—but there’s still something missing.
You’re an individual person with individual likes and dislikes. The earlier you can identify what makes YOU happy apart from all the “should’s,” the better your chances will be of orienting your life in the right direction.
Try this exercise (inspired by James Altucher and Gary Vaynerchuck):
Write down 10 things or experiences that you value above everything else. What do you NEED to live a relatively happy existence?
Remember that physical things are only valuable because we experience them. You experience joy at looking at that beautiful vase, or pride when wearing your favorite team’s jersey.
Think hard about this list. Spend time on it. Modify it.
My list currently looks like this:
Things/experiences I value above everything else
- Relationship with my husband
- Ability to help people using my abilities
- Eating good food with family
- Warm, comfortable home
- Ability to read
- Ability to write
- Relaxing with good friends
- Our pets
- Ability to sing
- Ability to visit interesting places once in a while
Everything beyond this list? Maybe it’s important in some way, but it’s not vital to my existence as a healthy, happy person.
Chances are, the things you value most in the world are already within your reach. And if they’re not, it won’t take a terrible amount of effort to get them. Not if it’s truly meaningful.
A Why that’s based on money is chasing after some experience or material goods. That can be helpful in the short term (“If I make $XXXX this month, I can buy a ____!”), but the long-term motivation has to come from somewhere deeper. When your motivation comes from that which you value most in the world, it’s motivation that sticks, and passion that’s visible to your customers.
The professional is personal
People often shy away from the idea of work giving their life meaning, because we’ve been told for so long that slogging away is just the way life is. But the businesses with a strong emotional core are the ones that succeed in the long term.
Building a business is hard enough as it is. At least make it worth your time.
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