The power of why

Author Simon Sinek helps to realise the importance of knowing why you do what you do in life in his book 'Start With Why'

Published 7 years ago on May 28, 2017 4 minutes Read

Raised in Ohio, sixty miles from Dayton, Neil Armstrong grew up on a healthy diet of stories about the Wright brothers. From a very early age he dreamed of flying. He'd make model airplanes, read magazines about flying and stare at the heavens through a telescope mounted on the roof of his house. He even got his pilot's license before he got his driver's license. With a childhood passion that became reality, Armstrong was destined to become an astronaut. For the rest of us, however, our careers paths are more like Jeff Sumpter's.

While Sumpter was in high school, his mother arranged for him to get a summer internship at the bank where she worked. Four years after he finished high school he called the bank to see if he could do some part-time work, and they eventually offered him a full-time job. Whamo, Jeff's got a career as a banker. In fact, after fifteen years in the industry he and a colleague by the name of Trey Maust went on to start their own bank, Lewis & Clark Bank in Portland, Oregon.

Sumpter is very good at what he does—he's been one of the top performing loan officers throughout his career. He's well liked and well respected among his colleagues and clients. But even Jeff will admit that he doesn't have much of a passion for banking, per se. Though he's not living out his childhood dream, he is passionate for something. It's not WHAT he does that gets him out of bed every morning. It's WHY he does it. Our career paths are largely incidental. I never planned to be doing what I'm doing now. As a kid I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but in college I set my sights on becoming a criminal prosecutor. While I was in law school, however, I became disillusioned with the idea of being a lawyer. It just didn't feel right. I was at law school in England, where the law is one of the last truly "English" professions; not wearing a pinstriped suit to an interview could hurt my chances of getting a job. This was not my cup of tea. I happened to be dating a young woman who was studying marketing at Syracuse University. She could see what inspired me and what frustrated me about the law and suggested I try my hand in the field. And whamo, I'd gotten myself a new career in marketing. But that's just one of the things I've done—it's not my passion and it's not how I define my life. My cause—to inspire people to do the things that inspire them—is WHY I get out of bed every day. The excitement is trying to find new ways, different WHATs to bring my cause to life, of which this book is one.

Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose, cause or belief—never changes. If our Golden Circle is in balance, WHAT we do is simply the tangible way we find to breathe life into that cause. Developing software was merely one of the things Bill Gates did to bring his cause to life. An airline gave Herb Kelleher the perfect outlet to spread his belief in freedom. Putting a man on the moon was one goal John F. Kennedy used to rally people to bring to life his belief that service to the nation—and not being serviced by the nation—would lead America to advance and prosper. Apple gave Steve Jobs a way to challenge the status quo and do something big in the world. All the things these charismatic leaders did were the tangible ways they found to bring their WHYs to life. But none of them could have imagined WHAT they would be doing when they were young.

When a WHY is clear, those who share that belief will be drawn to it and maybe want to take part in bringing it to life. If that belief is amplified it can have the power to rally even more believers to raise their hands and declare, "I want to help." With a group of believers all rallying around a common purpose, cause or belief, amazing things can happen. But it takes more than inspiration to do become great. Inspiration only starts the process; you need something more to drive a movement.