Focus on the 'Why" of a Job

I'm a huge fan of Simon Sinek, the popular TED-talk personality and speaker on how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change.

Sinek has a great deal to say about "Starting with the why." According to Simon, most companies focus on "the how and the what," when they should be leading with "the why." Sales people are trained to fully describe how their products or services are different and what they do or what they are selling. Simon's premise is to find out why someone would want your products or services and speak only to that end. Interesting, right?

We see companies through the "people lens" and his talk made me think of how his theory applies to employees and organizational behavior. Why would someone own their own business? Why did you pick this career out of college? Why do you want to climb the "corporate ladder"? Why do you stay at your company or why do you want to leave?

As in the selling of a product or service, we many times only focus on what we can do or how well we do it. But how many times do we stop and ask ourselves why are we doing what we are doing? The answer lies deep inside of us. It's what piques our interests, drives our passions, pulls at our heart strings and gives us energy.

Generally when a person is unhappy in their career choice, it is because they lost touch with the why. Sometimes the whychanged somewhere down the road. Sometimes they never got to the why because circumstances drove them to paths that had nothing to do with their personal desires. In meetings with employees who are leaving or failing at a job, we hear:

"I wanted to do something else but I've been doing this for a long time."

"My dad wanted me to be an accountant."

"I wanted to be in research but I had a family instead."

"I couldn't pass this opportunity because of the money."

"It's my family's business and I can't let them down."

These people sound like they are living out someone else's why. Forbes magazine suggested some questions you can ask yourself to find your why:

1. If I could trade jobs with someone, I'd choose ____ because ____.

2. I've always wondered what it would be like to do ____ because ____.

3. If I had the right education or skill, I'd definitely try ____ because ____.

4. If I could do it all over again, I would major in ____ because ____.

5. Friends and co-workers say I'm great at ____ because ____.

6. The thing I love most about my current job is ____ because ____.

7. If I was allowed to do more, I would do ____ because ____.

8. If I had the time, I would spend it working on ____ because ____.

9. When I retire, I want to be known for ____ because ____.

You'll probably find your answers follow some common themes. Maybe it's creativity, or caring for others, or working outside using your hands. I know a couple of women who became engineers in sustainable energy fields because their hearts were in saving the environment.

I also know a person who worked in real estate because it was more lucrative than teaching but after a decade left his job and became a teacher.

I gave the questions a try myself. Growing up, I wanted to be a carpenter like my dad. I loved how he could build something from the foundation up and he was able to fix anything. But carpentry was not a career choice available to girls back then. And guess what? My company helps build strong companies. We fix all sorts of broken people issues, just as dad would fix what's structurally broken. We do HR carpentry of sorts. I know why I love doing what I do.

Whether starting a career out of school or separating from a company (voluntarily or involuntarily), it is the perfect opportunity to begin a futuristic conversation with yourself. It may feel overwhelming at the time, but many times an adverse situation can lead to discovering the why.

With the right attitude, you'll discover your potential to do something that excites you, energizes you and helps you find your purpose. Understanding the things you value, what you enjoy and what you want to be known for is a great way to discover your why.