John Addison: How to Find Your 'Why' in Life

February 29, 2016

In 1981, after I’d been working at Life of Georgia for about a year, I was moved into their management trainee program. A lovely, very intelligent young woman named Loveanne was hired to replace my old position. I was smitten and luckily she was, too. About a year later, we were married, and more than 30 years later, I can honestly still say she is the best thing that ever happened to me.

She also changed my outlook on my future. I hadn’t been really motivated or aspired to greatness. Heck, I considered it a win if I had enough money left over after paying my share of the rent and bills to have a fun weekend. But, now I was married. I had another person to think about. And I wasn’t married to just anyone. I was married to Loveanne. Suddenly, I was plugged into a whole new “why.”

Related: Answer 6 Questions to Reveal Your Life Purpose

German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why can endure any how.” Your why is the thing that motivates you to get up every morning and work a little harder to get a little better. It’s the thing that pushes you even on the days when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head and hide from the world. Your why may change throughout your life, as you get married, have a family, have to care for aging parents, etc., but the questions you have to ask yourself in order to stay focused on it and overcome all the obstacles you will inevitably face remain largely the same.

What is my definition of success?

Your definition is yours, no one else’s, so you don’t need anyone’s approval and you don’t have to alter it to fit into some little “acceptable” box. But you do have to know what your definition of success is or you won’t know what your end goal is or why you’re working for it. If you define success as being able to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on and that’s what motivates you, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Once you come up with your definition, dig a little deeper and ask yourself why that is your definition of success. The deeper you dig, the clearer your why becomes and the more motivated you will become to reach it.

What am I passionate about?

Skill and passion are often confused for one another, but they aren’t at all interchangeable. You can be really good at what you’re doing, and not only not be passionate about it, but also totally loathe it. So, ask yourself if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and, if not, what you are passionate about. What excites you? What gets you going and motivates you to keep going? Find your why and then pursue it with gusto.

Related: How to Carve Out Your Life’s Passion

You will find more personal and professional fulfillment at the place where natural talent and skill meets your personal passion. That is the place where you will find your motivation and be able to maintain it for the long haul.

If money were no object, what would I do?

To some degree money is a driver for all of us. Maybe it’s not the main driver, but you know it totally is one. So, look at the job you’re doing every day and ask yourself if you’d still be doing it if money was no object. What would you do? Be realistic—odds are, you aren’t going to be a professional athlete or runway model—but really think about what your dream circumstance would be. If it’s not, you’re in a j-o-b when what you need to be in is a career—a career you love and look forward to giving your all so you can be your best.

So, how are you going to work toward that? How are you going to change your current circumstances (or use them as a jumping off point) to reach that end goal? It may not be something you can do overnight, but it can be the why that gets you up in the morning and motivates you to give your all now so you can have the future you dream of.

One of the biggest whys in my life has been making Loveanne proud. I try to do it both professionally and in our personal lives. It’s what I’m passionate about, and when I do make her proud, I feel like I’ve succeeded. You won’t ever reach your goals unless you do plug into your why and reassess from time to time to make sure you are still plugged into it. But if you are plugged into your why, the how will never be a problem.

Follow John Addison’s 9 simple practices for leading and living with purpose in his Real Leadership Roadmap, a four-week training course brought to you by SUCCESS Academy.

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