What’s your WHY?

This question was posed to me last week. It hit me harder than the best shot I took in the boxing ring last year. It is possibly the best question, and response ever.

The question poser was a former advisor to 3 different FTSE-100 CEOs and one of the most enigmatic leaders I have ever met. He asked it after I’d interviewed him and we were chatting over a coffee; he turned the questioning round so forcefully it could wind you….then it sparked one of the most enjoyable discussions I have ever had.

Humans are unique in the animal kingdom in having a base purpose that is more than merely survival (and perhaps explains why humans seek to ‘add’ to life through adverse human behaviour and use of drugs/alcohol?)

So….what is YOUR “Why”?

There are an infinite amount of answers, and an infinite array of interpretations of what the question even means. Perhaps THAT is why it is such a powerful question?

I asked a collection of fellow business owners, most gave an answer about why they had launched their business. Freedom; Uncontrolled creativity;Gary Chaplin. Whats your WHY The ability to balance work and life; Financial independence; Quest for success….

These are all good reasons, and common amongst any collection of entrepreneurial minds (especially the quest for freedom). ….But is that really, truly, honestly, your ‘why‘?

We are indoctrinated to focus a large amount of our time and energy trying to solve the answer to ‘how’, especially with regards to business success, but when did you last question the ‘why’?

Why ‘WHY’?

Why is ‘why‘ so important? Simple. As a personal question it is what drives us, drives our passion and for the most successful around, it gives the purpose to your life, your soul, your mind, your heart and all that together they can achieve.

German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, ‘He who has a ‘why’ can endure any ‘how’.

I’m lucky to have met thousands of inspirational people from all walks of life across my 20 year career as a HeadHunter, and from the life that it has plugged me into.

When I look back at those that stand out, those for whom I don’t need to resurrect my interview notes to remember, the ‘stand-out’ individuals are typically those who have been the happiest, the most at peace, the calmest and most importantly, those who are doing ‘something’ (career or personal achievements) for a reason larger than just themselves.

They are driven, very driven. They are not driven by fear or need (although many started through one of those)….They are driven by something far deeper and evocative. Passion and desire.
Gary Chaplin. Purpose
Imagine the benefit to employers of having a team of people to lead who understand, and can communicate their ‘Why’. A person’s ‘Why”, their purpose, connects their Talent, Values, Skills/Expertise and Passions.

A team of people who understand their ‘why’ will likely have the courage to take the risks needed to get ahead, stay motivated when the ‘chips are down’, and move their lives (and your business) onto an entirely new, more challenging, and more rewarding trajectory.

When quizzed, these inspirational individuals will often reveal discovering their ‘why‘ through a formal coaching or mentoring relationship, but for the majority, it just seems to fall into place through self-awareness and/or an illuminating event that caused them to question themselves, and ‘discover’ themselves.

For many, they only need to look at their children, their partner or their wider family to get great clarity on their ‘Why’, but is that really a personal answer?

Some need a pathfinder to help find their ‘why’. There are as many options as there are answers to the question. For me, one of the best tools is Phil Jones’Hi TIM” blog and his VMV exercise. Read more on that here: http://www.philjones.biz/blog/hi-tim. I went through the exercise with Phil last year. Try it.

Another was a number of sessions I had with Nick Robinson the coach (now found at There Be Giants). Again, another hearty recommendation.

Serendipity and The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

A very recent flashlight into understanding my ‘WHY’ was only two weeks before last week’s conversation/Q&A. I had just returned from holiday where I had read Paulo Coelho’s outstanding book, The Alchemist.

Holidays provide great soul-searching opportunities, hours of quiet time (nod to the Kids Club) laying in warm sunshine – solar-powered ideation and reflection. The Alchemist is an amazing book that really challenges your mind and provides great clarity – as well as giving whatever you give to the book back many times over. I won’t give anymore away – but read it.


Still can’t answer your WHY? For some people, their cognisance of their answer will need to present itself.

Crisis brings about great human spirit and energy. Think back to any crisis, no matter how seemingly menial. Your human response to crisis amplifies your power of purpose to tap access incomprehensible energy, determination and courage. Under attack, your mission becomes clear. Your goal becomes compelling. Your focus becomes laser-like. Your potential becomes truly tapped.

That laser-sighted sense of purpose focuses your efforts and ability on what truly matters the most, driving you to take on a more laissez-faire risk profile and push forward regardless of the hurdles or odds.

I truly don’t think my ‘Why’ crystalised until I went through the professional upheaval 3 years ago. No matter how much the events got embellished and exaggerated, I knocked over that first domino.

The resultant avalanche caused the greatest and most beneficial self-awareness exercise I have ever experienced. For me it forced me to look at my own ‘Why’, the answers to which accelerated the 12 months of planning to set up my own business – singly the best professional move I have ever made.

I’m not saying you need to mouth-off on email and goad people with chips on their shoulders to maximize your pain just in order to gain clarity and passion in your own life…. But life events are the greatest kick-start and insight into your own ‘Why’. Such awareness will allow you to grow in ways you didn’t think possible.

Getting to your ‘Why’

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to find your path to ‘Why’:

  • What makes you come alive?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What are your inherent strengths?
  • In what way is my business/career an extension of my passion?
  • If I could make a difference for anyone or anything, what would it be?
  • What are some small steps I can take to begin to make that difference?
  • Where do you add the greatest value?
  • How can I support or contribute to a cause, organisation, individual or group that stands for something that is important to me?
  • Is my passion represented in my company culture, mission and vision?
  • How will you measure your life?

Take just a little time this week to work out your Why. Once you do, everything else falls into place.

Finally, I asked a selection of my followers on Twitter what their WHY is:

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15 Comments on “What’s your WHY?”

  1. Great blog Gary and a great exercise. My task whilst sat in traffic in clear. I’ll tweet the outcome!
    Thanks for posting.

  2. Really enjoyed that Gary, great article. Really made me challenge my own thoughts.
    So true what you say about responding to crisis. You’re a great example of using negativity to positive effect. Keep it up!

  3. Great Blog. We ask that at interview as we want all our team to be fully engaged and understand their WHY. Just as important we insist on frequent sharing of it so everyone knows how to motivate and tap into each other. Makes an explosive ‘SalesForce’!

  4. Great article and great interaction with your network. Love reading some of the comments and whys.
    Mine has to be ‘to make IT accessible, understandable and work’.
    Keep up the blogging.

  5. Why may be a great question, but its an even better challenge to any answer. In 30years or leading teams, I’ve made it my point to respond “why” to just about any response given. Challenging others to challenge themselves is one of the best leadership accomplishments i’ve ever encountered.
    Great blog though GC, your insights are second to none.

  6. Another great blog gary, really enjoyed reading this and the mental challenge it brings. Having purpose is such an important aspect to life, happiness and overall success. Really well written and explained. Well done on the blog and on finding your why.

  7. Thanks for posting Gary. We’ve spoken about this in the past and I’ve always admired your sense of drive and purpose, now I can see some of the reason behind it. 😉
    Seriously, great blog, very thought provoking and as someone whose passion I greatly admire, its good to see you share it.

  8. Thats a great blog Gary and a great question to pose. I have spent my career teaching my charges the importance of purpose. Without fail, those that have are the ones that always achieve more.
    Keep blogging. Your articles are well written, always very thought provoking and enjoyable

  9. “He who has a ‘why’ can endure any ‘how’” – amazing quote from a fantastic blog. Really struck a chord with me Gary like it sounds as if it has with you. Love the you have taken strength from your detractors. As a great man once said, don’t ltet the bastards get you down. Their hatred is their weakness and masks their happiness.

  10. Pingback: Life-Life balance | marsh80


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