Why you need a 'why' and how to find it

KU Edwards Campus students articulate their “whys” — here are six ways you can find yours.

Discover your why - woman looking into sunset

A bulletin board in the hall leading to BEST Building recently captured the attention of KU Edwards Campus students with a simple question, “What’s your ‘why’?” The message included photos of happy students accepting diplomas at a recent graduate reception and invited students to write down their various “whys” and add them to the board throughout the weeks.

Celebrities, motivational speakers, entrepreneurs and especially fitness coaches harp on the importance of finding your “why” — to pinpoint your purpose for whatever actions or desires you want to take. 

But is it really so simple? 

Most would agree it is not. Help is here. Understanding the evolutionary process of your “whys” and learning to express them may help you lead a more rewarding, purposeful and happy life.

Are your “whys” evolving?

It can be difficult to properly put your passion or purpose — your “why” — into words. Identifying and verbalizing emotions is not always an easy task and our brains may be to blame. You might be surprised at the ways our brains influence our emotions. So students who participated in the bulletin board request should be commended for putting their “whys” into words. Many of their answers can be categorized into the natural evolutionary process of “why” described by Patrick Bet-David, a startup entrepreneur, author and creator of Valuetainment on YouTube. 

  1. Survival

The first level of “whys” is one none of the KUEC students expressed — likely because they have now evolved past the “survival” stage. In this stage, your “why” is simply to survive  — to work to pay the bills, put food on the table, have whatever’s necessary to make it to the next day, week or month. People whose “whys” are in this stage may be working so many hours or jobs that they don’t slow down long enough to really think about their “why.”

  1. Status

Once you’ve evolved out of the survival stage, you move into the “status” stage. Bet-David describes the “whys” in this stage as self-improving. You may be tired of “just” surviving and you want a better life for yourself and/or your family. You may decide that you want the status and feeling of owning that new car or a big house. Or maybe you want to associate with a certain group of people or to have that master’s degree diploma hanging prominently on your wall. For KUEC students who found a way to return to college, “whys” they wrote on the bulletin board included, “To round out my education and advance my career,” “personal knowledge,” “fulfill a lifetime dream,” and “meet like-minded people.” People with “whys” at this level often work just as hard or harder than the survival stage to earn the money needed to acquire the things that will increase their perceived status.

  1. Freedom

The third level of your “whys” evolution, according to Bet-Davis, is freedom. For many people, the high status gets monotonous after a while and your “why” begins to evolve again. You work to create a better work-life balance in order to give yourself some breathing room. Your “why” involves taking some of your free time back and enjoying life — family, friends — whatever makes you and those you care about the happiest. “Better opportunity for my family,” as one student said. People at this level may recognize the need for improving their skills to attain their freedom by attending free professional development webinars, earning a professional certificate or going back to college to earn a degree in a more lucrative field.

  1. Purpose 

As this Forbes article notes, “Given we’re wealthier today than at any time in history, there is clearly a marked difference between 'well-off' and 'well-being.’” That’s where the next level of “why” surfaces — purpose. At this level, your “why” becomes bigger than yourself or your family. You feel the need to work toward a higher goal or purpose. 

Several KU Edwards Campus students have clearly evolved to this highest level, based on their answers to that bulletin board question, “What is your ‘why’?” They said:

  • “Be a more effective advocate.”
  • “Educate others.”
  • “Make a difference.”
  • “I want to be in a position to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”
  • “Become a great leader in the public service realm.”
  • “I’m here to better myself and reach my full potential by helping out the community and being an advocate for those in need.”
  • “Social work is my light! Someone once said, ‘Find out what lights you up, it will light up others around you.’”

How to find your purpose

Bet-Davis asserts that when your “why” evolves into the purpose level, you will be at your highest and happiest calling in life. But do YOU have a purpose? And if you don’t, how do you FIND it? 

“Everyone has a calling,” Oprah Winfrey said. “And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself.” 

So the idea is that you are constantly evolving your “whys” to this fourth and highest level - finding your purpose, or passion. Everyone has a purpose in life, but may not take the time and thought to find it. The good news is it’s never too late to find your “why.” Here are six ways to help you find your passion and purpose in life and your most fulfilling “why.”

  1. Slow down and practice mindfulness.

To begin evolving your “whys” from survival to purpose, consider putting your life in slow motion. Take time for self-care, reflection and practicing gratitude. Scientific research has shown that practicing meditation and mindfulness daily can have a variety of health benefits. Another study provides evidence that mindfulness also promotes self-compassion and increased resilience, which leads to higher levels of happiness. A few practical ideas to get you started include utilizing a daily meditation app or writing down things you are grateful for (no matter how small). 

  1. Evaluate the things you do for free.

Best-selling author and prominent businessman Simon Sinek wrote the book “Start With Why,” and now sells an entire course to those hoping to find their “why.” He says to find your passion, make a list of the things you do or would do for free. What do you make time to do when you’re not at work that energizes you? What parts of your job do you love so much you would do them for free? Who are the people you hang out with whom you love and what do they have in common? Finding these tasks and people will help you find your passion, according to Sinek.

  1. Conduct a joy review.

Taking time to write down all of the things that bring you joy in life is a strategy proposed by a few noted authors. Jack Canfield, author of the “Chicken Soup” series, suggests making this list and then looking for a pattern in everything you wrote down. He also presents three questions for you to answer:

  1. What are the two qualities that I most enjoy expressing in life?
  2. What are two ways I most love or enjoy expressing those qualities when interacting with others?
  3. What would the world look like if it were perfect right now according to me?

Canfield says once you answer these three questions, combine the answers into a single sentence to create your life purpose statement. Then ask yourself:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how actively am I currently living my life purpose?
  • If not a 10, what would have to happen to make it a 10? These are the action steps you need to take.
  1. Try different things.

Millennials are often vilified for job-hopping, but one way to find the work you’re most passionate about is to do just that. Winfrey believes changing jobs is one way that can help people find their life’s calling. Whether you’re learning essential skills to change your career or moving into a job with different duties in the same industry, experiencing a variety of jobs can help narrow your focus to the one that brings you the most joy. While Bill Gates knew his purpose as a teenager, most (like Winfrey) need more time. Unless you get out of your comfort zone and try new things – both professionally and personally – you may not  find what gives you that purpose-level of “why.”   

  1. Find what makes your heart race.

Similar in theory as some of the previous ideas, YouTube personality Charlie Houpert says to make a list of the things that literally get your heart rate up. For some that might be scary movies, for others, skydiving. Houpert says making a list of the things that truly excite you so much that your body responds with a faster heartbeat will allow you to narrow your focus to the things that really bring you joy. And, it will allow you to bring to the forefront things that really do excite you but that you may have been afraid to share because of what others might think. Houpert says when you have that kind of excitement in your life, you’ll bring an energy and enthusiasm to everyone you meet — whether it’s co-workers, friends, or acquaintances — you’ll connect with other people who have similar passions.

  1. Serve others.

If you’re still looking for your purpose and meaning in life, consider finding some way to help other people. According to a Psychology Today article, studies show that serving others leads to a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in life, leading to better mental and physical well-being. This service could revolve around activities in your community, or work and includes charitable giving. Combining what you love with ways to serve others may be the combination you need to find your life’s purpose.

Using one or all of these six strategies, you can evolve your way into the purposeful action-filled existence that will bring you optimum happiness to yourself and those around you. Many of the KU Edwards Campus students seem to have already grasped a meaningful list of “whys.”

“GROWTH. Knowledge. Improvement. Career. Family. Understanding,” according to one student’s bulletin board answer. 

But others may still be struggling. According to Simon Sinek, discovering your “why” is just the beginning. In order to enjoy all the benefits of having a clearly articulated “why” you need to have the courage and discipline to use it.

“Vision without execution is hallucination,” Thomas Edison once said.

Simply thinking about enhancing your career, getting a bachelor’s degree or starting a new hobby is not enough.

As best-selling author Margie Warrell wrote in her book, “Stop Playing Safe,” “your ‘life’s work’ rests in the junction of your talents, skills/expertise, passions and most heartfelt values. Find the ‘sweet spot’ that sits in the intersection between what you care about, what you can contribute, and what will be valued most.” 

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