How to Find a Deeper ‘Why’
Our experiences shape our worldview and inform our personal and business actions.
7 min read
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As the world watched, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech now referred to as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” As he spoke of a promised-land with equality and justice for all, King acknowledged he may not survive to see such a place.
As if foreshadowing his impending end, King reaffirmed his commitment to the cause no matter if death was waiting: “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” These were among his last public words before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
King had a powerful conviction, which allowed him to be a great leader who regularly faced danger and death. This is a man who knew his why. Clearly why matters whether fighting for political changes or ones within your own business.
The third most viewed TEDx talk of all time is Simon Sinek’s “How great leaders inspire action.” His answer? Start with why.
Millenials buy why.
As the United States and western culture collectively move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social good becomes a greater part of the conversation and of our buying habits. According to a 2015 Nielson “Global Corporate Sustainability Report,” 73 percent of millennials are willing to spend more money on a product if it comes from a sustainable or socially conscious organization.
According to the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, 90 percent of millennials would switch brands to an organization associated with a specific cause. Social good and contribution is clearly not mutually exclusive with profitability.
Some of the most successful brands have started with a clear why and sought to conduct business in a socially conscious way. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, saw a need for footwear in some of the poorest regions of the world. With that clear reason why he was creating the company, he built one of the most successful companies in the world.
To be a successful brand doesn’t require elaborate charitable causes. As Simon Sinek’s TED talk mentions, Apple doesn’t explicitly focus on social good, but they remain successful because of their strong emphasis on core principles. “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.”
Each of us has a set of experiences that shapes how we view the world. These life experiences define why and how we interact in the way that we do. By engaging in transformational experiences, we can more readily answer our existential questions, determine for what purpose we exist, and discover our why.
Getting to why: Travel.
As cliche as it sounds, travel can be a useful experience to broad our worldview and find our why. The TOMS founder catalyzed his idea to give away a pair of shoes while in Argentina where he saw children without protection on their feet.
It’s even more important for people who have never traveled outside their state or country. A different culture and experience can greatly shape our lives. It can also be incredibly healing as well.
In 1856, a grief-stricken “Stonewall” Jackson set sail for a three month trip across Europe. In doing so, he recovered from the loss of his wife, Ellie, and found a deeper relationship with his spiritual and religious beliefs that would later play out in the American Civil War.
Of course, travel should be done with care and conscientiousness. Ryan Holiday says it is important to ask yourself hard questions about travel. Is it restlessness? Search inwardly to your motivations whether this is a route you should take.
Getting to why: Psychedelics.
As many entrepreneurs and high performance professionals are finding, sometimes taking a journey has a different implication. In certain circles (especially Silicon Valley) doing psychedelics like peyote is becoming increasingly common.
Indigenous tribes that have maintained many of their practices use psychedelics frequently to connect with a higher power or a higher purpose. The oldest recorded evidence of psilocybin mushroom usage dates back to 9000 – 7000 BC. The term the Aztecs used for mushrooms literally translates to “God’s flesh.”
Besides all the medical value being researched in labs across the world, more science is suggesting benefits for healthy adults. Roland Griffiths conducted experiments at Johns Hopkins University showing that up to 72 percent of participants using psilocybin had mystical-type experiences. In the study, users noticed positive changes in attitude, mood and behavior, which lasted over 14 months after the trial concluded.
These mystical experiences may seem hard to comprehend for the uninitiated psychonauts, but there is an ineffable quality that comes with psychedelic experiences that helps many identify deeper personal truths. Using psychedelics for a deeper understanding of our why is not new. According to Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs considered taking LSD a “profound experience” and “…one of the most important things in my life.” Finding deeper meaning in our personal life translates to a more informed why in our businesses.
Getting to why: Challenges.
Hundreds of thousands of people run marathons every year. Over 3 million people have participated in Tough Mudder events, pitting people against 10-foot walls, fire pits, and their own psyches.
These challenges help us to grow and find a deeper awareness of ourselves and limitations. Many that seek these challenges and come away with a greater appreciation and perspective on life.
My challenge of choice is hunting. More entrepreneurs are seeking to “eat what they kill” in a literal sense, and this does not come without serious challenges. In my first hunt, I spent nearly 5 full days in bitter cold waiting for an opportunity to kill an animal for sustenance. This included a rare snowstorm that hasn’t hit my area in 20 years.
This was a brutal and miserable experience. I was frequently cold and bored, and it all culminated in a single shot. This challenge made that shot (and the successful harvest of meat) all the more enjoyable. But it also gave me a deeper connection to why I was doing it and how I might make a broader change.
Three experiences shifting course.
Sometimes finding a deeper why is not convenient or beneficial for business. Between experiences with ayahuasca and hunting, I developed a new calling to change the way we approach our relationship with life and death in the west. Americans eat the most meat and although approximately 94 percent consume animal products, only 6 percent actively hunt.
By being involved in a documentary directed by Barlow Jacobs called Below The Drop and by organizing conscious group hunting experiences, my why has shifted to reharmonizing humans with nature now that we have moved into urban environments and lost touch with the world around us.
Given that I was a nootropics and biohacking enthusiast reaching nearly 200,000 people a month focused on optimized mental performance, this is a big shift. But it’s one that feels more in alignment with a larger why and it all came through experiences.
Deeper meaning, deeper satisfaction.
Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book identify numerous examples of how understanding a why is financially beneficial and successful. This is true. But this isn’t even the best reason.
By understanding your why it’s possible to find deeper meaning and satisfaction with your work and in your life. Having a clear goal about a mission or purpose provides a sense of satisfaction that makes living well easy.