Andrew McGowan Pops the Big Question re: Leading Yourself

Why is a big question.

Much of life defaults into management. We manage the day-to-day of life. We manage our finances. We manage work/life balance. When everything normal collapses, we are forced to manage the crisis that pops up unexpectedly. Each of us is a manager.

words + photographs ANDREW MCGOWAN

How we manage life is directly linked to the question why. What causes us to choose and value our job, our relationships, or service to others? Management and motivation are intimately related. How we plan and respond to life both come from the core question of “why?” What is the thing deep down, motivating us to dream, take action, and endure?

Cue the scene of a tortured actor screaming out, “What’s my motivation?” as the well-paid player struggles to understand the character being played.

A great first step to feeling successful and fulfilled is to identify our own why. What is the core truth we will hold on to when things are hard or don’t work the way we thought they would?

Knowing this core why will keep us motivated and grounded.

A lot of people are sure they know their why.

Why are you working in that job you hate?

  • It pays well.
  • Great benefits.
  • I’m afraid to change jobs.

When trying to identify our core why we often stop short. We misidentify it, which leads to frustration, burnout, or feeling like frauds or failures.

Maybe we chose a job once-upon-a-time completely based on pay. The why was to make money. At first, this might seem reasonable, but as time goes on, we find the job to be exhausting. It takes time away from family and friends. The stuff we accumulate isn’t meeting its promise of fulfillment. What happened?

Maybe we equated pay with success, stability, or even stature. We didn’t dig deep enough into our core why, leaving us unfulfilled, unmotivated, and unhappy – even though from the outside we look like a huge success.

To find our true core why we have to do the hard thing: We have to ask hard questions of ourselves AND answer honestly.

We can use this method to deconstruct our past choices, leaving us with a better understanding of what matters most to us. We can also look forward.

This can be very difficult. When we question our core why we can get answers we don’t like.

  • Why did I choose this job? Because it was the highest paying.
  • Why was the higher pay important to me? I must be a greedy person.

It is easy to miss the point of examining our core why and the exercise becomes a self-loathing session. Some people may start but stop almost immediately. It is best to think about this examination just as a very famous, wise ogre once said to a donkey: “Ogres are like onions. They have layers!” Your core why has layers too. Keep peeling. When an answer seems negative, flip the script:

  • What proof is there that I am a greedy person? None, actually.
  • What other reason would money motivate me? I won’t have to worry about the future.

It’s not greed motivating you, but you may need to feel secure. Money seems the most direct way to achieve that. A part of your core why could be stability.

We can use this method to deconstruct our past choices, leaving us with a better understanding of what matters most to us. We can also look forward.

Take a moment and clear your mind of all the stresses of life. Think about the future. Tell yourself it’s five years from now, and everything is perfect. Life is all you could want. You are fulfilled and content. If you are struggling say it out loud, read the next few words out loud: “It’s five years from now, and I am happy and content.” Repeat it until you believe it even for just a second.

Think about those feeling of happiness and contentment. I didn’t give you specific things to focus on.  I didn’t mention your job, your family, or where you were living. When you focused on what made you happy and content in the future what else was there? Whatever it was will tell you something about your core why. Those things showed up without being asked because they matter to you.

Maybe you were looking into the future and saw yourself surrounded by your family. Belonging may be a part of your core why.

Maybe you were at your retirement and everyone was talking about your accomplishments. Being useful might be part of your core why.

At the risk of breaking my brain with overuse of the word, why does our core why matter?

Understanding our core why is a key to leading a fulfilling life. It is vital to surviving failure. It is the fuel of perseverance.

Knowing your core why is going to help you plan projects, build family life, start a business, save money, or even lose weight.

For a long time, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write a book and publish it. It seems simple. I started multiple times, always abandoning it.

My daughters enjoy the bedtime stories I make up. As they get older, they ask for stories less and less.  A few years ago, it became clear the tradition was going to end, and I was afraid some of the favorites would be lost if I forgot them or something happened to me. I decided to write them down. I kept working on them and eventually came to a place where I started publishing the stories as short books through Amazon.

Andrew McGowan’s wife, Rachel, and their two daughters working the farm.

What changed? Before my why, I only knew I wanted to be a writer. That isn’t a real why and it didn’t have any real strength. It couldn’t fight against the negative internal monologue or what ifs. It also felt a bit self-serving. Was I going to stand around at parties with in a cigar jacket and a monocle telling people, “I’m a writer, you know?”

When I identified my core why of “I want to be there for my daughters,” everything changed. It didn’t matter if the stories were particularly good or if other people liked them, they were for my daughters and that pushed me through frustrations and what ifs. It motivated me to learn the process of publishing. When my core why became clear, the work became easier. Actually, the work was the same, but my mindset had changed completely.

You might also notice my core why didn’t really have anything to do with being a writer. It had all to do with being a lasting part of my daughters’ lives. The same core why has also helped me lose weight, be more intentional about including my family in my work life, and it has helped me shed excess commitments in the way toward a better life.

When you identify your core why, you can apply it throughout your life. You may even see sudden successes in areas you don’t think are even related.

Many books and online resources are available to help you dig into your management and motivation in life through examining your core why. If you haven’t ever thought about it or even if you have, it might be time for an examination. Grab that onion and start peeling back the layers to discover the answer to the big question. AM

Andrew McGowan is president of Family Through Faith Ministries in Nixa, Missouri, feeding people over the world. He also enjoys writing stories for his family.

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