November. The changing of the weather and the falling of the leaves bring a natural rhythm of pause and reflection. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. We will celebrate with a day of thanks, of nourishment and nurturing with family and friends, as we watch yet another Detroit Lions football game.
Today more than ever we crave the sameness of the holiday season and the gathering of loved ones. Yet as we look around us, the world has changed dramatically in the past two years. We each have learned to co-exist with the world we now occupy, responding to one directive after another mandate.
Haven’t you had your fill of surviving, coping, and reacting? How would it feel to be in front again – or at least have a better sense as to who you are and what you believe?
The call here is for something you may not be in the habit of providing to yourself: a personal moment of silence. We are serious. The request is to take time, by being silent -- for three minutes.
Go off to a quiet space, sit silently, and breathe. Once you settle in, you may begin to think about the gift that loved ones give to you, and what you give to them.
In the tenth breath of the exercise, think not about who you are or what you do, but rather why you do what you do, and why you are as you are. That nagging why. Nothing offers a greater reason for pause and reflection than the question of why.
Because a question is difficult is no reason to shy away from it. Figuring out your “why” may become one of the most powerful and rewarding experiences of your life. To see how impactful this understanding can be, let's turn to the example of Steve Jobs and Apple Computers.
In a previous TED video, Simon Sinek takes a look at what makes some companies and individuals innovative and inspirational. During his exploration of Apple, Sinek landed on a simple reversal of the usual business sequence of what, how, and why. Most companies begin with the straightforward (the "what") and end with the abstract (the "why"). Instead, Sinek argues that inspired leaders and companies think in reverse.
To further illustrate, if Apple communicated like most of us, their message would sound something like: “We make great computers. They're beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?” Instead, according to Sinek, Apple is actually telling us, “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
The difference is quite palpable and powerful, and provides us with an example as we sit alone in our silence. As you reflect on the why in your own life and career, remember we are looking beyond introspection on the past to the motivation for future engagement with your present course. What rocks your boat these days?
Steve Jobs further sheds insight into his “why” during his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, where Jobs shared his approach to death, and life. Jobs spoke specifically about how his course was set by how he saw himself in the mirror: “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
As Jobs continued, in an all too prophetic fashion: “Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Likely over the coming holidays you will come across a screening of "It's a Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra's 1946 classic tale of George Bailey, who comes to realize the value of his life in the face of his own death.
In the film, George receives the gift of seeing what the world would be like if he had not been born. While we will not have the opportunity to see the world without us, we do experience the effect our lives have on those around us.
Ask: Are you having the impact you want? How is your “why” treating you? As you reflect on your experiences over the past year and think what the next year may hold, resist the urge to focus on the “what am I going to do,” and instead challenge yourself by asking, “Why do I want to do this?” The how, what, and who will certainly follow.