The first question is Why, not How

Most of us skip the Why question and jump straight into How. We let the How inform the Why.

We don’t ask Why because we follow assumptions. And when we follow assumptions, we’re bound to end up asking ourselves how to do something when, at least in some cases, we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

  • How to change jobs
  • How to vote
  • How to get married
  • How to raise kids
  • How to adopt kids
  • How to buy a house
  • How to build a house
  • How to start a company

The How is readily available for each of those. Problem is, the answer for How to do these things is so available that it even has multiple answers. We have multiple ways – good ways even – to vote, change jobs, get married, and so on. We get confused, though, with all those answers.

Even if we finally settle on one of the answers, we’ve still not made an intelligent decision.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to change jobs. Let’s also say you settle on keeping your old job and working part time in the new field to get experience. That’s How you think it should be done.

As you go along, though, you start to wonder, Why am I changing jobs? But note that you’ve already made up your mind about How. As a result, your answer for the Why question will be colored by your answer for the How question. Since you think the best way to change jobs is to keep your old one until you’re successful without it, you’ve already cornered yourself into some assumptions…

  1. Experience is necessary: you’re building up experience before diving in all the way.
  2. Security is necessary: you’re holding onto the old job for now.
  3. Working overtime is necessary: you’re trying to work two jobs.

The list goes on. And this creates your Why without you ever consciously choosing it.

Why are you changing jobs? Perhaps for a different experience or a different reputation associated with that experience. Perhaps for more security. Perhaps because you’d rather have that extra security than extra free time.

None of that is necessary bad. But here’s the thing: you didn’t choose it. You didn’t choose that Why. It was forced on you through the choice you made when you asked How.

That’s why asking Why should come first.

Let’s say the answer to your Why question, if you asked it first, was very different. Why do you want to change jobs? To do something I enjoy doing. That one change would totally affect how you changed jobs. First, it would affect your assumptions…

  1. Experience isn’t necessary
  2. Security isn’t necessary
  3. Working overtime isn’t necessary
  4. Doing something enjoyable is necessary

As a result, if whatever you found didn’t line up with these new assumptions, you wouldn’t take it. Your Why would dictate which direction you’d go. And that’s exactly what it should do. Your Why should determine your How, not the other way around. That’s how to decide on purpose.

You have to know and understand your purpose before you can make decisions based on it. Your purpose is your Why, and your decisions are your How. So the intelligent path is the one that starts by asking Why, not How… the one that starts by finding purpose before trying to make decisions.

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