Life is hard. You don’t need me to tell you that. In fact, some of you may be thinking that it’s the understatement of the year! But I think this is a good thing. Life is hard when you live hard. You work hard, you mom hard, you love hard. And you wouldn’t have it any other way because by living hard, you create meaning and purpose. Success doesn’t just simply happen — unless you live hard and make it happen.

Living hard is all about defining your “why”. It’s not about how you make it happen, or what you do to make it happen, it’s about why you make it happen.

Why do you get up in the morning?
Why do you push forward when you fail?
Why do you do what you do?

If you’re looking for your why, your purpose, try living hard!

Why You Need to Define Your ‘Why’

British-American author, motivational speaker, and organizational consultant, Simon Sinek has made a living teaching people how to discover their why. “People don’t buy what you do,” he says, “they buy why you do it.”

“He who has a why can endure any how.” — Frederick Nietzsche

When we skip over the process of discovering our why, and focus instead only on what we do, it won’t resonate with people. Entrepreneurs, employees, chief stay-at-home moms — it doesn’t matter your title or role, as long as your why drives you forward.

So how do you discover your why? Maybe your passion is fading, your business success faltering, or your day-to-day joy is starting to fizzle. Here’s a look at how to reignite that spark by re-defining your why.

You’ll Take More Risks

Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of a major life change or challenge and thought, “why am I even doing this?” Grad students, I know you are nodding. Rising leaders, those scaling the career ladder, I’ve been there with you and you’re nodding too. I won’t presume to know what everyone feels, so I’ll stay in my lane and share my own truth:

This is what being an entrepreneur is like all the time. Starting your own business requires risk — even when things are going well, there’s always an element of uncertainty. Leaving the comfort of a 9-5 job, using your life savings to invest in the unknown, depending only on yourself for the next paycheck — entrepreneurs are only successful without some uncomfortable exposure. So when you’re in the middle of this challenge, with your palms to your temple asking, “Why?” — it’s easier to move forward if you have a really good answer!

The numbers are grim for small business survival. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Business Employment Dynamics:

  • 20% of small businesses fail in their first year
  • 30% of small businesses fail in their second year
  • 50% of small businesses fail after five years in business
  • 70% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business

That’s some scary stuff! Leaving the stability of working for someone else to go into an industry where failure is likely, takes guts. It takes passion. It takes a clear and resounding why. If you’re not passionate about delivering value to your clients, there’s no way you’re going to want to risk these numbers. If you don’t truly believe that the world will be a better place with your product or service, you’re going to consistently play it safe. And playing it safe doesn’t get you beyond those statistics, and it certainly doesn’t let you pursue your passion.

According to Margie Warrell of Forbes, “A clear sense of purpose enables you to focus your efforts on what matters most, compelling you to take risks and push forward regardless of the odds or obstacles.” My purpose, my why, drives me forward every day. It certainly doesn’t make my day any easier, but it does make the wins more fulfilling.

Client Engagement

Remember, people don’t buy what you do. They might need what you do, but there are likely dozens of businesses they could choose from that do the same thing. When it comes time to choose who they want to work with, they’re going to be looking at why you’re doing what you do.

Graphic that says AuthenticMillennials are the generation we look to right now to cite stats — because it’s the newest generation with buying power. With each new generation, we see changes in the marketplace. Millennials want authentic messages, authentic brands, and authentic interactions. They relate to businesses like TOMS, a shoe company that started out by donating one pair of shoes for every shoe purchased. Their why was obvious — to help children that grew up without shoes. They want to know how CEOs give back. How brands work to build community.

Passion is contagious and your customers will sense if you truly care about them, or if you just want their money.

Employee Engagement

Humans don’t just simply need to survive anymore. We’re less concerned with just getting by and more concerned with living fulfilled lives. It used to be “survival of the fittest.” Today, we need to know what we are surviving for. We need jobs that we feel passionate about — and we want to make a difference. Just like your business could suffer if you can’t pinpoint your why, the moods of your employees will decline if they don’t know why they are there. The above mentioned Forbes article states, “A quick glance at employee engagement statistics points to a crisis of purpose and meaning on an unprecedented scale.” When employees aren’t engaged and don’t have a purpose, they leave their jobs. More concerning, they also experience higher rates of depression and substance abuse.

If you know your why and can communicate it, your employees or the people around you will mirror your passion and drive.

How to Discover Your Why

So, how do you discover your why so that you can communicate it to your clients and your employees? Here are a few questions to ask yourself and a few techniques to try.

This first technique was shared with me by a therapist a few years ago. I was in the process of transitioning out of my then-fulltime job as a law firm Marketing Director while balancing a growing load of freelancing clients as I prepared to launch my business. I was living life hard and working 24/7. The balls were in the air and I was juggling really well, or so I thought.

My therapist told me to number a piece of paper 1 through 10. Then, write down my most pressing concerns — the biggest items on my to-do list, in order. What felt overwhelming? What needed to be done first? And so on. When I was done, we talked through each of the ten, as I rationalized each concern and why the item was urgent. Then, I flipped the paper over and as directed, numbered 1 through 10 on the back. Only this time, she said to forget about the first list and think about my life as a whole, from a broader perspective. What are my biggest goals? What do I want most out of life? What is my why? (Before you read on — try it!)

When I was done, my original list was literally upside down! My jaw dropped. The things at that moment that I was spending the most time on and worrying about the most were the things that wouldn’t even matter in six months, and they certainly weren’t on the top of my list of goals.

Here’s another tactic to try, following the advice of American self-help author, Steve Pavlina. He says to get a piece of paper and ask yourself, “What’s my purpose in life?” Write down an answer. Write another one and keep writing answers until one of them makes you cry. That’s your purpose.

If you don’t want to push the emotional envelope, try asking yourself some of the following questions:

  • What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?
  • What makes you come alive?
  • What are your friends and family always asking you to help them with?
  • What would you do if you knew couldn’t fail? Or more importantly, what would you keep trying to do even if you failed?
  • What makes you stop watching the clock?
  • What do you care about?

Remember, knowing your why isn’t just about getting more customers or being more successful. It’s about being fueled by what drives you, what inspires you, and what pushes you to keep moving forward during life’s ups and downs. Living your why means that when challenges arise, you have a reason to keep going. And sometimes that’s what makes all the difference.

If you’re looking for your why, your purpose, try living hard!