Huang: Start with why

Yujia Huang, Columnist

I recently picked up Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” and found it very inspiring. Sinek gives the example of the company Apple, which continues to succeed no matter how fierce competition gets. Sinek proves to us with demonstrated examples that the companies that have a “why,” a purpose and a mission, are the ones that will succeed. In this case, Apple’s “why” is to always challenge the status quo. Apple does not define itself as a computer company: that’s simply what they do. Instead, Apple defines itself with a higher mission: to challenge the norm, defy the status quo and innovate.

Having a “why” is equally important for personal life. It brings clarity and can serve as a compass that will always point us to where we need to and want to be. It helps us stay motivated and fulfilled in a long-term, sustainable way. The success, or the “what,” will fall naturally in place, if we know our why.

Not knowing “why” can injure the quality and duration of striving for success. For example, in a pre-professional college setting, someone who goes to work for McKinsey & Company, a prestigious management consulting firm, because they want the status and success obtaining that position symbolizes might burn out quickly and feel unfulfilled after a short amount of time.

On the other hand, someone who goes to McKinsey knowing why they are entering that position will have a different experience working there. For some, it’s because they love understanding business challenges so that they can accumulate experience and open their own business one day. For others, it’s to meet talented people and make great connections in order to kick off their career trajectory. No matter what, knowing “why” will make work more fulfilling and emotionally sustainable.

Those who have a “why” won’t be upset if they don’t get a job at a prestigious firm. For those people, working a company like McKinsey is just one way for them to realize their ultimate “why,” no matter what that might be. On the other hand, those who are lost in the status and power game but don’t have clear “why” in mind will burst into anger at not being given their desired position. They will not have a suitable alternative because of their focus on the “what.” They might even lose themselves because they are not driven by a “why.” The “what” is all they know and it’s the only goal they’ve had in mind.

Personally, personal growth is one of my goals. When I see opportunities for growth, I would seize them and give my best. For me, that’s a more sustainable and fulfilling purpose than simply being “successful.” Success in the conventional way is defined by our society, but personal growth is something we can all experience and benefit from. For example, learning something new on a topic that interests me is so much more enjoyable than reading a popular book only so that I can talk about it during dinners and cocktail parties.

Having a clear “why” in your everyday life is important because you will experience true fulfillment and joy. The process of self-actualization, growth, and self-improvement is much more fun and fulfilling than chasing the empty glory of power, status, and wealth. Those things should come as a result of your “why,” not the other way around.

Yujia Huang is a Weinberg junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.