4 Finding Your Why

As this course begins, it’s important to think about why you are taking it. Many studies across disciplines have shown that knowing your purpose, or your “why,” can be an important key to success. Keeping your purpose in mind can help you keep going, even when you get overwhelmed or life just gets in the way.

Take a look at the photo below.


grayscale photo of high-rise buildings, street, snow, storm, outdoors
CC 0 from Wall Paper Flare
Imagine that you are standing on the roof of the skyscraper on the left. It’s clearly snowing in the picture, but what you can’t see is the wind gusting. The skyscraper is swaying slightly in the wind as you struggle to stand. Stretched out over the road to the roof of the skyscraper on the right of the road is a 2×4 board. The snow is accumulating on the board, and it shifts slightly as the two skyscrapers sway in the wind. Would you cross over to the other building by walking across that slippery, swaying board for any amount of money? How much would it take for you to risk your life?

Most of us would not take any amount of money to make that walk. BUT…imagine that on the other roof is a baby, all alone in the storm. The baby might be yours, a niece/nephew. Now, would you be willing to take the risk to save the baby?

This illustration shows the power of a good “why.” Money or a good job is often offered as the reason for being in school. But that reason is usually not enough to get us through the really hard times. As a sophomore, one student I know got married, was in the emergency room multiple times and finally had emergency surgery, lost her dad to a massive heart attack, and moved with her spouse to a new apartment–all within the space of five months. And yet, she earned A’s in all but one of her 6 courses that semester (yes–she was also taking 18 credit hours–the B was in Organic Chemistry). Most students will not have so many challenges in one semester, but life happens. Students get ill, lose family members, lose jobs, breakup with significant others, etc. If you want to make it through successfully, it’s important to have a strong “why” that will keep you going, no matter what!

Daniel Henderson says, “You are unlike anyone who has ever lived. But that uniqueness isn’t a virtue. It’s a responsibility.” Matthew Barnett argues that human beings are happiest when we are using our gifts to help others, echoing the words of Helen Keller, who says, “True happiness is not obtained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” You have a gift in you to give the world that NO ONE else has. Finding that purpose and hanging on tight will help you weather the storms of life and achieve your goals.

SoulPancake. “What is Your Purpose in Life?” Youtube, May 11, 2016. https://youtu.be/mK66az43EOI.

Take a few minutes and think about your why. What is your purpose in life? You might start out by thinking about these questions:

  1. What things am I really good at?
  2. What am I really interested in?
  3. Who do I really want to help?
  4. What causes are most important to me?

As you answer these questions, don’t quit with a simple answer. Keep asking yourself “why?” until you find the answer that truly moves you to the core. Now, given your purpose in life, why is this course important? What would you say to yourself if you were in a moment where you felt like giving up to get yourself back on track?

Writing down your purpose is a powerful way to keep it in mind and help you stay strong in the midst of any challenges you may face. Whether you write your purpose on your mirror, make a vision board, or create affirmations in the form of “I am” statements, writing it down can help you stay focused on your purpose and your goals. A friend and mentor of mine, Kody Bateman, discusses the importance of “I am” statements in this video:

Bateman, Kody. “Promptings and Tennis Balls.” Uploaded by TEDxTalks, Youtube, Jan. 27, 2012. https://youtu.be/CcCs_zvleHk.

Remember, there is NO ONE else like you in the world. There is NO ONE else who has the exact same purpose and talents. You were made to make a difference in the world–don’t let anyone or anything stop you from achieving your goals!

“Finding Your Why” content created by Dr. Karen Palmer and licensed under CC BY NC.


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Finding Your Why Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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