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Defining your Passion

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy WHY you do it.” – Simon Sinek (2009)

Why should anyone ask “why?”
Let’s start by telling a story about a company. This company has a simple purpose – to provide services, products, and prices that are parallel to none. When a 10 year customer service supervisor is asked by an outside representative what the company stands for, there is an uncomfortable pause. Then a hurried and uncomfortable recitation of the purpose. The supervisor is asked WHY the company exists to which the rep responds that there is a vision and mission statement, but nobody really knows what that is. These questions are asked in an attempt to turn the company around and break away from only making marginal profit gains into making a profit. As Simon Sinek (2009) knows all too well, if we do not have a clear understanding of our cause, our belief systems, even the right answers can steer us wrong. What sounds like a right answer isn’t always right. When the rep was able to recite the purpose of the company, but really did not understand or believe what she was saying, the credibility was lost. When asked whether others in the company are aware of why the company exists, no one was really sure. Let’s examine another scenario. A school has established a clear vision and mission statement, but also has core principles and values that they do not steer from. The same question is asked by the outside representative. assistant principal responds, “We believe in inspiring kids to explore what interests them (cause). To do this, we give our learners choice and agency within their own personalized learning space (process). Learners design their own learning journeys and build products that they never conceived they would build (result). Sinek calls this the Golden Circle and states that “people don’t by what you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Sinek points to research studies that state over 80% of the Americans are not working their dream job and he poses the question  – What if we lived in a world where 80% of the people loved their jobs? This is WHY starting with the right questions in anything you do is relevant to understand your own purpose and belief systems. If we are asking the wrong questions, even the right answers will not guide us in the right direction. This begs the question, would we rather follow someone that has a clear cause and purpose or someone that simply knows how to do something?

What do I know anyways?
Sinek posits that “people don’t by what you do, they buy why you do it?” As humans, we rationalize our behaviors providing reason after reason about what we perceive to be true about our decisions and our assumptions. For example, if you go to the store and are looking to purchase soap and you find that the exact same ingredients are found in Dove as they are in the Equate brand, which product do you buy? Do you base your judgement on trust or perception? The reality is, you probably have no idea why you buy the Dove soap. I can tell you that you value the brand, not the soap. There is a trust factor that resides within us when we perceive something to be valuable, sometimes because it is promoted by someone or something we view worthy. What happens if our assumptions are not entirely clear? We start rationalizing the tangible features and we begin to default to our original thinking when we cannot analyze or understand why we do what we do. The soap is softer, whiter, and though a bit more expensive, worth it. We think it is better quality when in actuality, it is not.  Let’s connect this idea to the classroom teacher. What if teachers taught by design and not by some curriculum standard that was default to every learner? What if students had a choice and a voice in the way they learned the same standard? What would this mean for the learner? What if students are asking the questions? Alan November (2013) will tell you in his book that if teachers are asking most of the questions, the teacher then owns and manages the learning. If students are asking the questions, they are actively involved in the authentic opportunity, right? But, what do I know anyways? If we standardize learning into a one size fits all method, we are not accounting for any variability at all (Rose, 2016).

What do you believe?
Sinek says that we always do things for ourselves, but he is not talking purely in the selfish sense. We follow others because our values and belief systems line up with others. We do not go to a community decision making meeting to hear others speak. We go because we want to see how thoughts, opinions, and decisions will impact us. We want to find out whether others in the room believe like we believe and how we will be impacted. So, this goes back to the question, what inspires you? My inspiration is simple: to help others. To expand upon that, I want to help teachers impact children. I want folks to think for themselves, challenge assumptions and assertions, and know how to go back to the original content to clarify meaning. From this point, learners can develop their own thoughts and ideas, eventually helping them to solve problems and issues. The goal here would be to think independently in a system that is entirely dependent upon collective ideas. Since I started reading Sinek’s book, I realized that I am sort of a “HOW” person where tangibles are easy to create. I learned inadvertently that HOW is easier to develop than WHY. I found that I jumped back and forth between the two. Sometimes I became dismissive of my wildest thoughts because they were not tangible. Could I have then steered some of my students away from their wildly important goals because I was driven by HOW as opposed to WHY. What I have learned is that this has changed. I am now referring to myself as what my colleague says, a delusional optimist. In no other way can I attribute the WHY to a better word than me working through my overactive imagination and aspirations. While Sinek states that your WHY never changes, I would beg to disagree to an extent. While the entire purpose or cause of one’s WHY might not change, the wording could perhaps. Whose to say that we will get our WHY down to a perfect, crisp and clean purpose on the first go round. Iterations of WHY can easily be enhanced based on better words and better terminology that appropriately describes your experience. 

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Sinek puts it all into context here in this video. Your WHY is the start of everything that fuels why you do what you do…read a follow up post by clicking here: WHAT IS YOUR WHY?


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