At the beginning of this year, I started training for a goal I’ve aspired to for a long time: finishing an Ironman Triathlon. The Ironman is an endurance triathlon, which requires months of consistent training in all three elements: running, swimming, and biking. Accomplishing this race for most athletes requires 10-15 hours of training per week for approximately six months.
Needless to say, such an endeavour needs a deep level of motivation to sustain it. In fact, the first chapter of the training book for this iconic race is devoted solely to the importance of one question: WHY are you doing this? Despite the large amount of technical information needed to properly train and fuel for a multisport event, the author (an experienced endurance athlete) says that the most important question for any goal or any training plan is not what to do or the specific breakdown of when a person does those things, but the personal why that fuels the motivation behind this training and this goal.
Certainly, this goes far beyond athletic goals. The necessity of knowing our why—the reason for doing something—applies to every part of our lives. Whether you’re pursuing deeper meaning and satisfaction in your work life, going after a specific goal or dream, or aspiring to improve the way you interact with different aspects of your life, knowing the why behind what you’re doing is a crucial part of gaining and defining success.
The idea behind this is simple: our brains and hearts are not motivated by things for their own sake. We’re motivated by the values and ideas and relational layers behind those things. The why behind our work and our goals and our lives is far more indicative of who we are and what we want out of life than the specific things we do.
Ask a parent why working at a workplace with a good benefits plan matters so deeply to them and you’ll almost always hear an answer that reflects their true why motivation: taking care of their family. Many of us are motivated by some aspect of the substance of our work (whether that’s taking care of people who are sick, a passion to work with those who are lesser-abled, or contributing to social infrastructure through construction, etc.), but we’re also motivated by what that work allows us to do and be in the world—in our communities, with our families, and beyond.
Knowing your why not only allows you to have greater satisfaction in the results you may attain, it also provides meaning and resilience during the process. It gives you a different level of determination and perseverance. When you can hold to the reasons why you’re doing something, you can better face the inevitable ups and downs of the process as well as more successfully embrace and redefine failure as it may come. Your why reminds you of your values and your true identity that sustains you beyond whatever results may or may not come.
When I was going through graduate school, my answer to the question of why I started my degree sustained me through a lot of late nights of research and long days of classes. Even when I didn’t know where that motivation would lead me or what life or my career might look like post-grad, I knew that I could stand behind and be energized by my guiding motivation—so much so that I taped a post-it note with my why to my laptop so I could see and be reminded of it while I was in the midst of the seemingly endless work of being in school.
Likewise, knowing my why in my work, and reminding myself of CLAC’s why in the Canadian labour scene, provides me with motivation each day that sustains me during the ups and downs of my work. It reminds me to look beyond the surface of issues and explore situations at the level that may lead to workplace transformation rather than simply a quick fix to a problem. It reminds me to keep going, to pursue consistency, when days feel long and like continuous uphill battles.
What’s your why? How does knowing this shape the way you approach your work?