Why are you here? That’s a question I often toss out, kind of casually, to people I’m working with or around. I ask it just often enough to be annoying. And, hopefully, often enough that at least some of them consider an answer. Right now, I’m asking you.
It’s a question that can be answered in the present, as in “why am I sitting at this desk at this particular moment? What am I here to do right now? What’s the best thing I could invest my time in, right now?”
It can also be applied to the short-term future, as in “why am I spending time in this organization? What am I here to do? Am I making progress toward that? Have I gotten stuck or taken a detour? Have I accomplished all I can from being here?”
“Why are you here?” can also be taken in a more philosophical way, as in “why am I on this earth? What is inside me that I need to discover, develop and deliver? Am I doing all I can to get that job done? If I’m not doing that right now, then when will I?”
I’ve started taking note of the responses I get when I ask the question. Seems that, more often than not, the response is, “That’s a good question.” That response tells me a couple of things. First, it’s a nice, dismissive come back for someone who things they have more pressing things to do at the moment than consider why they’re here. It also tells me that “Why are you here?” is a question we’d rather not deal with. Or, at least, we’d rather not think about it right now.
But, it’s a question that organizations and individuals have to explore on a fairly regular basis if they are to remain vital, alive and relevant. The womb is a safe, nurturing place for a baby human to develop. And, it stays that way but not forever. Hang around the womb longer than nine months and it soon becomes a threatening place. The womb, as they say, can become a tomb. That’s exactly where we will find ourselves if we don’t seriously consider and answer the “why are you here?” question. When a business or career becomes too comfortable, too mechanical, too boring it threatens both psyche and life. If you question that, consider the difference between a day that is stressful and one that is stimulating. I’m convinced that the difference lies merely in how well we’ve answered and acted upon the “Why are you here?” question.
For a business, the whys of being here have to do with remembering what business we’re in. And, that the business we’re in must be more expansive than the day-to-day tasks that consume our days. The early railroads, you’ll remember, got into trouble because they failed to realize what business they were actually in. While they tried to harvest the last profits from a sagging industry, and look for ways to prop it up, they failed to consider the “why are you here?” question. If they had, they would have arrived at the conclusion that they were in the transportation business and not the railroad business. Had they understood that they were in the business of moving people and goods, the womb of the railroad, which had been so comfortable and lucrative over the years, would not have become a tomb.
And so again I ask the question, “Why are you here?” What is your business? What is your career? How does what you’re doing right now contribute the longer-term issues of why you’re in your present position at all? How does it offer a way to express why you’re on earth?
Arriving at a position where all three of these states— the immediate, the mid-term and the ultimate-term— is essential to having a career and a business that is alive. That makes contributions and enjoys successes beyond the bottom line or paycheck. Having a clear reason to be here also does something else. It adds life to your days; it brings a growing spirit to organizations. Customers and prospects pick up on that. They can sense the difference between companies or individuals who walk through their days guided only by the rut of routine and those who wear their passion and purpose for being and doing on their sleeves. We like being around people who are filled with purpose and life. We shrink away from those that are not. Even when those that are not are us.
So, again I ask, “Why are you here?” It’s a question that can easily be slipped into your bottom file cabinet and forgotten. But, if you do that, you’re cheating yourself, your organization and your clients. While we’re at it, might as well toss in the universe. If you haven’t guessed by now, the answer to “Why are you here?” is a moving target. How well and how often you explore that question personally and professionally can make the difference between whether you’re moving forward or losing yourself.
By James M. Grossman