My son has been learning to build tall towers of playing cards: pyramids of triangle upon triangle, Kings leaning on Jacks, a floor of spades, a roof of diamonds.
You know the cliché—are you building a house of cards? Something improbable, impermanent, that will collapse in a heap if you breathe too hard?
It’s a building without a foundation, and it takes a lot of effort to create. It sure does look cool, though.
I’m thinking a lot about what we’re all building, these days.
Starting with WHY
In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek encourages us to think about not just WHAT we build, or HOW we build it, but WHY we’re building at all.
Our WHY is what motivates us. It’s what we’re really trying to accomplish.
When we start something (a blog, a project, a book, a shop, a company) we usually know what we’re about. We know WHY we’re doing this thing. We want to help someone, inspire someone, bless someone, teach someone. We want to change something. We want to be of service.
As our projects grow—as our brands grow, as our names grow—though, sometimes we start to waver. We forget to act from that place of purpose, and start acting out of self-preservation.
Staying focused on our WHY is the challenge.
Staying with WHY
“Gaining clarity of WHY, ironically, is not the hard part. It is the discipline to trust one’s gut, to stay true to one’s purpose, cause or beliefs. Remaining completely in balance and authentic is the most difficult part.”
Because it’s true: as you grow, you do have something to lose. Time, money, attention, followers. Contracts. Relationships. Momentum. Routines.
Maybe you start making choices that won’t offend anyone. Playing it safe. Not rocking the boat.
But keeping quiet, hiding rough edges — that isn’t what you were made for, is it?
You have to know what you’re about, and keep being about it, even though not everyone will follow. You still have to share your opinions. You still have to take a stand. If you know what you’re called to do—your WHY—sticking with it matters.
Sometimes I don’t even play it safe, I just stop playing.
For example: a big influx of blog traffic? Suddenly everything I intended to publish seems not quite good enough. I should just wait on that, I tell myself. I freeze up.
That’s not serving my WHY, and it isn’t serving my readers. I’m not being driven by my purpose anymore, I’m giving in to being driven by fear—fear of not being good enough.
When I focus on ME, I feel like I need to protect myself from judgment and critique. When I keep my focus where it should be—on WHY I write—I can keep going, one word falling into place after another.
Fear-based or Service-based
Working to maintain your success isn’t the same as working in service of your WHY, your purpose, your calling—and spinning your wheels to keep everyone happy isn’t sustainable. It’s fear-based, not service-based.
It does keep us busy, though. It’s a lot of work, trying not to step on any toes. It takes a lot of effort, to keep looking successful. And it’s easy to confuse hard work with important work.
So what are we working toward?
Are we building houses of cards?
Are we building lives without substance, without a foundation to stand on? Something flimsy, ephemeral?
Even building a house of cards takes effort. That same effort could go into building something lasting.
Self or Service
Without the foundation of our calling, without the grounding of our WHY (our call to serve, to teach, to inspire), what are we left with?
We can spend our days trying to protect our image, our access, our audience. That’s like trying to protect the wind.
Or we can let go of all of that. We can focus on our purpose. Pursue that. Make sure our actions flow from our WHY.
We get to ask ourselves: What are our lives going to be about today? What will they be about tomorrow? What will our legacy look like?
Every day, we get to choose to focus on either what we do, or why we do it. Self, or calling. What’s it going to be?
And how will you stay focused?