I caught a movie the other day. I hadn't heard of it before. It was probably not a big box office hit. But, it had several of my favorite actors starring in it, several of them being Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Kiera Knightly and Helen Mirren among others. The title of the movie was “Collateral Beauty.” The title didn't attract me. What caught my attention was in the opening sequence when Will Smith, playing the role of a successful advertising executive, asked one of life's Big Questions of his employees,
“What is your WHY?”
This, on the surface, may seem like a pretty simplistic and, perhaps, benign question. Some might see it as superficial. You may have read this question in some self-help book. Maybe you've had this question posed by a “motivational speaker” in a crowd of maybe tens, hundreds or thousands of people gathered to gain the “the Secret” of becoming a raging success story. Maybe a preacher, priest, rabbi or other religious leader proffered this question. And, if you were really, really lucky, maybe you had a teacher in an elementary, secondary or college class pose the question (but, they probably never followed through with how to discover your Why).
It's very easy to skim over the answers. Most everyone has an immediate pat answer to this question and the many tangential questions that spring forth from it. Such questions as:
Why do you live where you live?
Why do you live in the kind of home, apartment, condo, cabin you live in?
Why do you drive the vehicle(s) you own and drive?
Why are you married or single?
Why are you married to the person you're married to?
Why do you or don't you have children?
Why do you have only one child or as many as you have?
Why are you in the occupation or profession you're in?
Why do you work for your particular employer?
Why, if you're self-employed, are you in the business(es) you're in?
Why are you controlled by, or even obsessed with, the accumulation of financial wealth and “stuff.”
Why do you love and why are you close to your family?
Why are you estranged from your family?
Why did you choose the friends you associate with?
Why do you have the hobby(s) you have?
Why do you stay indoors and not enjoy outdoors?
Why do you spend so much time outdoors?
Why do you participate in the sports you do?
Why do you eat what you enjoy eating?
These questions, and any number of others like them, all relate to the main question, “What is your WHY?” And each of these questions is multi-layered. Most people only answer them (if they answer them at all) with the most superficial, dismissive answers they can. That may be simply because we may not want to learn the actual underlying truth. The sad part of this may very well be the reason few people can honestly describe their lives as being truly loved and appreciated for the unique person they are and being truly free and happy.
Frankly, is there anything more to having a truly fulfilling life than to be loved and appreciated, to be personally free to live your life as you want to and to experience happiness in its most basic, pure form? And, one other thing, to know peace of mind.
I said most people have superficial answers to the main question and the many tangential questions. Why is that? It's probably because most people start to become disillusioned by life at a fairly early age. The reality is, life and everything about it, is seldom fair and goes very deep in layers. It's often painful to peel back those layers. So, we just scratch the surface of who we really are and what our real WHYS are. We set goals based on the expectations of others like our parents, extended families, peers, teachers, employers, etc.
That question, “What is your WHY?” really burned into my brain. I immediately went to my computer and keyed in those words on the top of a new document page because I wanted to explore this topic in writing. I looked back at my own life (introspection can be painful). I began asking myself about what my WHYS are? Were they founded on the deep rooted realities of who I really am, who I really wanted to be and what I really wanted to accomplish in my life? Did I even have a clue as to what the heck life is really all about? Yes! It brings up the age old, “what's the meaning of life,” question that's been asked and pondered for thousands of years.
Why didn't someone . . . anyone, help me start peeling back these layers when I was a child. I'd venture to say most of the influences in our early lives hadn't even figured out what their WHYS were, so how could they instill the curiosity to discover the answers for us?
This morning I came across a Facebook post by my ninth grade algebra teacher. Holy cow! That was 58 years ago. Her name is Belle DiFalco. How could I ever forget Mrs. DiFalco. She FLUNKED me. Yep! I failed ninth grade algebra. I posted and reminded her that she had flunked me, but said further, I still felt she was a really good and fair teacher. I went on to tell her I had earned a BA and Masters degree. She thanked me and was pleased to know I continued on and succeeded with my education.
But, then she suggested that maybe I may have misspoken. She inquired if I felt I may have had some part in my failing her class. Hmm! I replied, she was right, I “earned” my failing grade. I told her I made the class up in summer school. But, more than that, I learned useful aspects of logic through her class. And, I learned how to recover from failure and move forward in life. It was an interesting interaction with someone I hadn't seen or heard from in 58 years.
I bring that story up because I realized, despite the amazing, often fantastic life I've lived and could never have dreamed of back then, failures have been part of my life ever since flunking ninth grade algebra. Many, if not most, of those failures, were because I didn't know my WHY for whatever the circumstance was that led to the failure. If I could have peeled back the layers and found my real WHYS, would I have made the same choices and taken the same actions? Would I have even gone down the road leading to the failure at all or, realized I was not being true to myself?
What Are Your WHYS?
I lay this question on your mind and heart. I don't care if you're 15, 30, 50 or 75 years old. Now is the best time to start peeling back the layers of your life and seeking what the real WHYS are for you.
Are you really with the person (husband, wife, partner) you should be with? Are you working at a job only for the security of the money you earn so you can survive and maybe even accumulate some assets and buy more stuff? Are you in a business that just happened by circumstances and perhaps you have no passion for it (maybe never did), but you feel trapped in it and know you'd be freer and happier doing something you really had some passion for? You know the questions you need to be asking to begin peeling back your layers to find your real WHYS.
Some people are so unhappy they feel compelled to consult a professional counselor or therapist. If you've gone down this road, you probably know these professionals are trained to ask the hard questions you don't want to ask yourself. They start off with simple basic questions about you, your background and your life and lifestyle as it is now. They ask about your education, life experiences and relationships. Ultimately, they start peeling back your layers and helping you to “expose” the real you hidden under the layers.
You are finally going to be answering the real hard WHY questions. Why are you unhappy in your marriage/relationship? Why are you unhappy, unfulfilled in your employment, profession or business? Why are you living in a home or location you're not happy with? Little by little the questions will peel back more and more layers. IF you cooperate and answer the questions honestly and candidly, you'll ultimately discover who you really are, what you really want and what your WHYS are? Then, like everything else in life, you will have a series of choices you may or may not choose to make. Of course, you know, choosing not to choose, is a choice, too.
You may choose to maintain your status quo and being less than happy and fulfilled. You may choose to make some nominal changes and feeling freer and somewhat happier and fulfilled. Or, you may choose to throw everything to the four winds and make a total change. You'll choose to go for the brass ring and feel personally free, happy and fulfilled and enjoy peace of mind, knowing you are fulfilling YOUR destiny and your WHYS.
There will be collateral damage regardless of the choices you make. You may break up a relationship/marriage you or your partner thought would be forever. There will be possible broken hearts, anguish and despair. Perhaps, handled with sensitivity and heartfelt concern for the other party(ies) involved, some of the pain, anguish and despair can be mitigated to some degree. Ultimately, with understanding and care, all parties will rise to a new awareness. Perhaps, the relationship lost its passion years ago and neither party has been willing to peel back the layers and make the tough choices.
You may make the choice to leave your employment or sell or close your business. Perhaps, you have been involved with your employer for years, maybe even decades. Maybe your passion for your profession (lawyer, medical doctor, accountant, teacher/professor, etc.) has been more of a habitual process than something you feel excited to do every day? You do it because it's what you do and it provides security. You don't do it because it's your WHY? Maybe your business has become boring. You do the same thing day in and day out. You provide the same product or service, with the same employees to the same clients/customers. You are not motivated to expand, try anything new or different or grow your sales. Maybe it's time to sell it or, just close it and liquidate the assets.
You are tired of living where you live. It's not a place you're passionate about. Maybe it was convenient to your employment or business. Maybe it was the area where you wanted your children to attend school and grow up. Perhaps, it's the place you moved because of your “status.” It just wouldn't look right to others or wouldn't impress your family, friends, colleagues and clients if you weren't living up to their expectations of you.
What is your WHY?
What is your WHY bottom line? Do you have a clue why anything is as it is in your life? Are you living life by remote control? Are you living a life that provides the personal freedom to express yourself however you wish? Are you living a life, when the final days come and you are contemplating your final thoughts and breaths, you'll have serious regrets about? Or, will you be asking and pining over the choices you made to meet other people's expectations and not your own WHYS? Will you go out singing the song in your heart, “I did it my way?” Perhaps, that song will be the theme at your funeral or memorial.
It's never too late to start peeling back the layers and searching for your real WHYS. Your WHYS don't have to be compatible with anyone else's WHYS. You can ask all the real and hard questions regardless of your youth or advanced age. There is no age limit on your WHYS. You don't have to enlist the services of a professional therapist or counselor, although you may elect to. As M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist himself and author of the best-selling book, “The Road Less Traveled,” stated in his book, everyone will benefit from therapy and counseling. But, you can ask your own questions. Become your own interrogator! Be relentless! Ask “What is my WHY?
By the way, the movie was actually pretty good. I enjoyed it.
Until next time, Live free and be happy. EH