Recalibrate Your Why

Understand Your Personal North Star and Make Sure You’re On the Right Course

I recently consumed Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and Infinite Mindset. Considered must-reads and a god-like figure in the productivity community, I finally got around to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched his infamous TED Talk (15 million views!) over 10 years ago, so I’m quite familiar with his Golden Circle and have discovered my Why.

Simon Sinek pointing dramatically
Simon Sinek pointing dramatically

It got me thinking about my own Why – how do you make a change if I’ve fallen off course, and what are some techniques/excuses that we make about it? Follow me on the journey to see if we’re on course to our personal North Star.

Prove To Me Your ‘Why’

One nugget I found interesting in his book was the idea of don’t confuse our Why with the proof of our Why. For example, I’m currently sitting in my local Starbucks (with a mask) at 630AM writing this. The fact that I got my butt up before sunrise and am here cranking out another one (DJ Khalid!) is the proof of my Why. In other words, my Why is not this newsletter or the morning routine that successfully got me here.

Johnny Nguyen speaking and pointing
Me pointing, but not as dramatically as Sinek. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

My personal Why is:

“…creating relationships based on trust. I’m sincere in my interactions, really being in the moment when someone is talking to me. I listen to understand their perspective and the context behind the conversation. If I know what they really want, I know how I can be of service and add value. Follow-through and bringing things to the point of execution is very important to me. I don’t like loose ends; they open the door for unnecessary drama. This all supports my credibility, which I value. How we get there is as important as the end game. I make it safe enough to have authentic, sometimes difficult conversations that need to be had. Being highly respected, caring and credible enables me to create the safe space for this to happen and ultimately get the results we need.”

That’s a Why statement that a professional coach helped me to discover through a series of sessions. Two years later, reading it again, I find that it still resonates with me.

TAKEAWAY — Use the evidence in your life to help identify and reinforce your Why. And if you happen to realize there’s something you do that does not match, well, just stop it. What’s the worst that could happen. 😉

Why an “Existential Flex”

Digging deeper in Simon Sinek’s Infinite Mindset, there was one concept in it that I wanted to spend some time exploring.

Existential Flex: “Profound strategic shift in order to better advance your cause and failure to do so may ultimately result in the demise of your organization.” — Simon Sinek

For most of us, here we are climbing the professional career ladder, doing our best to be a good family member, and diving into our passion projects with every free minute. But is it all really contributing to what our purpose in life is? Are our achievements directly related to our Why? Or have we been sucked into the rat race?

During the pandemic, Simon Sinek found himself having to practice what he preached.

“Okay guys, we run out of cash by June so if we want this company to continue to exist, and if you want your job to continue to exist, we have to reinvent. I wrote about this in my book, The Infinite Game, and I never thought we actually had to do it or do it this quick or this urgently, but we do.”

So, Simon sat his team down, gave them an action to come back in 48 hours to the next meeting with at least 15 ideas on what they could do. The trick is that these can’t be just any idea to make money, they had to be ideas that matched their Why.

But first, he did something that we should all remind ourselves of.

“He reminded us of our vision. He grounded us in our ‘why’ and our Just Cause.”

Previously I challenged you to identify your Why. Did you do that? If you did, great, but if you didn’t then you must like driving blind. Recall, in order to do an existential flex, which is:

“… the ability to massively shift an entire business model because it’s the right thing to do to advance the movement. Why is it that the technology industry invented the electronic book, and not the publishing industry? Because publishing thought they were in the book business, not the reading business. Why is it that the movie industry and the television industry didn’t invent Netflix? It’s because companies can be so preoccupied with protecting the status quo they don’t make these existential flexes until they’re forced to…” [3]

The keywords are, “so preoccupied with protecting the status quo.”

It wasn’t by choice per se, but my career path took a tangent a few years back when I didn’t get a promotion that I applied for. Looking back on that moment, I can recognize that I didn’t get it because I was exuding and living my personal Why. I had lost my North Star and because of that, I came across as probably fake. The existential flex happened to me but only now am I really trying to lean into it.

TAKEAWAY is I doubt any of us ever live 100% true to our Why, so take this moment to reflect and then flex. As for Sinek, his team says, “we have a more diverse, robust business. That’s rad.”

Break Through Thinking to Your Why

“Reimagine roles. Not only do you need to bring together folks with diversity of thought and experience, but those leaders also need to challenge long-held orthodoxies that can limit progress. Being open to reimagining roles allows all of the partners and resources at the table to be put to their best use.”
Ben Hecht

I want you to reimagine WHO you are. In every situation.

The purpose here is not to be the next Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis. No, the purpose here is to be able to rethink, reimagine what you are capable of doing.

For example, let’s say you’re in a big meeting full of people and you have something to contribute to the conversation. If you think you’re just another worker, you might be hesitant to speak up. But, if you can imagine yourself as one of the decision-makers, then I bet you’d speak up and be heard. Even then, that’s not the entire point.

Challenge long-held orthodoxies.

The real benefit from reimagining our role is not only being able to accomplish something we didn’t think possible, but really the ability to expand our mind past what we thought were barriers.

Love ’em or hate ’em, social media influencers are brilliant at this. Awkward teenagers transform themselves into Tik-Tokkers (did I spell that right?!) with a million followers. YouTubers build an entire brand empire, complete with employees and everything. On Instagram, people can become traveling, food, and fashion experts.

TAKEAWAY is at any age, in any stage of your life, you can reimagine your role in life and challenge who you thought you could be.

Excuses & Shame of Your Why

Twitter conversation with Mark Manson
Me interacting with Mark Manson in the only way that’s possible.

I know the topic of shame is much too big to cover in just one email. But in our current conversation about focusing on our North Star, making a change if we’re not on track, and doing things like reimagining what we’re capable of, I think it’s important to acknowledge the excuses we make. And sometimes they’re rooted in a construct called shame.

For example, a study was conducted to understand the views of employees in a law firm and why they did not apply for a promotion.

“… respondents held multiple “logics” about their work and family lives, but experienced angst about expressing them freely. In their initial anonymous responses, they felt safe in expressing the “family logic,” which holds that family and other relationships outside of work are important to living a good life. Yet their public responses to the role of counsel were based in the… “professional logic,” which holds that being a serious lawyer is about giving everything to the firm, sacrificing all for the chance to make partner.”

The shame here is that people believe that in order to be professional, they need to sacrifice their personal life and at the expense of their family. Yet, deep down, they know to be happy there needs to be a balance outside of work.

So, let’s bring this home and wrap up this series with the final TAKEAWAY, which is, please stop making excuses for yourself. You have a North Star so sail towards it. If you find you’re off course, then it’s ok to do an existential flex to get back on your path. And don’t let the imaginary barriers we make for ourselves hold us back. Do what I do and tell yourself every morning in front of the mirror, “People do like you and gosh darn it, you’re gonna crush it today!”


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