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Identifying and Living By Our "Why?"


Is "Why?" the critical career question that you never ask?

In September 2009, Simon Sinek delivered a presentation at TEDxPuget Sound that, nine years later, remains first among the 10 most popular TEDx talks. At the time of writing it had been viewed more than 38 million times; 4 million times more than its nearest competitor.

His topic? “How great leaders inspire action.”

His thesis? Start with the question “Why?"

Although it might not be immediately apparent, I would argue that the road to job satisfaction as a physician must also start with “Why?”

Why do I do what I do and why is it important to me? Why do I need to identify my priorities and how might they interact with my practice; my decision-making?

The Importance of Identifying Your “Why?”

Whether consciously or not, we all make decisions every day that are grounded in our values. From patient care to our choice of foods, vehicles, attire, entertainment: fundamental to every decision we make are our personal beliefs.

Most physicians would feel affronted if I suggested that we don’t have a scientific basis for our practice. Happily, I won’t be making that argument! We make decisions about medications, investigations and interventions based on our understanding of the science of medicine.

However, do you know what drives you to rise each morning and head off for a long day of patient care, administration, research, teaching or other activity?

Do you know what your goals are for the coming year? The next five years? Your entire career?

If we understand our core values—our “Why?”—it is easier to align our decision making, prioritization and lifestyle with those values.

And it helps us to say “No."

Asking “Why?” Helps Us Say “No”

I don’t think I’ve ever been good at saying “No” to requests for help. Whether it’s being asked to sit on a committee, help with administration or fill in for a colleague, I always seem to say “Yes."

Saying “No” isn’t a skill that Ilearnedt during my training. The widespread assumption was that we should jump at any opportunities that are presented as they might not arise again.

If taking on those roles (and the time commitment they bring) means I am less likely to complete the tasks I want to prioritize, are they serving my career? Will they contribute to job satisfaction, or only to frustration?

I might set a goal that I want to complete a research project, write it up and submit it for publication. Will being on that committee help or hinder me in pursuit of that goal?

It’s hard to reduce our commitments once we accept them. Of course, you could extricate yourself after a certain amount of time has passed. It might not be acceptable to try to do so straight away, and you might burn some bridges if you try.

Sometimes it is better to say “No” up front. But we can’t say “No” unless we know why we are saying “No."

Identifying Values

There might be no better way to determine your values than to review your activities and see what you prioritize. This could involve a pseudo-time and motion study, or just a review of your calendar.

Tell me what you value and I might believe you, but show me your calendar and your bank statement, and I’ll show you what you really value.

“Show me your calendar, and I’ll show you your priorities,” has become a catchphrase among productivity and personal development gurus for a reason. Its origin is probably—like so many other modern management ideas—a Peter Drucker quote:This means that the things you value are the things you will prioritize, while the things you don’t actually value (even if you say you do) don’t receive your time or attention.

To understand a company’s strategy, look at what they actually do rather than what they say they will do.

Former Intel CEO Andrew Grove said:Schedule an appointment with yourself and take a look through your last two weeks in your calendar. It doesn’t matter if it’s a digital or analog calendar; examine how you have planned your time. Ask yourself:

  • What have you spent more time doing than you’d like?
  • What could you reduce or cut out?
  • Can you take more control over your time?
  • Does that meeting you attend help you move toward your goals?

After spending the time to review your schedule, you will have a much better idea of how you are using your time and where that might deviate from how you’d like to use your time.

A Personal Mission Statement

Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully and to align your behavior with your beliefs.

One way to be clear on what we wish to prioritize is to develop a personal mission statement. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the quintessential text on this topic, Stephen R Covey wrote:Think through all the various domains of your life and consider what you want to achieve. Make a long list of thoughts and ideas, then look for overlap and contradictions. Reflect on the themes identified and then compile them into a statement of values and goals that can inform your decisions moving forward.

Make sure to use positive language that carries personal meaning. Don’t get caught up in jargon, and never write something just because you think it should be included.

Once you have crafted your mission statement, it can act as guidance for future decision making, prioritization and goal-setting.

Achieving Goals

Michael Hyatt, the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, creates an annual course entitled Your Best Year Ever. In one module, he encourages learners to consider the “Why?” behind any goal they set out to achieve, encouraging them to identify something “deeply, personally compelling."

If we follow his advice, then, when confronted by setbacks, fatigue or unexpected interruptions, we can go back to our “Why?” and find the motivation and strength to persevere.

In regularly reviewing progress toward achieving goals, it is important to examine where you are making progress and where things are veering off course. Then, consider the reason you set that goal in the first place:

  • What value is achieving this goal going to satisfy?
  • Why is completing this goal so important?
  • What is at stake if you don’t realize this goal?

Linking your “Why?” with each of your goals can redirect you when distracted and encourage you when frustrated.

“Why?” is fundamental to successful goal attainment.

Career Satisfaction

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Steve Jobs once saidIf your “great work” are the things you love doing, how can you do more?

Identifying what you love doing and deciding to prioritize them is one way to aim for career satisfaction.

Are you doing things that are really important to you?


About the Author:

Dr Mark Lavercombe is a Respiratory & Sleep Medicine Physician in Melbourne, Australia. His website is The Productive Physician.

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