What do you do when your why changes?

I am currently reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start with why. He suggests that successful people, organizations, teams, and  companies are those that have a clear why. They never lose sight of their why. Everything they do (how and what) is focused on their why. Floundering organizations lost sight of their why and became fixated on how and what.

I started this “career” in 1999 with a clear why.

Why- I believed that students could get the most of their college experiences by being aware of the opportunities available to them and then taking full advantage of them.

How- higher education administration

What- student affairs programs and services that help students

I have been floundering since 2010. Rudderless.

I am no longer interested in things that (to me) are silly or time sucks. My tolerance for BS is very low and my BS meter is on high alert. Yik Yak and student development theory are irrelevant in my day-to-day work. I know I am done when students email me with seemingly innocuous questions and I want to blow a gasket. Thankfully I am mature enough not to do so in public. But, the fact that I even want to is very telling.

How did I get here? I used to be passionate (barf) about my work. I used to believe that it mattered. I have been beating myself up asking “When did I lose my why? How do I get it back?” Reading this book, praying, listening to trusted friends and mentors, and letting go of some things has provided clarity.

I didn’t lose my why. My why (your why) isn’t a set of car keys. You don’t lose them and then find them again. A why is never lost.

My why changed on 12/12/2008 when my son was diagnosed with cancer. I wish that this wasn’t my why. Some days, I hate my why. I wish that I could change my why. But, I can’t. I know too much and I cannot go back to who I was before my son got sick. Truthfully, for me, going back would be a disservice to him and his fight, to our family’s fight, to my personal fight to become a better mother, a better person, an informed advocate.

I have spent the last five years (!?!?!)  trying to make myself into someone I am not. I have been trying to convince myself that I want things I do not want. That I am supposed to want them. I am a square peg and I’ve been trying to force myself into the round hole of student affairs.

My why changed but my situation has not. Even writing that is liberating. Gosh that really is it. I am not crazy. I am not incompetent. I am not a bad person or a bad professional. So what do you do when your why changes?

I. have. no. idea.

But I feel lighter than I have felt in years. And I am excited to see where the path will go next.

12 thoughts on “What do you do when your why changes?

  1. YES!!! I think my why has always been to help people in any way possible and I’ve always been pulled to the young adult age group so that is why Student Affairs looked like a good fit for me but I’m realizing it is not and actually higher education is not a fit either. The truth has been so liberating but now I have no idea what to do or what next and constantly trying to find peace with that but just letting things flow for now. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl has helped me asked when I look at my life what has meaning and to me it is not higher education, it is relationships and those I’ve helped along the way so currently piecing together what that would mean career wise. Best of luck in your future endeavors and may your BS meter always stay strong!

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    • Stephanie- Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate your thoughtful response. “Moving on” is hard. Especially when we went in with the best of intentions and spent tons of time and money on these degrees! I am learning to separate who I am from what I do. Tough stuff!

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    • Thanks for your kind words Marcus. The idea that what I am currently doing isn’t forever is very scary. And antithetical to how we train student affairs professionals. I also think that there are many of us who feel similarly to myself, but something prevents them from being honest with themselves and others about it. I think that fear is sad and worth investigating further.

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  2. It can be so freeing to admit to ourselves the real truth about why we’re struggling with whatever we’re struggling with, and I’m so happy for you that you’ve discovered this, even though it means you still have a road to travel ahead of you. Best of luck on this road, and know I’m here to support you on whatever path you end up following.

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