Once upon a time, I went out on a date with a girl who was kind enough to say yes. There clearly was not going to be a second date the moment she said she had ferrets for pets. All that aside, she asked the question which I thought had an obvious answer until it came up. “Why?”
I had been telling her about the books I had been reading, about the ideas they were fostering. She asked me, “Why?”
Confused by the question, I asked her to elaborate. She clarified, she wanted to know why I read as much as I did, why I chose to spend my time the way I did, and why I spent more time with books than with girls who might actually want to go on a second date with me.
I think I responded “Because,” but enough time has passed I can only recall giving a lame answer. Even though my answer didn’t stick with me, the question itself has. My defense was pathetic because I truly hadn’t questioned the reason I drove myself into books and into learning. I had failed to answer why.
Now that I’m relatively older, and have spent more time ruminating on the question, I can give a better answer. I read because reading is an efficient way to make up for experience either yet to be lived, or which will never be lived. I read to learn from the successes and mistakes of others, to hopefully repeat more successes and less mistakes. I read to learn and be comforted by learning. I read to apply.
Why is a question of motivation. It is a question which asks us to define the purpose for action and for inaction. It asks us to explain ourselves. Without knowing why, we lose the reason to endure when things are difficult or boring, we lose the ability to answer when a pretty girl asks us about our reading habits.
Simon Sinek has popularized the idea of starting with why in his book which is apply titled, Start With Why. He repeats how our why is what people invest in, far more than the how or what. The truth is, the more clear we are on our why, the what, where and when questions become far easier to answer.
Why is what challenges you and me, it begs and pleads for us to be capable of defining something about ourselves and our purpose in a way no other question can do nearly so efficiently. Being able to answer this question clarifies the other questions of your life, it allows you a greater freedom and strength in what you pursue and how you pursue is because you have a reason, an explainable cause which has forced your effects.
Walt Disney once said in response to people who accused him of making money for money’s sake, “We don’t make movies to make more money, we make money to make more movies.” The order in which those appeared mattered, they were his why. Money was a means to produce more and better movies each and every time. What mattered most was the art.
There are a lot of things I can do if I wanted, freedom is truly intoxicating, but it is in the guidance of responsibilities we find purpose and meaning. Reading for the sake of reading isn’t a thing. Anyone who reads is reading for a reason. We all do things for reasons even if we can’t explain them. Motives are real, even if ignored by us.
Instead of waiting for a pretty girl who has ferrets for pets to ask you why over dinner, ask yourself first.