The Big WHY

At one point in my son’s life, school was not his highest priority. There were so many other things that claimed his attention. There was basketball and other activities. There was learning about computers and how to make them do what you wanted. Then, he saw the movie Top Gun.

One reviewer said that the star of the movie wasn’t any of the actors. It was the airplanes. Flying those things became the goal.

My son wanted to be a fighter pilot.

Few people make the grade as a fighter pilot. You’ve got to be physically fit and have great reaction times. You’ve got to make it through demanding training. But you won’t even get a shot at that if you don’t make decent grades.

Now my son had a reason to pay attention in school and study at home. We agreed that what he would do is come home after school each day and do his homework before he did anything else. That meant before going out to play basketball, or testing his latest programming skills, or watching videos. He loved the videos with real footage from the cockpits of real fighter planes.

He kept his promises for a couple of weeks. Then I went off on a business trip. I got home on a school day, not long after my son should have gotten home from school. As I opened the door to the house, I realized that my son was watching a video in the living room.

I was surprised and a little disappointed. I assumed my “father in charge” role and asked in my best authority voice, “No homework today?”

He started to say something, but I cut him off. “I thought we agreed no videos until you finished your homework.”

My son looked sheepish for a minute. Then he said, “I was having a tough time with a math problem, Dad.” I stepped in again.

“And?” I asked.

“Dad! I’ve got to remember what it’s going to be like!”

That knocked me out of my “I’m the daddy, that’s why” role. My son was dealing with a tough math problem. He couldn’t seem to get it right. He was frustrated. He wanted to quit. So, he took time to watch a video of actual cockpit footage from real fighter pilots to remind himself why he needed to work on the math.

We’ve all been there. We’ve set up a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and we start working toward it. Then, the going gets rough. That’s when you need to know why you’re doing the hard stuff.

Most folks call it the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal, but I like the term “big WHY.”

When I work with clients who are writing a book, we spend time defining why they’re doing the project. Writing a book is tough. It's even harder when you’re working full-time and have other family and social obligations. It’s important to know why you’re writing the book and how your life will change when the book is published.

That’s true for any of your goals, too.

The best big WHYs have two components.

  1. You must know what success looks like, even if you don’t know the exact route you’ll take to get there.
  2. You also need to know what success feels like.

Emotion is where the truth lives. When you know why you’re doing something big and the difference it will make in your life, you know the emotional truth. You can “imagine what it’s going to be like.”

No matter what goal you have, there will be times when the going is hard. It will be easy to give up. That’s the time you need the big WHY. See it. Feel it. Then, when the going gets tough, remember what it’s going to be like when you achieve it.

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