There’s no doubt in my mind, Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and his philosophy behind ‘Starting with the why is one of the most genuinely powerful theories I have ever come across. Its simplicity and ease to understand, but complexity in its personalisation is nothing short of incredible. I have continued to use and model establishing a clear ‘why’ for over twelve months, revisiting it with people, discussing elements that may have changed as they continue on their journey, underpinned by strong modern learning practice. As the workload builds and the general busyness of school life begins to take over, how often do we really stop, take a minute and remind ourselves why we do what we do?
Just last week, I invited a staff to begin thinking and sharing their why. Using The Golden Circle and Sinek’s amazing TED Talk we began to explore people’s motivations and drivers. Some sat patiently listening and digesting the views of their peers; others launched into questioning why they got out of bed that morning, what they wanted to bring to their classroom, and what they wanted their students to aspire to. And quickly they fell into the ‘what’ trap: What they wanted as outcomes, what they believed their purpose and role was. Of course, they could see that the role of the educator has evolved away from the knowledge brokering sage on the stage and one of a guide on the side, but their underpinning elements still revolved around what they wanted their students to achieve. So we stopped. And, I asked them the question again, ‘Why do you get out of bed in the morning?’ I followed it up with, ‘Do you think the why has changed, and is that okay?’ The silence was breathtaking. A room of highly-skilled educators reflecting on why they chose to teach as a profession and then asking whether it was the same reason as they continued, some into their third decade. And it struck them. Like a firework that lights up a cold winter night… Our why can evolve!
The significance of a personalised why is paramount to the success in understanding the whole concept. It cannot be someone else’s and it cannot be one that is no longer believed. Jim Rohn once said, "Life, like art, is ever evolving. What looks good to one person is of no interest to another. That’s what makes life beautiful." And what is beautiful one day, may not be beautiful the next. He followed with, “You see, wealth-building is just math. Whereas life—life is art.” Our why is our deepest expression of self. It is every metaphorical brush stroke we paint on our own canvas of life; each has meaning, emotion, and expression. To me, that’s what makes a why so powerful, and also gives it the freedom to evolve.
So, I return to my staff meeting — a room of staff sitting in quiet reflection, pondering what drives them each and every day as they climb out of bed, paint on their welcoming smile, and educate dozens of children. The silence turned to whispers, the whispers became murmuring, and finally, after what felt like hours, the conversation erupted into life. The room was alive with a wash of emotions — fear, insecurity, confusion, curiosity. Some remained quietly reflective, while others turned to a peer to thrash out their reason for being. Did we finish the content I had planned? No! Why? Because knowing why you’re doing something, to me, will forever be more important than knowing what you’re doing.
I left the meeting to a cacophony of questions, most of which were not aimed at me, but just open thoughts being shared with the people in the room. It wasn’t until several days later that the principal shared her thoughts with me. She laughed when explaining that I’d really ‘put the cat amongst the pigeons’ in the meeting. People were panicked that they couldn’t put their why into words, or that they couldn’t synthesise it down into a single conscious stream of thought. And I smiled as I responded, “Good!” It had been days. People were still asking questions and emailing their why to one another, seeking feedback, asking if it had the depth needed. Others knew why they’d started their careers, they wanted to lead students to glory or prepare them for the ‘real’ world that lay ahead. But now they questioned whether that was still true. What could be viewed as a disastrous staff meeting, missing some of the valuable content and thinking needed, was, in essence, a hugely rewarding experience… It inspired me to write to the staff…
Your very reason for being is buried deep inside you. Whether it can be put into words or shaped into sentences is not the issue. It is the underpinning belief in yourself that drives you forward. It’s the knowledge that we’re making a difference; some days a small one, and on others life changing, but a difference nonetheless. Knowing your why brings you both clarity and freedom. In times of stress, and when it feels like you’re ‘living in a bowl of custard,’ the reassurance of knowing why you do what you do brings you not only peace, but also reaffirms your vision. Knowing your why clarifies what you want to teach — your how will simply flow from there…
Following up with the same staff this week has been an absolute pleasure. Some have found the words to define their reason for being. Others have made peace with the process and know that whatever it is that drives them, it isn’t something they are able give a clear voice to… Yet.
Rohn, J. (2016) retrieved from: http://www.success.com/article/rohn-how-to-live-a-beautiful-life#sthash.flOGlBXn.dpuf