The “why” behind your “what”

At the beginning of the school year, we got a talk from our area superintendent and he asked us all: What is the “why” behind your “what”?

This was a really introspective question for me, and not only in the way that I look at my teaching career or lesson plans, but in the way that I look at my life as a whole.

Too often, we find ourselves making TO DO lists or stressing over things that we “need” to get done today, this week, or this month. Like, I need to do laundry or even the need to make something work a specific way in my story. But many of us never really stop to ask ourselves why.

Why does it have to be done this specific way?

Why am I frustrated about this?

Why is this important?

Why is it more important than X, Y, or Z that I want to do?

Or, most importantly, why am I even doing this?

For some questions, like doing the laundry, the why is pretty simple: because I need clothes to wear tomorrow. But, for other questions, the “why” behind the “what” is a little bit harder to define, or at least can take a little bit longer to figure out.

We are preprogrammed to think that so many things in life need to be done in certain ways and at certain times, but that isn’t always the case, and when it comes to writing or running your career, falling into that autopilot mode of sampling checking off “what’s” can be dangerous. It is that kind of decision making and thought process that can have us looking at our lives years down the road and wondering why we never got where we wanted to head, or at least, how we ended up where we are.

So, here is my challenge to you: stop and ask yourself why.

Why are you working so hard on this?

Why are you completing this task?

Why is this important for the future that you want to have?


My hope is that by doing this, you will find some of those “have” to’s make more sense, or maybe even get shifted or adjusted to match the “why” that you want. Or maybe, you just get a second to breathe, and readjust how you go about deciding what it is that you want to focus on for the day, instead of just completing things as they pop up.

For me, simply asking myself “why” about the way that I have set up my day or even my regular routines has helped me to see that a lot of what I was actually doing was about checking things off for other people or even completing things because they sounded like I should be doing them as a mother, wife, or teacher. And after asking myself “why,” I found that a lot of those things that I focused on changed. No longer was I doing things that I felt were part of my identity as set by other people or roles that I have. Instead, I am setting goals, listing tasks, and figuring out plans that will lead me to where I want to be.

Yes, there are still things that were on my list that I kept and will continue to keep, but that is because I’ve figured out that the “why” behind them was important enough to keep them going. The “why” has helped me to prioritize those things differently and not feel as overwhelmed by them because I figured out that they were meaningful and had a purpose in my life. Plus, with the things that I took off of my list, I don’t feel as compelled to crowd my TO DO lists with things that don’t build towards where I want to be.

Published by Leslie

I'm an author, teacher, wife, and mother of three who just finished an MFA program and is working on a YA fantasy novel.

2 thoughts on “The “why” behind your “what”

  1. Love this post! It really helps to clarify the purpose of what I do instead of feeling dragged down by some daily tasks and also to give myself permission to drop some tasks that aren’t purposeful to me.


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