In school, you were probably taught some version of the Five W’s—Who, What, When, Where and Why—as a framework for writing or research. The Five W’s are often mentioned in journalism, research, and police investigations, and are a method for getting the full story on a subject.
If we view life as a story, we can often identify the Five W’s in different phases of our lives. Taken with this perspective, they become a powerful metaphor for focus, self-discovery and actualization.
When we are going through our teenage years, we’re perhaps most focused on our core identity, or Who we are, during a time of substantial change in our bodies and our minds.
In our 20s we begin to think seriously about What we want to do with our lives, especially with respect to our chosen vocation or career path.
In our 30s, many of us focus intently on When and Where. We start to set time-based goals: when we want to get married, have kids, or reach certain professional milestones. We also decide Where we want to plant our roots and live long-term. We also make crucial decisions about where we work as we enter our prime income-earning years.
As we approach our 40s, the proverbial midpoint of our lifetimes, we really start to contemplate the Why, often for the first time. Why do we do what we do? Why is it important to us and others? If we have not already, we might also begin to consider our core values through a process of deliberate reflection and self-discovery.
As we uncover these answers and build our spiritual capacity, we start to see the full roadmap of our life and close ranks, moving away from things that feel misaligned or superfluous. It becomes a logical point of recalibration for friendships, relationships and careers.
When we realize there is a disconnect between our Why and our What, it’s still difficult to make the big changes to realign our lives to this Why. These adjustments require rocking the boat, taking risks, or giving up safety in the pursuit of excellence.
For example, it’s difficult to give up a steady, well-paying job that you may not enjoy when you have meaningful financial obligations. It’s often more comfortable to just stay put, even if you know that job is not how you can make your biggest contribution. Often, it takes an external event to force the change that puts us on the path that, deep down, we know we are meant to walk.
This is one silver lining that may come from COVID-19 for many: a forced disruption along the moving walkway of life that eliminates the safe and easy option. It may be the catalyst or the pain we need to make changes that are long overdue, changes that might finally lead us to the important friend of the Five W’s: How.
I’ve observed that once people have clarified their Why by locking onto their purpose and values, they become motivated to redefine their How. They start to consider their legacy, exploring how they can have the most fulfillment, success and impact simultaneously.
The How is bigger than a What because it’s less about what you do and more about the impact, or outcome, you want to make in your lifetime. Your How is often connected deeply to your Why and your values.
If you find that a door has closed during COVID-19, it might be that nudge you need to take stock of where you are today and where you want to be across aspects of your life and career.
Are you clear about your Why? Are you ready to think about your How? It’s never too early, or too late, to start.
Quote of The Week
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
– Mark Twain