The importance of ‘why’

This strange time of crisis and lockdown has afforded us all a bit of time for reflecting on and reassessing our lives. Some things that seemed important to us no longer seem to matter. Our priorities have changed. Some of us may have a renewed sense of purpose and others may be struggling to find meaning and make sense of what is happening. If you’re one of the many who feel that they’ve lost their sense of direction, a great way to start the reflection process is by   understanding your motivations. In order to work out what you actually want from your life and career in the future, you need to know why you want it. And that means knowing your values.

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Roy Disney

You will only ever find real motivation for doing what you have to do in life if you are being authentic and staying true to your core values. Your values are the things that matter most to you – the things that drive you from within. From my own experience, when I was working in the City pre children, I certainly knew what I wanted – a well-paid job with status and recognition – but I had no sense of any deeper meaning to my ambitions. This resulted in a crisis of motivation when I later tried to combine my working life and motherhood. By stepping back, reflecting, and learning to identify my ‘why’, the things that really mattered to me –  I was able to work out a better strategy for keeping myself motivated and happy, whilst working and parenting.

Knowing your ‘why’, then, is key to setting the right goals, for being able to achieve those goals – and to finding that all important work/life balance. The problem that many of us have is not having ever taken the time to properly identify our ‘why’. As I mentioned, I was forced to think seriously about mine when I came under intense pressure trying to combine my career and parenting – and going through that process has really helped me with my subsequent career and work/life decisions. Now my ‘why’ is at the heart of everything I do – and that is what ultimately makes for a fulfilling and rewarding work/life experience. In this time of great uncertainty, working out your true values is more important than ever.

I would therefore encourage you to take the time and effort required for identifying your ‘why’. To get you started, follow these steps:

1. Review and reflect.
Cast your mind back over your life experiences. Think about the times when you felt most excited and energised. What was going on then and what were you doing? Conversely, reflect on some occasions in your life when you felt enraged, frustrated or devastated. Again – what was going on at that time and what were you doing? Write down your thoughts.

2. Assign values to those experiences.
Think about the values that are connected with each of those experiences. Have a look at this list of values to help you and choose a handful that resonate most deeply with how you felt at the time:

Adventure, Ambition, Beauty, Authenticity, Creativity, Excellence, Excitement, Freedom, Friendship, Fun, Honesty, Humour, Integrity, Kindness, Learning, Love,  Nurturing, Openness, Recognition, Trust, Balance, Choice, Appreciation, Security, Reward, Growth, Balance, Achievement, Spirituality, Zest, Health, Performance, Order, Risk-taking, Recognition, Loyalty, Challenge, Tolerance, Autonomy, Independence, Originality, Flexibility, Respect, Safety, Stability, Care

3. Pick the values that closely align with your best experiences.
Choose a handful of values that recur when you look at your favourable past experiences.

4. Write a statement for each of your values.
Create a sentence for each of your values explaining what it means to you and your life: eg: Health – ‘It is important to me to eat well and exercise regularly to maintain high fitness and energy levels.’ Or Independence – ‘It is important to me to earn my own money and have control of my finances’.

5. Order your values.
Think about your values in order of the importance they have to you. Is achievement your top priority?  Or is it more important that what you do involves creativity for example?

6. Plan some positive actions that correspond with your values.
For example – if you value creativity, make a plan to take up a creative hobby or attend classes – pledge to paint or write (or whatever your skill) once a week. If excellence is important, plan a project where there is an opportunity for gaining an award or recognition to give you something tangible to strive for.

7. Review your ‘why’ regularly.
Keep yourself on track by regularly checking in with how you are doing in relation to living a life that aligns with your ‘why’.  Your values may change as your life circumstances do, so remain self-aware and make sure that whatever you do, and whatever decisions you make – everything is still aligned with the things that really matter to you.

Once you have worked out your ‘why’, you are in a much stronger position for making a success of combining your career with the challenges of negotiating a post-lockdown world. Tune into this week’s podcast #55 where I’ll be sharing more tips on the subject of remembering your why or email me at to find out more about ‘Having it all’ – my one on one coaching programme.