I attended a school play at the weekend with my wife, who heads up the marketing and admissions there, and was transported back in time to my own years at school.

As a spotty, lanky and somewhat awkward teenager, the question that used to fill me with dread was ‘What do you want to be when you’re older!’ It always struck me, and still does, that many of my peers so readily had an answer to this. “Oh, a Lawyer”, “I’ve always wanted to be a Teacher”. Or, “I’m going to go into business”. They seemed to so easily place their flag, and pin themselves to a pre-defined career route. They were going to be a Teacher, and that was that!

Perhaps I have been wired incorrectly, or my CPU is on a totally different output setting, but when asked ‘What’ I wanted to be, I would draw blanks. The British are notorious, when meeting new people, for pigeon holing them and giving them a social marker based on their response to ‘What do you do’.

It wasn’t until I really began to analyse what this loaded question meant, that I really began to dissect it and find comfort in how I approached it.

From a young age, and my mother will vouch for this through gritted teeth (as will my various driving instructors!) I have been very difficult to teach. Whereas some will settle with a ‘fact’ being a ‘fact’, my brain simply will not accept information unless I have had a chance to explore it further. One one hand, this is infuriating, but on the other it means that I have become very good at drawing solutions from situations that I deem to be insufficient. If I am told that something can’t be done, I am spurred on to prove the naysayers wrong. This also explains why I have never had a quick answer, and frankly rebelled, against the ‘What do you do’ question. Personally, if someone were to answer this in a flash, I’d take their response and ask them Why?!

Why do you want to be a Teacher, a Lawyer, a Mechanic, or an Army Captain? This is when it becomes interesting — as this begins to help reveal the motivations, and personal aspirations behind individuals above and beyond the commercial ‘wrapper’ of a career. It also opens up to the ‘who’ you want to be, in what you do.

This ‘who’ isn’t restricted to just business. Years before we even begin to entertain the notion of a job or a career, our parents, teachers and support networks are busy working on helping us shape ‘who’ we are going to be. Kind, respectful, engaging and inquisitive are just a spattering of pieces that make up the ‘who’ puzzle. Yet, at some point in this development, the who, and the why, gives way to the ‘what’.

I have been challenging myself more and more recently to be true to ‘who’ I want to be. People won’t remember the job title I had when I was 28, but they will remember the type of colleague and leader that I was. They will also, hopefully, remember the ‘why’ as this is what fuels the passion behind what I do — in all aspects of life.

Ask me what I do, and I will tell you that I co-founded a company to help young renters becomes first time homeowners. But ask me WHY, and this is where you will see my eyes light up. I do what I do, because I feel passionately that I can solve a real problem. There are over 3million people in the UK caught up in a downward spiral of paying high rent, with little money left over to save for a house deposit. If I get Uppie right, then I have the ability to do far more than just create a great business — I have the potential to really impact peoples lives for the better.

So, my challenge this Monday is to do as Simon Sinek suggests, and Start With Why! Let this form the basis of everything you do during your week. If your ‘Why’ is simply to pay the bills, then you may want to re-look at your situation. I guarantee you that losing sight of passion in what you do will have a detrimental impact on ‘who’ you are. Do not be just another dogs body in your organisation or personal life — protected by the thin membrane of a corporate identity.

Imagine just how much more interesting your next networking event, or Christmas drinks party would be if there was more ‘Why’, and less ‘What’.


WHY & WHO, not WHAT! was originally published in UppieBlog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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