Know your ‘why’

The year is 2002. I am a sophomore in high school. At the end of another long and boring school day, instead of following the herd of students out to the school bus for the hour ride home, I stay behind at school to keep working for another couple of hours. As the building slowly empties down the stairs and out the back doors of the school, I make my way from the band room on the far west side of the school, across the crowds of students to the far east end of the building to the electronics lab. Zach Threlkeld and I were meeting with Mr. Beaman to plan our school’s first Engineering Day.

Through the process of planning this event, I learned how to do a lot of things. We had to do marketing, logistics, planning, and everything else to organize 15 different events for 150 events to commemorate Engineering Week the next February. One of my responsibilities was all of the fliers for the different events. Mr. Beaman gave me a cd and a license key for Photoshop, and said basically ‘this should help’. It didn’t. Photoshop came with an overwhelming amount of tools that didn’t seem to help me make a flier at all.

While I eventually figured out how to do the things we needed to organize the day, Photoshop is far from the most valuable lesson I learned in that process. Mr. Beaman liked to share little nuggets of wisdom as we worked through the planning process, and a couple of those has stuck with me ever since.

The first was true to his self-deprecating humor, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (He was a teacher after all). As I look back, I wonder if that statement set much of my attitudes towards education for the next 10 years, and not for the better.

However, he normally followed that couplet with another that has had a much more positive impact on my life. “Those who know how will always have jobs. They will always work for those who know why.”

I find that these words still bounce around my mind on at least a weekly basis, now 17 years later. I have built a career in a very how-based field. While I always figured out enough of the ‘how’ to be competent, much of my growth has come from understanding the ‘why’.

I have had several people ask me over the last few months if I would suggest to a new young person entering the workforce to follow a similar career path that I have taken. I would, but I always say that they need to focus on the reasons their work matters, and the people it affects far more than the technology or tools that help deliver that value. Being the best technician n a field is not nearly as rewarding as pointing that technician in the right direction and delivering value.

Do you now why the work you did this week matters? Can you articulate how that work supports to overarching strategy or values of your situation? If not, I highly suggest you go figure it out.

Comments are closed.