On Finding Your WHY and Writing as Collaboration

One of my clients recently asked me about my big “why.” I’ve been a Simon Sinek fan since my first entrepreneurial mentor recommended his TED talk. So, I’ve thought about this question before (more than a few times). But this time as I started talking, I was reminded of how often my answer changes.

I am truly fascinated by how much and how often my overall picture of my business and the work I do shifts. Sometimes these business shifts feel significant. Other times I suspect I’m being influenced by my present mood or external circumstances. It pays to ask these kind of meta questions too.

Ultimately though, my responses in spontaneous moments like this one offer a window into my soul. I didn’t overthink my answer. I didn’t think about what “hat” I should be wearing or what my client might be expecting me to say. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and what came out actually surprised me. I started talking about the value of writing as a collaborative endeavor.

Okay, inner voice. I’m paying attention.

Maybe you can relate. How many times have you tried to force an inspiring answer to a big question about your business? Does it ever result in a significant business shift?

Getting to your WHY takes time. I wish someone had offered me that kind of space each time I wrestled out loud with answering this question and came away with nothing but increasing self-doubt for my efforts.

Instead, I forced an answer because that’s what you have to do in the beginning. When you don’t know your business well enough to really talk about it, you go searching for language outside of yourself. And so whatever you come up with didn’t come from you. You’ll never get to your WHY this way. But then how do you get to your WHY?

Find Your Big WHY for You

You can’t force your WHY because it’s not for anyone except YOU.

Whenever I’ve heard coaches talk about finding your WHY, it has been in the context of figuring out what will induce potential customers to buy from you. It’s the thing that makes your brand unique. The message is: find your WHY so you can be more effective at sales.

Yes, finding your WHY will make you more effective at selling yourself, but not directly as the message suggests. Your clients aren’t buying your WHY. Your clients are buying the value they see in you. When you land on your WHY you learn something about yourself and that makes you more valuable.

My clients don’t necessarily see value in writing as collaboration. I see the value here because I’ve come to see writing alone, isolated in my office without showing anyone my work as a terrible bore. My clients, on the other hand, value getting their thoughts out into the world more quickly than would otherwise be the case. But many of my clients want very little, if any, involvement in the writing process itself, collaborative or otherwise.

And those coaches are right when they tell you “find your WHY and everything else will fall into place.” It’s just that it isn’t magic. When you find your WHY you find your inspiration. You do better work. You don’t need all the external pushes and pulls. You sell yourself simply by talking about what you do and you find clients when you least expect to find them.

Your Big WHY is Not Your Brand

One year ago, I worked with a brand strategist to help me figure out my brand. We did excellent work together and the content Maria and Sally created really resonated. Basically, I was looking for someone to ask me the right questions, draw out my story, and transform it into language that would speak to the clients I wanted to reach. We got the results I was looking for through collaboration.

Now, a year later, I’ve taken that content, tweaked the parts that needed tweaking and used it to create content for my new website, which will be up and at ‘em soon. This brand journey, which has felt more like an odyssey to me, has put me in touch with the part of me that feels inspired to write for others.

But what I didn’t know a year ago was what I was looking for. I was in need of a brand strategy, sure, but I hadn’t yet made the connection to my WHY. So in some sense, I was trying to put the cart before the horse. Truth be told, part of me thought I was going to get to my WHY through a brand strategy process. I was trying to force it once again.

Of course, if we count this entire year as part of the process, then I did get to my WHY. Getting to your WHY takes time. It needs to rattle around in your brain awhile before your inner voice speaks up.

Your Big WHY Helps Make Sense of Other Stuff

And so we come to the last question in this stream of consciousness mess of musings: How do you know when you’ve hit on your WHY? How do you separate out the little curves from the significant shifts? Your WHY helps you make sense of other stuff.

When I first started blogging, I was focused on helping small business owners convert users into buyers. Then I went through this anti-marketing, content marketing phase (I know! What???). But it wasn’t until I started identifying with the ghostwriter label that I felt connected in that WHY way Sinek describes so well.

Now, after connecting the dots between becoming a ghostwriter and hearing myself say how much I value writing as collaboration, I see why I was dissatisfied as a professional academic. It makes sense that I would gravitate toward a career where I get to spend almost as much time talking about ideas as I do implementing them.

When you hit on the kind of business shift that connects the dots for you, that’s significant. The key is paying attention and grabbing ahold of those moments when they arise.

The biggest difference between me as a business owner a year ago and me as a business owner today is mindset. I trust myself more now. I believe more in the kind of work I’m doing. And all that means, I’m better able to weather the storms (also the storms are fewer and less severe). Once you find yourself in that place, there’s no stopping you!

I can’t help you get to your WHY. You will simply have to wait for your big ah-ha moment. But I can help if you’re feeling stuck with your content. Contact me to schedule your 30-minute content strategy session and we’ll cut through the noise. And if you have more of a collaboration in mind, you know I’m all about writing as collaboration.

Photo credit: dotshock