What Is Your “Why?”

It’s a crucial question that few people can answer — what is your “Why?”

If you can answer it, achieving your goals will become that much easier. Whenever you struggle, you just need to remind yourself of your motivator. Then you instantly get back to work.

Learn why so many personal mission statements are misguided, what really makes us tick, and how you can go about finding your “Why.”

Why You Should Be Concerned With Finding Your “Why”

There are three main reasons why you should be able to answer, “What is your why?”

We Crave Motivation

If you don’t know your “Why,” you won’t apply yourself.

For example, in high school, no one ever explained to us why we should know what a logarithmic function is and why we needed to remember the dates of the first Roman Republic. There was no “Why” to learning and hence many kids, including myself, tuned out.

Later, I experienced the opposite. In college, I had several professors who made very good points about studying literature and philosophy. They argued that examining the human condition led to a better, more worthwhile life for yourself. This convinced me, and I became an excellent student. Someone had provided me with a strong “Why,” and now I was willing to put the work in.

We Crave Direction

As humans, we want to know where we are going. If we lack that sense of direction, we become restless.

For a long time, college was my life. I soaked up my teacher’s instructions like a sponge. I had dreams of becoming a professor myself.

But the longer I stayed in the academic world, the more apparent it became to me how fundamentally flawed it was. The bizarre pressure to publish as many papers as possible. The department politics. The trading of posts, not based on merit but based on whom you knew.

At one point, I understood that academia was not for me after all. I fell into a sort of limbo. All these years, I had a clear path in front of me. I knew exactly what next steps to take. Now that was gone.

My “Why” had provided me with direction, and now I was directionless. It felt terrible.

We Crave Purpose

If you don’t know your “Why,” you won’t feel happy. We want to feel fulfilled by what we are doing.

After I had buried my professor dreams, I drifted for a while. I didn’t have a strong “Why” anymore and felt unhappy, even depressed.

The problem was that up until now I had always borrowed my “Why” from somewhere else. I had relied on other people and their ideas of what I should do with my life.

But slowly it started to dawn on me that your “Why” must spring from yourself. Only then can you feel happy. So, I went on a rampage to explore my interests. I started an MMA gym. I worked as a dating coach. I got into digital nomadism. I explored non-monogamy.

As random as all these sound, with each of these experiments, I felt more complete and more happy. I was learning which of my “Whys” I was enjoying the most, and how I could synthesize them. This led me to what I am doing now (content creation and coaching).

Following your “Why” will do the same for you. If you dare to deviate, you will eventually discover what truly drives you. Once that happens, you will feel at peace. 

What Your “Why” Is Not

To answer, “What is your why?” beware of these two misconceptions.

1. It’s Not Some Feel-Good Mission Statement

Whenever I hear people talking about their “Why,” I tend to tune out. Because I know what is coming next — inspirational platitudes:

“I want to be the best version of myself.”

“I want to leave the world better than I found it.”

“I want to touch people with my ideas.”

Are you really telling me that the last thing you think about before falling asleep is, “I want to help others connect with their true selves.” Come on.

We have copied these platitudes from large organizations like governments, corporations, and churches. In their case, these platitudes are justified.

First, large organizations need to cater to the lowest common denominator. They must say vanilla nonsense to not offend anyone.

Second, large organizations need to keep their people aligned. Having an “inspirational” mission statement can help with that. If the messaging is bamboozling enough, these people are more likely to keep working, buying, believing, dying, etc.

So, there is a rationale for large organizations to have these delusional mission statements — they must play the game. They must deceive to prosper. But for smart individuals, there is no reason to play along.

Stop with the virtue signaling to yourself. In private, you must be as honest as you can. You must admit your real “Whys” to yourself, especially the less-flattering ones.

For example, your real “Why” might be “I want to build as much wealth as possible, so I can have more sex with hotter people.” This is a truly motivating “Why,” and one that is widespread (but rarely talked about). Or it might be, “I want to become a social media influencer because I enjoy being famous and getting my ego stroked.” That’s 90% of all content creators online.

Don’t imitate the feel-good propaganda of large organizations. Acknowledge your selfish nature and embrace your true “Why.”

2. It’s Not Some Magic Bullet for Skipping the Work

There is another common misconception about finding your “Why” and that’s the notion that once you find it, everything will become easy. All the hard work required to accomplish something will suddenly stop feeling like work. It will all be fun from here on out.

Granted, your “Why” will motivate you to work longer and harder. But you are not sipping margaritas at the beach. You are still plodding away.

A “Why” is like a carrot tangled in front of your face. It’s the reason why you keep putting in 12-hour days. Whenever you feel like giving up, you can remind yourself of that powerful motivator. But the process is still an ordeal.

Writing is a great example of this. A large part of what I do is writing/blogging. And many days, it doesn’t come easy. Imagine — every day, for several hours you have to stare at a blank page. You have to come up with something out of nowhere. And it must be somehow different than all the things you have written about before.

It’s draining, and I am not the first writer to remark on it. If you read Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” (great book), pretty much all he talks about is resistance. The creative person is as opposed to creating art as can be. They will come up with every possible excuse under the sun to not create.

Yet, I still make myself do it, because I have a “Why” (several, actually). I enjoy it when I come up with a good idea, when something clicks. I enjoy reading what I have written afterward. I also enjoy strangers complimenting me on my writing and getting my ego stroked. I enjoy earning money online and being able to travel while working. I enjoy not having to answer to a boss.

This is what pulls me through most days. These very tangible advantages make me up with the horror show that is writing (I am exaggerating, but you get my point). Writing itself has not somehow become fun. But there is a carrot in front of me, and occasionally, I get to eat it.

What Real “Whys” Look Like

Here are some examples of “Whys” that are truly motivating. These are the things that get people to take action.


We all crave to be free. It’s our natural state of being. Like animals, we want to run wild.

For example, if you promise me that a certain activity will get me out of my soul-crushing 9 to 5, that is a very strong motivator. That is why some people start businesses and see them through, even though they are a ton of work initially. But for the prospect of never having to sit in a cubicle again, they might do it.

In the same vein, some people will fight in wars and risk their lives, when they think an outside force threatens their freedom. This is how persuasive freedom as a “Why” is — if taken away, life doesn’t make sense anymore.

(On a side note, I think that freedom can never be achieved on a societal level, only individually. So, fighting in wars is a misguided idea. But the thirst for freedom in us is real.)


Sex/romance is one of the most powerful motivators there is. I’m putting these two in the same category, however, they are slightly different.

Some people are purely motivated by sex. For example, they will strive to accumulate wealth to have more and better sexual options. Many men think along these lines.

Romance is more about the emotional rollercoaster. We want to get wood. We want to feel butterflies. We want to laugh and cry and overall feel alive.

Either way, these two lead to action. Going to the gym, getting plastic surgery, starting a business, amassing status symbols — all of these are ultimately about sexual and romantic options. We work harder to get laid. We beautify ourselves to get high on love.


This one is closely linked to the previous one. Biologically speaking, the purpose behind our sex drive and need for romance is procreation. Nature uses these as bait to get us to pass our genes on.

But at some point later in life, procreation actually does become its own “Why.” We are thinking to ourselves, “I need to have babies.”

This is more widespread in women. Female friends tell me that putting new life into this world feels like a miracle to them. It is also highly rewarding emotionally, to connect with your child. Hence, they are strongly motivated by it. For example, I have friends who changed their dating behavior and started looking for provider types to make sure the baby gets optimal conditions for growing up. Others underwent medical treatment to increase the chances of getting pregnant (and paid large amounts of money for that).

But men also experience baby-crazyness. Interestingly, this is more pronounced in powerful men. Part of it is that they have plenty of resources for raising a child, so, there is not much of a risk or a burden here.

But what they really get out of it is that they have an heir. They spent their lives accumulating wealth and power and they don’t want to see it go to waste. They want to pass that wealth on to a genetical copy of them.

These men, too, will go out of their way to make it happen. For example, they will put their wealth on display to attract younger, fitter mates. They will buy houses, cars, and expensive gifts to attract the trophy wife. Some of them, especially if they are older, will undergo plastic surgery, to appear more attractive (or at least less repelling).

Bottom line — procreation is an extremely powerful “Why,” for both women and certain men. We want to pass our genes on.


This is another very strong motivator. Many people crave community. They don’t want to feel free so much as they want to feel connected. This is what energizes them and what they ultimately live for — a strong feeling of belonging.

The most basic version of this is family. The people you are related to by blood tend to be closer to you than anybody else. And they in fact are, genetically speaking. We are willing to sacrifice, fight, and even die for these people.

But you also take this further. Instead of just feeling connected to your immediate relatives, you can feel a larger connection based on shared ideas and values.

Political movements are an example of this, especially on the extreme sides of the spectrum. National socialism in Germany was constantly invoking the “Volk,” this body of people that was supposedly under attack and had to be saved. It led to people committing atrocious crimes and dying like flies in a pointless war. All of this just to belong.

In modern America, evangelical Christians are an example of this herd mentality. Here, too, people will completely remodel their lives — how they speak and think, whom they hang out with and date, how they spend their free time — just to get this sense of belonging.

Tribe is one of the most powerful (and potentially destructive) “Whys” there is.


Our lust for fame is an extremely strong “Why.” I know, because it is one of my current motivators. This is why content creators — authors, artists, social media influencers — do what they do. Figuratively speaking, they want to stand on a stage while everybody is looking up at them. That is why they keep producing like maniacs.

If you are a content creator and have any delusions about this, just conduct the following thought experiment. Imagine that all creators could sustain themselves by creating. But the trade-off — nobody would ever hear about their efforts. Nobody would ever listen to their song, read their book, or follow them on Instagram.

The vast majority of creators would drop out of the game overnight. That is how much we are driven by fame. We want to be seen. It’s like a drug — you get high on recognition. It’s a powerful, extremely motivating “Why.”


Trying to get at someone or prove something to someone can be another powerful “Why.”

Imagine this scenario. For years, you were the right hand of your boss. You did all the leg work — you built the infrastructure, you created the processes, you trained the people. All the while, your boss took all the credit. When you finally spoke up and demanded your fair share, you got let go.

Naturally, you will feel like, “Just wait, I will show you. I will do this again, but bigger and better. You will regret ever having me treated like this.” This is a powerful “Why.”

Another common scenario is breakups. Once a relationship ends, we usually experience a bout of sadness. But then something interesting happens. We get this surge of energy. We think to ourselves, “I will become fit, I will become successful, I will reinvent myself. You will be sorry you ever let me go.”

The downside with vengeance as a “Why” is that it’s very motivating in the beginning but then loses its power of time. Few of us can stay angry forever. Eventually, that hurt fades into the past. Once that sting is gone, you need to find a new “Why.” But it’s a great strategy to use while it’s fresh.


Of all the “Whys” we have talked about so far, this one is the most abstract. We enjoy creating something that wasn’t there before.

This something could be a book that we wrote or a song we composed. It could be a house that we build. It could be a business that we created.

This creation is not limited to external objects; it can also be about self-creation. We can educate ourselves to become more complete and more knowledgeable in a certain area. Maybe we become scientists, maybe we become elite athletes. Either way, you built yourself up into something new, better than you were before.

The reason why creation is such a strong motivator — it allows us to experience ourselves as capable. Through creation, we prove to ourselves (and others) that we are resourceful and strong. That feels good, and it will inspire us to do more creating. We want to feel powerful again and again.

Some people also refer to this as excellence. I like that word less, because it’s such a cliche at this point; many of the cheesy, superficial mission statements out there overuse it. But it does capture the essence of creation — that feeling of self-empowerment and even superiority over others.

Why Your Real “Why” Must Be Selfish

If you look at the “Whys” above, you will notice a common theme — selfishness.

A real “Why” is always about pursuing your self-interests. It cannot be any other way. No matter how empathetic you are to others, ultimately, you are stuck with yourself. You are living your life, not somebody else life. You must watch out for yourself first.

There is nothing wrong or morally questionable about this. There is only a problem if people pretend otherwise. Unfortunately, most people do.

The authority figures in our lives — our parents, teachers, pastors, bosses, politicians — have brainwashed us into thinking that selfishness is somehow bad. We are supposed to overcome this base motive and dedicate ourselves to some higher cause.

When you buy into this lie, you get rewarded in the short term. You get to feel like you are a “good person.” The people around you will applaud you.

But in the long run, you will lose out. You will never accomplish the things you could accomplish because you are too afraid to harness your true, selfish “Why.”

It’s like someone stealing your thunder. You are now this domesticated follower, serving someone else’s “Why.” Because that is the magic trick here — by telling you to be unselfish, the authority figures are making sure you are serving their selfish needs.

Never fall for this trick. Never let anyone steal your thunder. If you are motivated by sex, embrace it. If you are motivated by fame, get as famous as you can. Acknowledge your own selfishness and plan for the selfishness of others. You will get more done and you will be happier for it.

The Parameters of “Whys”

I want to point out a few quick parameters concerning “Whys”.

1. Merged “Whys”

Separate “Whys” can merge into a new thing.

Helper syndrome is a great example of this. Some people are strongly motivated by helping others. For example, they will work at the local soup kitchen or spend their free time nursing stray dogs.

This is a conglomeration of two basic “Whys” — fame/admiration and family/tribe. The notorious helper is getting two rewards. They are getting to feel good about themselves by supporting others. These others will show their thankfulness and bystanders will express their admiration.

But there is also a sense of connection at play. By helping others, you are extending your tribe. There are more people now connected and even indebted to you. You are more deeply woven into the social fabric than you were before.

2. Primary & Secondary “Whys”

Even if you have a clear-cut “Why,” it will rarely be your only “Why.”

I mentioned my content business earlier. The primary “Why” behind it for me is freedom. I get to choose what content I create. I get to choose what people I work with. I get to pick my own hours and the place I work from.

But there is also a secondary “Why” — creation/excellence. I tremendously enjoy building systems that work. I enjoy learning about online marketing and then applying these principles.

My lust for fame is a tertiary “Why.” I enjoy strangers complimenting me on this or that article or telling me how a certain coaching session made a difference for them.

So, there is rarely just one “Why,” but rather a layering of “Whys.” And it’s a good idea to understand this layering to extract the most drive out of it.

3. Shifting “Whys”

Your “Whys” will shift over time, as you grow older. For example, sex used to be a major “Why” in my life. I spent several years learning how to talk to attractive strangers and having non-conventional relationships with them. To make progress, I would go out every day for several hours and talk to 10 attractive strangers. It consumed my life.

Today, I think about it differently. Sex is certainly still a strong motivator in my life, but not like it used to be. I have tried all the things I want to try sexually several times over. Now there are other, more interesting “Whys” to me.

It’s like this for most people. “Whys” change. The quicker you sense that shift, the quicker you can adapt.

Strategies for Finding Your “Why”

Answering “What is your why?” is a major project. You won’t do so by reading one article on the subject. But I at least want to give a few pointers.

1. Develop Self-Awareness

Understanding your “Why” is ultimately a question of self-awareness. The better you are at observing yourself, the more clarity you will develop about what motivates you.

Journaling can be a great tool for that. Writing down what is currently on your mind brings hidden motives and pains to the forefront. Also, do this for long enough, and you’ll be able to read through your past entries to discover patterns. They are always there. 

Meditation is another good tool. Don’t try to oppress your thoughts. Rather, look at them like someone watching the clouds passing by. There are certain “clouds” that will pop up more often than others; these are worth investigating.

2. Ask Others

Often, where we are blind to ourselves, outsiders see right through us. So, pose the following question to them — “From your point of view, what is the strongest driving force in my life? What motivates me more than anything else?”

Ask both people who know you well and strangers.

Of those who know you well, ex-lovers can be a great source of insights. They have seen you at your best and your worst. Provided they don’t have an axe to grind, they can often tell you what makes you tick in an instant.

Another good option is to try therapy or coaching. These professionals listen to other people, their life stories, and also their rationalizations all day. They are usually very quick to spot underlying themes. They might save you a lot of time.

3. Look at Historical Data

In most instances, our “Whys” have already expressed themselves historically. For example, at several turning points in my own life, I chose personal freedom over other possible “Whys” like family or tribe. Once you learn to spot these patterns, you can then extrapolate your likely future “Whys.”

4. Explore Your Fantasies

What do you fantasize about? For example, what is the last thing you think about before you fall asleep? Do you imagine romance? Exciting travels? Sexual adventures? A family idyl?

Never underestimate such fantasies. When we allow our minds to run free, our “Whys” come out of hiding quickly. So, look at your fantasies closely. Consider sharing them with a trusted friend or advisor to gain even better insights.

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