Why Finding Your Why May Not Be As Important As Finding Your Who

Sometimes you have to look outward to see inward.

Simon Sinek’s TED talks on finding your “why” have really inspired a lot of people including me. As I reflect on my journey as a recovering man I see that finding my “why” has been an important piece in both my victories and defeats along the way.

There were many times when that question came up. At the beginning, it was simple. I just wanted the pain to go away. The pain from guilt, shame, resentments while thinking of my past and the pain of hopelessness about my future. I’ve always had a high threshold when it came to pain so, needless to say, I had to create a huge pile of shit in my life before I recognized a need for change.

This led me to the fruitless journey of trying to understand why I did all the fucked up shit I did in my life. I knew deep down that I wasn’t an evil man so why did I do so much evil shit?

I learned the hard way that sometimes the “why” isn’t as important as the how in the event of an emergency.

The next big “why” came after getting some clean time and serenity in my life. It usually occurred about a year into abstinence and working the 12 steps with my sponsor. I’d ask myself “Why am I here?” What is my purpose for being on this planet? I’d get just enough awareness that we are all here for a reason but never enough to figure out mine. It led me to relapse time and time again.

That process repeated itself many times over before a new level of pain led me to seek help from other sources. I reached out to therapists and finally coaches and and eventually realized why I could never answer that important question. It turns out I was skipping a step in the process.

Before I could find my “why” I needed to find my “who.”

Answering the question, “who am I?” turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. I had spent so many years thinking that the man I was supposed to be was this mold created by others, that I never even considered what really resonated with me at the level of my own heart. Then, after spending so many years disappointing people I loved, it felt good to start getting a little positive feedback from them…so I became a people pleaser.

I thought I owed everyone a version of myself that met with their expectations and didn’t even consider that I had some of my own.

In Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Mastery of Self he describes the various roles we play in society as the masks we wear. For example, to my child, I wear the dad mask, to my wife, I wear the husband mask, etc. In the recovery rooms it was necessary for me to wear the addict mask. That’s not to say that they’re some kind of facade that I’m using to deceive anyone. In fact, I see them as a form of expression for my authentic self.

Each one of them is only a part of who I am.

The problem occurs when I get caught up in believing that one of these masks completely defines me. I have to go much deeper to discover the common thread that describes who is actually putting those masks on.

In other words, who is the MAN behind the masks?

Underneath all the societal roles I play, there is a man who has certain passions, values, and a purpose and I had yet to discover what those were. This is still an ongoing process as I struggle with letting go of judgments that have been instilled in my subconscious through years of programming. I’ll contemplate on the things that make my heart sing then I’ll go into my head and start matching them up with old stories. Then the bullshit will emerge like, this one makes me selfish, or that one makes me shallow until I find myself feeling worse about myself than I did before I started.

I couldn’t look inward because my view was blocked by layers of shame.

I found that this process was much easier in the beginning when I looked outward. I looked at the people I respected and admired. Then I dug deep into what it was about them that stirred these feelings in me. From there I was able to start some momentum for the journey within my Self. I describe this process in much more detail in my book.

Today, I see clearly that those qualities I admire so much in others are the same qualities that exist in me. It’s just a matter of aligning with them and practicing them on a daily basis.

The next time you look out at the world and see beauty or potential, consider the possibility that the only reason it’s turning you on is because it’s resonating with the same beauty and potential that’s inside you.

Crazy shit, huh?

Not as crazy as the story you’re telling yourself right now, if you’re feeling stuck.

Rock On!