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What’s your reason for getting up in the morning? What purpose does your job serve? What does the world need from you? Why are you here? These are the questions I was asked during my first week of employment with Remote Year, a startup that brings a group of inspiring professionals together to travel, live, and work in different cities around the world for a month each.

It makes perfect sense to consider these questions whether you’re just starting a new job, have been at your current one all of your life, or are on sabbatical. Here’s why.

In his TED talk about how leaders inspire action, Simon Sinek uses a diagram called the golden circle and a brief biology lesson to explain why people do what they do. Drawing the three-ringed circle, he places the word “what” on the outside ring, “how” on the middle ring, and “why” on the inside. He correlates these rings with sections of our brain: the outer neocortex (cognition, reasoning, and language) and the middle limbic brain (emotion, behavior, motivation). In other words, we can communicate from the outside in, the what, with facts and figures but still fail to drive action or become motivated. When we communicate from the inside out, the why, we are speaking directly to the part of our brain that controls behavior. Ever had a gut feeling go completely against a logical idea? Have you found yourself at a loss for words attempting to justify what you knew deep down didn’t feel right?

All this to establish that there are many things you will do in life that must stem from a deep understanding of why it is you feel compelled to do it in the first place. Start with your why.

This idea is also closely tied to a Japanese concept called Ikigai or “a reason for being.” It combines the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live”, and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for.” It’s the idea of having a purpose in life. Experts recommend asking these questions to get to your Ikigai:

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need from you?
  • What can you get paid for?

Although we may have handy answers to these questions, ikigai in practice should be a slow process of discovery and often has nothing to do with work or income. It’s thought to lead to a better perspective on life because you will have something to live for and conviction in doing both the mundane and exciting things you do on a daily basis.

After learning all of this and reflecting on my life, of course, I set out to craft my own ikigai. Though it may evolve over time, it’s a great reminder of what’s important to me and the meaning I can bring to each and every day:

What drives me? Faith. I believe that I was created for a unique purpose on this earth and my mission is to make sure that purpose is realized – through what I dream, through what I do, and through who I am. 

I want my impact in this world to be felt. I want to connect, to help people realize their potential, and to encourage them to go after their dreams and define their purpose, no matter how wild and confusing and messy and unbelievable and crazy.

My why aligns with my core values. It’s a blueprint for the kind of person I want to be, the kind of life I want to lead, and the kind of contribution I want to make.

My why is also what motivated me to apply and later accept an offer to work at Remote Year. I knew that this decision would give me the opportunity to travel the world and build something great while inspiring people to achieve their career and life goals. Remote Year and my new role are the “what” and “how” to my “why.” It’s the means by which I will continue to grow as an individual and actualize my purpose.

Start with your why.

December 2017

© Copyright 2017 Akua Sencherey. All rights reserved. Cover photo by Molly Rugg.

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