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Your Why Determines Your Way

December 27, 2022

This week, millions of people will make New Year’s resolutions.

They’ll write lists full of goals—things they want to do or things they want to stop doing next year. Their goals might be professional or personal. They might be focused on losing weight or growing a business. They could be the first step to pursuing a dream or an important relationship. The bottom line is that people will make promises, to themselves and others, many of which will ultimately be broken.

However, the greatest problem with New Year’s resolutions is not the risk that we may not keep them. The biggest issue is that our lists focus mainly on what we are going to do and often overlook why we are going to do it. 

When we focus on the what and overlook the why, it’s tough to stay committed. When we focus on our why, our what becomes far more meaningful.

I’d challenge you to spend some time this week truly examining your motives. I’ve spent more than a decade working to understand what drives people, what motivates individuals, and why so many pursue the wrong things. I’ve come to realize that most of our motives can be bucketed into one of the following categories: survival, approval, fun, and calling.

1. Survival: Each of us have made decisions based on what’s necessary to survive in this life. Many of us have jobs so we can pay the bills, put food on the table, and meet the needs of our family. This desire to survive is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s necessary, but in isolation, it is simply not enough to fulfill us long term.

2. Approval: In some way, each of us has a desire to be accepted and respected by our peers, our friends, and our loved ones. Seeking the approval of others can drive our decisions and actions, but this motivation only leads to fleeting moments of satisfaction. And in some instances it can actually be dangerous because when the approval flees, our sense of self worth goes away with it. Furthermore, many people spend years pursuing the wrong things simply to impress others. 

3. Fun: People are often motivated by pleasure. We seek things that please us and help us escape from the pressures of everyday life. The problem is that we can’t escape forever, and just like the rush that comes with man’s approval, the pleasures of fun won’t last. (Hear me out: fun is not bad, but fun as a key motivator can potentially derail your life).

4. Calling: Survival, approval, and fun are all things that motivate us to act, but ultimately, the only motivator that leads to a life of fulfillment is calling. Your calling is rooted in who you are and what you believe. This calling allows you to exercise your gifts and do something you enjoy that can impact the world around you.  A calling does not always have to be a career or a job. For some of us, our jobs give us a sense of calling, but for others, a volunteer organization, a relationship, or a role at home might reveal a personal calling.

A sense of calling may not change what you do, but it always infuses what you do with meaning.

For those of us who think about calling in the context of faith, I love the way one pastor explained it: A calling is God’s invitation for your participation in His plan for your life.

Success next year will not only be determined by what you do but also why you do it. Before you make that laundry list of New Year’s resolutions this week, reflect on why you do what you do and let your calling shape your goals for 2023.


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