This is the most important question I have ever been asked in my career.
The single, zen-like moment of clarity that cuts through the noise and the tangle of ideas that you have inside you.
For me it was something simple, quite late in my career, I was in a personal development meeting, things had not being going great for me of late so I was overcompensating for something that wasnt my issue by putting more than I had to give into work.
I had just changed manager and was keen to treat this as a new opportunity to advance my career (rookie mistake btw), and was at the "What do you plan to do in the next 6 months?" question when I reeled off a load of courses I was either on or planned on taking.
The manager asked "Why?"
I blinked, surely that was obvious? To get more betterer?
I responded "To get better at widget production and get better as widget planning?"
His response? "Why?"
"aha!" I thought, "I know what your doing here, you are trying to use 5 Whys on me...me...a former senior analyst at a medical device manufacturer...I can 5 whys you into the ground sonny jim!"
But while I thought that triumphantly in my head, he followed up with "So what?"
Now I paused..."So What?" that's not "why?" number three, he is going off script...
Seeing my internal monologue play out Manager came in with:
"you are telling me what, but not why, that means that you maybe don't know why?"
"to get better at widget stuff
widgets in this case being cloud networking, but let's stick to widgets for readability"
"yeah, but why? what value will that bring over what you already know and do?"
Now he had me there. There wasn't much value in getting better at something I was already good at was there? For the business at least, I was good enough, and good enough is good enough in the commercial world.
So now my plans were out the window...but performance reviews demand answers so what now?
I had to figure out my "why?"
I was doing what I thought was wanted of me, not what would actually be good for me and the business.
Hundreds of hours of Khan Academy, uDemy, LinkedIn Learning, Datacamp etc etc etc and all for something what was not my core "Why?"
Now, here is the paydirt. Once I realised I could not answer the "why" asked of me by Manager, once I stripped away everything I thought was being asked, I was able to simply ask "Ok, Manager, I don't have a why, so I don't have a what, so I don't have a how, where do I go from here?"
Being who he was, he was typically obscure in his response.
"Why do you come to work?"
"Why do you come here to work?"
"To make a difference in widget production, leave a mark on the world of widgetry!"
"ok, do you think that getting from 99% to 99.99% is what will do that?"
"Well, understanding more of the non-widget related business would help me understand how to make widgetry smoother for the part of widgetry that I am paid to look after?"
"Now you have a 'Why?', and from that sprang a 'What?' Let's see what you can do for the 'how?'"
The how doesn't matter, but it involved Mojito's, being chased through Barcelona at 4AM and some very confused American Tourists.
What matters is I was doing everything wrong.
I never stopped to ask myself "Why?" and instead just kept forging ahead down the wrong path and not understanding where the feeling of frustration and unease inside of me was coming from.
What's the quote? "The beginner sees many possibilities the expert few. Be a beginner every day".
When confronted by the infinity of potential, on every endeavour, in every job, really do start by asking yourself "Why?".