If you’re a parent, you’re familiar with this ubiquitous word in children’s lexicons. It seems to make an appearance every other sentence:
Adult: “We need to put this bottle in the recycling bin.”
Adult: “Because we want to help the environment.”
Adult: “Because we need the environment in order to live.”
“Because we’re part of nature and…” *adult in question gestures vaguely*
And so on and so on.
Just your everyday probing conversation with a 6-year-old. Their tremendous learning curve is put to work everyday and while they’re learning about new people, places, and things, they’re also exploring the reasoning behind why we do what we do. Tiny geniuses.
As adults, we become a lot less curious because we assume we have things pretty much figured out. We know how the world works for most part (even though most of us couldn’t explain everyday things like how a toilet works or the phases of the moon). At the very least, however, we know how we’re supposed to act. So, we stop questioning things.
Curiously, we stop questioning right at the point when we should be asking more and more pointed questions. This is the exact moment when the answers increase in importance. These are the very questions that enable to us to fail better as we adjust our definition of success to better reflect what we truly find valuable.
A few examples:
Why must I get married and have kids to feel fulfilled? (Am I following a pre-ordained script?)
Why do I have negative people in my inner circle? (Are there people in my community that would better help me grow?)
Why am I constantly stressed? (Do I need to change my thoughts or the situation?)
Why do I hate Mondays so much? (Am I creating the kind of life I want to be living longterm?)
We stop questioning right at the point when we should be asking more and more pointed questions.
We set ourselves up to fail when we’re just stumbling along with no apparent direction. Or perhaps we have some direction, but it’s based on external expectations. We shoulder responsibilities that aren’t ours to bear, we pursue goals that are dreamed up by someone else, and we conform to an image that we think we need to be. Sound familiar?
Asking why is essential to failing better. Examining past experiences, fleshing out core values, and defining intentions and goals; all these actions lead to clarity, purpose and freedom—a life that’s truly yours.
However, asking why is not for the faint of heart:
1. It requires you to step into the unknown.
Human nature prefers known variables over unknown variables—and what’s on the other side of asking why is definitely unknown. Knowledge of the present is reassuring, even if it’s not optimal. A few pointed questions have the power to shift our whole worldview, and that’s pretty dang scary.
2. You open the door to uncomfortable emotions
We like comfort and familiarity; rocking the boat is frowned upon and asking why is like opening a can of worms. By opening that door, we have to deal with the difficulty of confronting long-held beliefs, the intensity of dealing with uncomfortable feelings, and the awkwardness of breaking out the expected mold.
You may be cringing at the thought of stepping into the unknown or dealing with uncomfortable emotions, but plot twist: life is unpredictable and difficult times are guaranteed regardless. Running away from this truth puts us on the defensive; we run, we hide, we plug our ears.
The benefit of asking why is that it puts us on the offensive. We become proactive with our self-knowledge. We start to learn about ourself—our motivations, biases, shortcomings, and strengths. We understand the context of the story and can make better judgments and decisions as a result. Instead of knee-jerk reactions based on years of learned coping mechanisms, we develop a clearer vision of our thoughts, behaviours and desires.
By going on the offensive, we lean into the uncomfortableness—the uncertainty and unsteadiness of it all. And, funnily enough, by leaning into it, we become more balanced. We go from being pushed on our back foot, to gritting in on our front foot. We’re steady and balanced and ready for what comes.
Dare to ask why, and you’ll be on the path to failing better. Go get ‘em, you informed and empowered person, you.