What's Your Why?
by Laura Taylor
Two weeks ago I got Bumble for a hot minute, and it seems 99% of the male population are ‘just out here looking for someone to go on adventures with’. Which was news to me, I had no idea kiwi men had such a hankering for the wilderness (or at least like to project as much) but look I’m not judging - my bio included the phrase ‘baby surfer’. It became apparent pretty quickly we gravitate towards safe, sterile descriptors, and throw in a pic with a dog for good measure. But if I were to run a mile with this for Oh Nine fodder, I do wonder if this points to a larger problem that many of us aren’t too sure who the heck we are outside of our day job.
‘What’s your why?’ is a question entire businesses are being hung off. There are countless frameworks, life-coaches and spiritual advisors dedicated to discovering who you are. Which is nice. Especially when I’m sure most of us have an experience in a harshly lit career-counsellors office, hoping for oracle level insight and instead being met by Janine who gently advises that you peaked in L3 English and to strongly consider a Bachelors of Arts. But, as Henri Nouwen writes “frequently, we are restlessly looking for answers, going from door to door, from book to book, or from school to school, without having really listened carefully and attentively to the questions… there are not enough counsellors in the world to help with all these hard questions, and sometimes one feels as if one half of the world is asking advice of the other half while both sides are sitting in the same darkness.”
It is much easier to go to my best friend, colleague, or counsellor and ask them what I am, or what they see me as, than to go to ask those questions of myself. As Rilke urges in Letters to a Young Poet “I want to beg you as much as I can, be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves”. But sitting with those questions is sobering. All of a sudden, I am faced with the life I have made for myself, which also means facing the dreams that perhaps haven’t had airtime. Some less painful, like becoming a singer-songwriter STAR, but others strike a chord, like the desire to fall deeply in love.
Sitting with the questions and the sum whole of ourselves is messy. So to get by, it’s easy to silo things off and put our identity in easily distinguished certainties; we are teachers, nurses, designers and men who just want someone to hike with. But without integration - without the ‘why’ - we are in danger of operating within an unsatisfactory framework of the next thing. I have fallen victim to this, call it a strong three wing but my working style is definitely bang-it-out and move on. It is hard not to throw myself down the rabbit hole of creativity, and resurface unsure what to do until impulsively beginning the next adrenaline filled, all consuming project. But when the whole thing becomes just about leading to another part, we end up with a low grade level of despair. When you place the most value, and derive the most joy, in the siloed off parts - the next song, assignment, speaking event - you end up with these bits and pieces that floating around in isolation induce a mentality that we only endure other aspects of our lives to get to the next part. Which is great for capitalism and cog in the machine thinking, but in regards to overall mental health, a questionable methodology that I’m not convinced works.
I love in the Ragamuffin Gospel when Brendon Manning discusses being a bundle of paradoxes, a fully human being who all at one time has the capacity to hope, doubt, hate, love, feel bad about feeling good. To assign labels and live for the distinguished peaks puts a lot more pressure on what I do is who I am. Which is funny, especially because as millenials we are more likely to be working two day jobs to support our side-hustle/passion project and jump across careers and industries than ever before. In this context, it is problematic to lock ourselves down as one thing, and in doing so conveniently escape the pulsating, underlying question of why am I here? Call it a reckoning, coming-of-age, or simply the experience of someone reminded daily that world seems to be set on a trajectory to implode, but I’m starting to see that avoiding these questions and adopting the (very kiwi) adage of ‘just get on with it’, doesn’t fly anymore.
So when I find I am aimlessly hurtling through, living for the next piece I write or promo tour I wrap up, it’s probably time to sit in that space and ask, what core belief, desire, heartache, yearning, ties this whole thing together? What am I building here? What is compelling me? Am I chasing the joy of the moment, or running from the fear of my past? What’s my why?
If we can start to sit in that space, wrestling with the questions that demand something from us - not just a journal entry or half-hearted analysis but actual, path-deflecting action - just maybe, we can get a glimpse of living wholly as Anna Morrow Lindbergh describes; “as if every day, every act, is an island, washed by time and space and has an islands completion”.