Why Versus What

The presenter had a broad smile as he began telling his story. In his late forties, he was already successful, had created a solid record of accomplishment for which anyone would’ve been proud. Despite all that, however, he had yet to satisfy a long-standing personal desire to own a book publishing company.

Then he saw the ad. Such a company was for sale. In a spurt of enthusiasm, he bought it for a million dollars plus change. He related how good, how genuinely happy he felt when he, the new owner and president, walked into his new office for the first time, sat at the big but still empty desk, and proudly proclaimed to himself that he had finally fulfilled his wish.

Several months later, a close friend who had advised him not to buy the company, came for a visit. The two men had a great time telling stories, laughing at their latest jokes, and talking about old times. Then their behavior became more sobering as his friend who had been against what he had done, expressed serious doubts as to the future success of the company. He delved into many details as he told his friend that although things looked good at the present, that he’d better do this or he’d be wise to do that, or he needed to be on guard for this situation, or to be prepared to head off that crisis.

The presenter then told the audience that he smiled at his friend as he told him that he didn’t have to do any of those things or be on guard for others. After all, it was his company, something he’d always wanted. It didn’t matter if it were a solid success or a dismal failure or anything in between, or how many challenges he might be unable to meet.

He emphasized to his friend that he was having a great time, really the best time in his whole life. He was having so much fun that almost every morning he woke up excited. Best of all, even all the nearly one hundred employees were also having fun.

Now for a parallel.

Can you possibly imagine what it must have been like two hundred years ago to get rid of everything you had, then leave the comforts of such places as Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, make your way to maybe St. Louis or Kansas City, get outfitted, load up a wagon, hitch up a team of horses or oxen, and begin the more than two-thousand-mile trek to the West Coast?

Arrival at the top of any hill could mean facing the dangers of Indian attack, disease, blizzards, killing heat, floods, starvation, wild animals, not to mention horses or oxen getting sick or dying, your wagon coming apart, or other dire condition or threat of death beyond your feeble attempts to prevent or control.

Why did people do that, not by the hundreds, but by the thousands? Was it the adventure, the thrill of discovery, the beginning of a new life, a supreme test of mental and physical endurance?

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t the “what” that was important. Rather, it was the “why.” It most always is. It’s the force, often in the form of a strong desire, a fulfillment to be pursued and ultimately to be had, that drives a person forward toward whatever end. If the worst happens, so be it. If the best happens, celebrate the win. You have only one life to prove what you can or can’t do.

There will always be doomsayers. Everything they say, however, will be brushed aside by those thirsting for the quest, the often impossible to explain “why” of it all. It’s a deeply personal commitment that has no boundaries. It affects the despicable and the most honorable, the poorest and the wealthiest, the powerful and the powerless, the good and the no good.

Today’s world is full to overflowing with warnings, cautions, and announcements, plus endless lists of the top five or top ten of the best or worst.

Stand back for a far more logical look and you’ll likely conclude most of it is a gaudy and superficial treatment having everything to do with the “what” but only rarely with the ”why,” catering to the brash or braggart while ignoring those with a true reason for pursuing whatever was to be caught.

Are you within the limits of what is legal and morally proper? Is what you are about to do free of any harm to others?

Answer yes to those questions and you’re ready for the starting gate and an open road.