How vs Why? it matters….

yum!Having a five year old daughter is great – not the emotional roller coaster of which skirt is right with which shoes, or the protracted negotiations over how much Holiday sugar is “enough,” but because one of her favorite words is “why?” And in a world where we always have just more to do than we can ever complete (and are addicted to the adrenaline of always striving to get there), pausing to consider why we’re doing it at all is a question that often gets overlooked.

We have evolved into a techno-obsessed work culture fixated on optimizing the “how” of our daily existence: how to deliver the lowest cost, highest value, least problematic set of goods and experiences. We’re so focused on faster-cheaper-better that we rarely stop to consider the underlying question of “is this a good idea?” We are a society that idolizes Super Bowls and iPads, not philosophers and wisdom. And especially for the entrepreneur, perennially resource constrained and vision bloated, a laser focus on the “how” of getting to the next milestone leaves little room to consider anything else. But the why is important, and the Holidays provide a culturally sanctioned moment to turn off the processing and plotting and planning, and let the frontal lobe settle down and consider the bigger picture.

I make it a point to take at least one long break (3-4 weeks) each year to completely disconnect and get my bearings. Last year it was a month long trip to Myanmar to spend time with Buddhist monks and hermits. And these couple weeks are always my most productive, from a creative sense, and have an enormous impact on my professional life after I return. When the brain and the attention aren’t 100% focused on figuring out how to get things done then the mental energy turns inward and pushes the creative ideas out of the subconscious. This is important stuff, it’s what enables you to find creative solutions to Gordian problems when time is working against you.

One of  the things I make a point of reflecting on is why I’m doing the things that occupy my days.

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How do my work and priorities fit with the overall goals of my life? With my beliefs about my purpose? With my spiritual aspirations and intentions? Is my life aligned from top to bottom or am I just staying busy, running around in circles unconsciously and wasting days and air? At the end of my career, when I look back at what I accomplished, will I be happy with what I have done? Will I have made a difference? Every day that passes is one that can never be regained, and we each have a finite number to work with, so if you have any inkling that there’s more important stuff out there than what color your Tesla is going to be, thinking about these things is worth doing. There’s a great book about this if you’re curious, it’s called The Diamond Cutter.

This Holiday Season, amidst all the family and gifts and feasting, take a few minutes to find a quiet spot, maybe a long walk alone, or after everyone has gone to bed, and look inward. Turn off all the technology, make a cup of tea, and just sit and reflect and ponder. Give yourself the time and space to not do anything. Close your eyes, listen to your breath and the sounds of the room and world around you and just relax. Ask yourself a few questions: “What is this all about? Am I doing things that matter to me? Is this the right use of my time here.” Then just be patient, don’t have expectations, just be. Just wait. Just try to enjoy the uncomfortable, awkward, new sensation of nothing going on. And see what happens. Maybe what you find will surprise you…..

Happy Holidays, from all of us at the LA Cleantech Incubator….

– Ian Gardner


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