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self-mastery journal

start with “what,” not “why.”

For years, I banged my head against a wall trying to figure out the “why.”

That’s what my teachers, friends and family said. The “why” comes before the “what.” Have an underlying mission to your work before you start. Without it you’ll be flailing around, directionless and unfulfilled.

After lots of mental masturbation, I decided my “why” was: Because I want to discover new things about life and be remembered for it.

Even with a clear mission, the path to action was foggy. I tried the clearest route and attended the same university as my older brother. I chose a major that I didn’t enjoy (biology) and spent three and a half years flailing around for a piece of paper that had little significance to me. I worked two research jobs and discovered how much bureaucracy I had to sift through in order to “discover new things.” It wasn’t until my friend’s suicide and a bout of existential depression that I critically examined my direction.

I asked myself: Does a “why” really matter if I hate what I’m doing? Why do I even need a “why”? Isn’t “why” just a made-up human construct? What if I don’t need to prioritize the “why”?

As a result, I put “what” before “why.” I value mastery over mission. I do what I like to do, get better at it, and adjust the course as I go. 

I haven’t flailed around as much as I thought. In fact, I feel more focused in my creative ventures now that the pressure of having a purpose is off my back. There’s less mental masturbation and more doing. And in the end, it’s the action that makes a difference, not the mission.

The “why” guys have it bass-ackwards. Start with “what,” not “why.” First get better at whatever you enjoy doing. The mission will come as a side effect.