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  • Dr. Eric Rooker

What is Your Why?

Every person on this planet has a why. Why do you wake up every day? Why do you do the things you do? Why do you serve clients? Why do you love family? WHY is one small simple word that has a huge impact on us daily. But what exactly is our why?


Your why is your core driving factor. It is the thing that ultimately pushes you to become better, serve better and do better. It is the thing that can bring you through your most challenging moments in life and the thing that can bring you your greatest moments of joy.

Your why helps determine how you will impact people, how you will change the world and how you will improve other people’s lives.

Your why is the intersection between your skills, your passions, your dreams and your values. It connects these four factors into a single concept that you can tap into for endless energy, focus and resolve.

Your why can be fluid. It may change depending upon your life events. In fact, many people talk about really discovering or understanding their why better after traumatic losses, life-threatening health scares or after significant family events such as marriage or the birth of a child.

No matter how people find it, the discovery of a personal why is almost always mentioned as a weight-lifting, empowering moment, where things become clear and the path toward achieving a goal becomes more bearable.

So how do you begin to find your why?


Finding your why can be difficult alone. This is why when I begin coaching many of my clients I ask them to undergo an exercise called, “The 5 Whys.” This is an exercise I adapted from the Japanese manufacturing company Toyota Industries.

Toyota founder, Sakichi Toyoda, developed a system in the 1930’s for determining why failures occurred within his production systems. This, ”5 Whys,” system encouraged employees to investigate failure much more deeply than the final step of the problem and its result.

By asking “Why” five times Toyoda felt that his staff would be able to identify the core problem in a system and fix this problem; resulting in a true solution not just a Band-Aid. By turning a problem into a learning opportunity and identifying the true causative factor Toyoda was able to empower his employees while also improving his company’s efficiency and quality.

By adapting this system to my veterinary clients and asking them, “Why do you do what you do?” I have been able to get them to begin to think about their why. This exercise is incredibly personal and forces the person to look deeply, perhaps for the first time, at what drives them every day.

You can try this at home on your own by continuing to ask yourself questions about your why until you’re satisfied you have reached your core “Why.” Let me give you a short example of how this might look:

  1. Why do I do what I do? – To do this job to help people

  2. Why do I want to help people? – I feel obligated to help farmers and their employees

  3. Why do I feel obligated to do this? – I spent years becoming a vet and should share my knowledge

  4. Why do you need to share your knowledge? – I feel that it is selfish to learn and grow without using this information to improve other peoples lives.

  5. Why do you feel this is selfish? – Because there is too much good information out there that can improve peoples lives that they don’t know about.

In this example the responder clearly wants to help people. However, while an admiral quality this is not a specific example a core “Why” value. By asking a series of why questions (it doesn’t have to be five, sometimes it’s more) I was able to extract from this person why and how they truly want to help people. In the end their why, or driving factor is there is so much information out there that can help people but they have no idea about it and they wanted to facilitate the dispersal of this information.

After an exercise like this I create a big banner poster for my clients with their why quote on it. This way when they are faced with challenges they can ask; given my why how should I respond, given my why I can push through this or given my why how can I add value to others.

This can be a difficult activity to do by yourself. I suggest you do it with a professional coach or with a very close friend or family member. Often, the people who know you best can help guide you to what you seek. Just remember to take your time and think about each answer. It will feel awkward at first but keep going and you might be surprised by the answers you get.


In John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living he gives another method that will help you begin to discover your why. In this lesson he approaches finding your why indirectly. Rather than asking a series of direct questions like the 5 Why Exercise Maxwell instead invites the reader to brainstorm about three specific questions and then select one all encompassing word or phrase that summarizes the responses.

The three questions John asks are:


What breaks you down? What effects your heart or pulls at your heart strings? What causes you pain? By identifying these areas you can begin to see what you feel strongly enough about to have an emotion response and WHY that response exists.


What gives you joy? What feeds your soul and gets you excited? By identifying these areas, you can figure out your greatest passion points and leverage that passion into creative energy towards your WHY.


What if you could make a difference on a bigger scale; what area would you do it in? If you had a superpower what would it be? What is one area you want to be remembered for? By recognizing what your dreams and aspirations are you can begin to formulate a view of WHY you want to accomplish them.

By asking the reader to reflect on these three questions via brainstorming John creates an environment that facilitates deeper thinking. This reflection will also allow readers to better and more easily identify connections between these topics that may have been more elusive before.

Once you have answered all the questions, review your answers and look for one word or phrase that can connect the majority of them. This word or phrase will function as a “starter” why for you going forward.


There are many ways to determine your why. It doesn’t matter if you use any of the methods above or something as simple as reflection; what is important is that you determine your why so you can tap into its driving energy and harness it for your own professional or personal development.

Your why is your greatest asset so seek to discover and leverage it today!

Carry on OTO’ers

Dr. Eric


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