How to Find Your ‘Why’

Has anyone ever shown you this?

Roy Cook
8 min readJan 9, 2021


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

You may have noticed we’ve ignored what some feel is the true foundation of our productivity pyramidfinding your purpose (or your “why”). While my book is not primarily about finding your purpose, this important motivator cannot be ignored.

If you have examined your core values, you should be better prepared to consider your purpose. Let’s add your purpose beneath core values on our productivity pyramid.

Forget about willpower. It’s time for why-power. Your choices are only meaningful when you connect them to your desires and dreams. The wisest and most motivating choices are the ones aligned with that which you identify as your purpose, your core self, and your highest values. You’ve got to want something, and know why you want it, or you’ll end up giving up too easily.[1]

— Darren Hardy

How Do You Find Your “Why”? Read — A Lot

Finding your “why” can be difficult, very difficult.

I have a solution: read (a lot).

I know from experience.

It was very difficult for me to find my purpose. I kept reading how important it was but didn’t quite know where to start. More reading, thinking, and prayer came in.

I’ve often thought that after finishing their schooling, most people make an unconscious choice. They either choose to continue learning, or they’ve had enough and focus on entertainment or fun. I estimate that 80–90 percent choose the latter. These folks stop learning, or, to be more accurate, they stop learning much, which means they also stop growing much. These are the folks you meet at high school and college reunions who you notice haven’t changed much since school. (I hope no one ever tells me that.)

These folks watch a lot of TV and focus primarily on entertainment. They spend much of their time on social media and politics. Their vacations are not learning experiences. They’re more apt to go somewhere where they can have fun. (To understand how many people fall into this camp, look at the ads for vacation spots: the advertisement is mostly about food and fun.)

These folks don’t read much. They know little of literature, history, art, philosophy, or success books. In my career as an entrepreneur, I rarely met people who read frequently. Most only knew their business and entertainment. Even their hobbies rarely included much learning. What a small box in which to live your life.

Some may change their mind much later, after their schooling or, like me, later in their career, and start learning. As I look back, I’m reasonably certain I did not begin focusing on learning and reading until I was in my late thirties.

Why does reading matter so much? Simply put: To succeed, you must overcome obstacles. To overcome obstacles, you must grow. To grow, you must learn. To learn much, you must read much.

Of course, there are other ways to learn. You can learn in your career, relationships, and hobbies. But you learn far more from reading. It allows one to learn how others have succeeded (and failed) versus learning purely from your own experience. You also learn about ways others have used to succeed and avoid failure.

When you read (serious) books, you change, you grow, you become a different person. I specifically mean literature, biographies, history books, books on philosophy, and self-help books. I am not talking about romance, sci-fi, or other entertainment-only books.

I would be very selective with self-help books and blogs. I read some of them, but my primary focus is on the four other book categories (literature, biographies, history, and philosophy). This means you won’t be focusing on current bestsellers.

I’m talking about Great Books and specifically the New Lifetime Reading Plan by Fadiman and Major.[2] Excellent literature. The best. These are the books written by great authors. Those are the ones that I learned from, and so can you.

This is a highly subjective subject. Literature is a very loose term without an objective definition. Anything can be included or excluded. So allow me to try to be more specific: I’m talking about high-quality writing. The Encyclopedia Britannica classified this type of literature as “the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing.”[3]

Nothing that I can write satisfies. We’ll just have to leave it there. My own opinion would exclude most books. I refer you to the Fadiman and Major book listed above; there are 233 books listed in two separate lists in my copy. For most folks, finishing that list might take a lifetime. There are many fine books that do not make this cut. So let’s include the finest, best-reviewed of the rest, a very subjective approach.

This should really be a subject for a book. And it actually is for a number of books. One of my favorites is How to Read a Book (Adler and Van Doren).[4] It’s subtitle is The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. It was originally published in 1940 and is considered a classic.

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.[5]

— George RR Martin, author, screenwriter, and producer (best known for Game of Thrones)

It is far better to read about failure than experience it. If you don’t read excellent literature, you are limiting your learning to your own experience.

Finding My “Why” Changed Everything

When I developed a big enough “why,” everything changed. I started hanging around other well-read folks. I read more and studied more. I began a library of 1,700 books, including many books on success. I even read Aristotle’s book Nicomachean Ethics[6] (this may be the best success book ever written, and it was written over 2,000 years ago!).

My “why” evolved over time. Sometimes I had to expand my “why” or even find a different one. I also found that when someone has a big “why,” they begin to look at others differently. They can see that most lack focus and drive, and their conversations lack purpose. On the other hand, when you meet others who know their “why,” they’re generally interesting to converse with and be around. They’re alive! You both learn from each other. It is easyvery easyto identify the few people who have purpose.

How to Foster New Dynamic Relationships

In 2014, my wife and I went on a cruise traveling around the United Kingdom. We met a gentleman and his wife who always seemed to be with interesting, dynamic folks. I asked the couple if they had come with a group of friends. They came alone.

I asked how he was always with interesting people.

First, he told me they never dined on the ship with only one other couple. He always asked to be seated with at least two couples.

Second, they also did not go on the planned ship excursions. They went on private excursions with a few other couples they had met. He felt that the smaller groups rather than the much larger cruise tours brought his group closer together. (These private tours were also much cheaper.)

Why did he do those two things? He said that he and his wife increased their odds of meeting an interesting, dynamic couple.

Well, it worked for him and his wife and, later, for my wife and me. What a difference it’s made since then.

Your “Why” Can Also Be Called Your “Definite Major Purpose”

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.[7]

— Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher, from Tao Te Ching

Without a major purpose, you are drifting toward certain failure.[8]

— The Napoleon Hill Foundation

A definite major purpose may only be one sentence or a few words for you. Refining such a significant aspect of your life is always tougher than wrestling with a single core value or two. It will rarely be done on the first effort. It’s like a sculpture that will need to be reworked many times before you get it right. Even then, it will probably evolve as you grow and change.

If you have completed your core values, you are headed in the right direction. If you have not, then pause before finding your “why,” your definite major purpose. Wait until you’ve discovered your core values; these tell you who you are. It is crucial to know your core values first, before you try to find your “why” (aka, your definite major purpose).

After years of work, here is my “why” (or definite major purpose) in one sentence:

I give to others while living a morally and spiritually upright life in concert with my values and goals.

This book is an example of that statement. (You will notice that “money” was not present in my “why.” I am not against making money, but that is not my purpose in general or for writing this book specifically.)

This simple “why,” or my definite major purpose, has changed my life and given me fulfillment, peace of mind, and financial independence. Along with deepening my spiritual life, meeting my wife, and naming my core values, finding my “why” was one of the most important things I ever did.

For further consideration on finding your “why” or your definite major purpose, there are many good blogs and books on this subject, such as Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team by Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker.[9] Another one of my favorites is Finding Your Purpose by Barbara J. Braham.[10] This is a workbook, and it worked like magic for me. (I used the 1991 edition.)

In my next blog, I discuss the question “should you follow your passion?” Easy and surprising answer.

This is the sixteenth blog on this subject. Each blog can stand alone or can be viewed as a comprehensive look on the why and how finding and living by your core values can change your life. Dramatically!

If you want to read my other core values blogs:

As a reminder, the actual step-by-step process of how you can discover your core values will only be covered in chapter 2 of my book, to be published on January 12, 2021 — A Fool’s Errand: Why Your Goals are Falling Short and What You Can Do About It.

If you’d like me to email you the first chapter and notify you when the book is published, please add your email here: (Until then, I promise to share with you the power of core values via blogs taken from my book 2–3 times per week.)

[1] Hardy, Darren, The Compound Effect. Philadelphia: Vanguard Press, 2010.

[2] Fadiman, Clifton, and John S. Major. The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded. 4th ed. New York: HarperPerennial, 1997.

[3] The Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. (1911), s.v. “Literature.” (Chicago: Horace Everett Hooper), vol 16:12.

[4] Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.

[5] Martin, George R.R. A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam Books, 2011

[6] Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by David Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

[7] Lao-tzu. “33.” Tao Te Ching. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. New York: HarperCollins, 1988.

[8] “Thought for the Day, August 16th, 2020.” The Napoleon Hill Foundation.

[9] Sinek, Simon, David Mead, and Peter Docker. Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2017.

[10] Braham, Barbara J. Finding Your Purpose: A Guide to Personal Fulfillment. Crisp Publications Incorporated, 1991.



Roy Cook

Entrepreneur, Mentor, Philanthropist, Author — published new book on core values: A FOOL’S ERRAND - Why Your Goals Are Falling Short and What You Can About It