Of all the letters in the alphabet, my favorite letter is “why.” OK, this idea doesn’t work as well written as spoken, but you get the idea. In previous blogs, we discussed the big questions, purpose, goals and legacy. It’s a topic we’ll return to often, in one form or another. Why? Because, it is our sense of purpose and passion that drives us. Work is more than the activity which provides a paycheck. It is an internal force, which defines us. For most of you, engineering began with an early, innate curiosity about your world. You were the toddler trying to plug your spoon into the wall outlet or the kid cutting up the golf ball to figure out why it bounced so high.
Later on, you learned that there were numbers and formulas and flow charts that could describe and define your world. There weren’t answers to all of life’s mysteries in these abstractions. Life often threw you a curve. Not that you weren’t governed by the principle of cause and effect; you simply came to realize that you were not always privy to the causes.
The “why” affects us in every stage in our lives and on every step we take. Sometimes we lose sight of our larger purpose as we muddle through our current project or cope with the unreasonable demands of our boss. We wonder, perhaps, “why am I dealing with this person or this job or this project?” There are little answers and big answers. The little answers address the quality of your manager or position. In my experience, more employees leave managers than jobs. It is rarely the company or working conditions that create turnover. It is the unreasonable manager or expectations that push people out. Perhaps, it is the lack of recognition or connectedness an employee feels to the end product or mission. These are the little answers to the “why” question. They can be remedied with effective communication or failing that, with a job change.
The big answer to the “why” question is that which drives our purpose and fuels our passion. Inside each of us is that innate curiosity about the workings of our world and our ability to control it with our training, knowledge and experience. We still draw delight from the discovery of the laws and numbers that control our world. We still have that child within us. We still want to put our spoon into the wall socket. However, it’s still not a good idea.