We are all of us motivated by something. For much of our life, that something is ourselves and perhaps the expectations of those close to us. Why do we take action and make choices, because we are motivated to do so. These motivations may not be completely conscious, but they’re there. For much, and perhaps all, of our lives, the reason is our personal satisfaction. I want sleep therefore I do so. I want sex so I engage in romantic pursuits with the opposite sex. I want to a decent place to eat with good food and some entertainments and travel, therefore I probably need to get a job. The why is our desires and the outcome is what we do to achieve them.
For some (perhaps most), the why eventually shifts outside of themselves. The most common reason is family. We make decisions and sacrifices not for ourselves but for the needs and wants of our spouse and children. We want a good life for them so we stop thinking of ourselves and do everything in our power to provide. Or we build a business that is initially motivated by our personal satisfaction and over the years turns out to be more motivated by the value we provide others and the work we provide our employees. Or we join the military and find brotherhood and belonging and a mission that we can contribute to.
But what happens when the why stops motivating? When the kids are grown. Or when we sell that business. Or retire from the military. I call this a Why-Collapse. The point where your previous motivators are not enough to continue your present course (or to exceed the call to pursue your own, more selfish, satisfaction). Of course we are likely to reach a point that the pursuit of our personal satisfaction grows hollow. Another Why-Collapse.
True fulfillment is often motivated by something greater than ourselves (there is a circular reasoning argument to be made there wherein by still seeking our own fulfillment, the greater motivation is still really personal motivation). Perhaps it’s family. Or that business. Or church and charity. Or some calling out in the world. In the face of a Why-Collapse, it’s difficult to know what to do. I wonder if this is where empty nest syndrome and midlife crises come from. We often fall back to our personal satisfaction. Or simply grow more frustrated and resentful.
So we search. We question. We ask, what’s next? This is where I am today. At 43, the old whys don’t work as well as they used to and I don’t think the answer is in sports cars and extra-marital affairs. I’m in search of other whys. Not necessarily better ones. My why has for decades been family. And while this why still matters, the family doesn’t need me as much these days. And there are no grandchildren to spoil as of yet.
So, what’s next?