Rediscovering My ‘Why’

14 July, 2017

It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it. I sat on a small, rustic wooden bench at my favorite coffee shop recently, eavesdropping on a conversation between the owner of the coffee shop and a customer of his.

It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.

I sat on a small, rustic wooden bench at my favorite coffee shop recently, eavesdropping on a conversation between the owner of the coffee shop and a customer of his. The owner was telling the story of why he had opened the coffee shop in the first place, starting from some of his early days working as a barista in various different coffee shop locations around the west coast of BC, leading up to the coffee shop we all currently occupied, and his desire to open up a second location here in town in the near future.

He began by telling the customer his plan to start by importing from only the best coffee plantations around the world, always from within a somewhat narrow band around the equator; these areas had the optimal climate for growing the best beans, he explained. He would roast all of his own beans, and continue to master his craft through extensive research, practice, and dedication. He would only hire staff that had fallen in love with coffee in the same way that he had, and he would educate and train them on how to brew the perfect cup, whether that was a shot of espresso, a cup from a French press, or, my favorite, a pour-over.

All of these measures were required in order to achieve his ultimate goal: to provide his customers with the best possible coffee experience so that they, too, could enjoy and truly appreciate a perfectly roasted and meticulously brewed cup of coffee. That’s why he opened up a coffee shop.

The passion he had for his craft was obvious as he progressed through his story. What was also obvious was that his passion was infectious and had been passed on to his staff, as they took as much care and paid (almost) as much attention to detail as he did. At that point, one of the baristas leaned over the side of the counter near my shoulder and asked a customer, who was situated on the other side of the shop, how her coffee was. She smiled and replied by telling him that it was excellent. It immediately occurred to me that there was more to this simple interaction than what appeared on the surface, as the barista’s inquiry seemed keenly representative of the owner’s genuine love for what he did. The owner took such pride in his work that his staff consequently followed suit by taking great pride in their work. This wasn’t the same kind interaction I usually experienced when I was at a busy restaurant and my server, who was likely handling 13 other tables at that point in time, asked me whether or not I was enjoying my meal. No, that barista genuinely wanted to know whether the customer he had just served was enjoying the coffee that he had just made. He really cared. She noticed that he cared.

All of this made me immediately ask myself whether or not I took that much pride in my work. Did I love my job as much as this coffee shop owner did? Did I take as much care and dedication towards my chosen profession as he did?

I remembered a Ted Talk I had watched a year or two back by a man named Simon Sinek. In it, he spoke about leadership, internal motivation, and what really drives human behaviour. (It is called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” and I highly recommend giving it a watch.) His thesis statement was that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” While I believe he was speaking more towards how to be a leader, it occurred to me that a powerful ‘why’ is what truly leads…not the leader, who is just the most effective vehicle. The coffee shop owner knew exactly why he was doing what he did, and that translated into an infectious passion that he would channel through to the people that worked for him to the brilliant cups of coffee he served and even into the energy and atmosphere of his little coffee shop.

So, what was my ‘why’?

I quickly remembered that I used to enjoy coming in early to the office, leaving late, and collaborating with my partner on new ideas and projects we could introduce that would allow us to serve our clients better. I used to bring those projects home and work on them in my spare time. But I had to admit that, lately, some of that passion had waned. I had become disconnected from my ‘why.’ If I didn’t truly enjoy my work, how could I possibly expect to be able to give my clients the service I knew they deserved? How could I be proud of my work if it didn’t come from the heart?

It didn’t take long for me to realize where the disconnect had come from: I wasn’t meeting and connecting with my clients often enough. I spent most of my time inside the office trying to build systems and services that would allow me to do a better job for them, but I wasn’t getting to see them in person, listening to what was going on in their lives or being able to see the real impact that we have by doing what we do. Isn’t that the whole point? If you roasted and brewed the world’s best coffee but never got to see anyone drink and enjoy it, would you be fulfilled? Would you be connected to your craft?

What started as a minor existential crisis has quickly become a wonderful epiphany. The solution is easy: all I have to do is get out of the office more and reconnect with my clients. I want to hear about their lives, their goals, and their worries, so that I can apply my skillset and help them find solutions to whatever it is they might be looking to solve, whether they’re looking to build enough wealth to retire comfortably, making sure their family will be taken care of when they’re gone, or any other objectives they may have. Through my work, I can take the stress away from the financial concerns that often keep us up at night and help people build a better future for themselves and their family.

There’s my ‘why,’ I thought to myself.