On Asking Why

We ask why when we don’t understand something. (After typing that sentence I had to look up the meaning of why, because I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Oxford said, “For what reason or purpose.”)

When asked it’s usually an innocent question prompted by genuine curiosity, but it’s not always taken that way.

Sometimes it’s viewed as a challenge. Or a questioning of authority. Or an annoyance. Or disloyalty. Or a dig. As an incessant question asker, especially of why, I can vouch for all of these reactions.

As a kid, I was yelled at for being a pest and for questioning commands. As an employee, I’ve gotten feedback from multiple managers at various jobs that I needed to not challenge the direction I was given and just follow orders. As a friend, my questions made others feel like I wasn’t on their side. As a partner, I’ve been told that I wasn’t being supportive and understanding.  

And this whole time, I’ve felt wildly misunderstood.

I live for asking why. It’s an honest passion and a fundamental motivation of my existence to understand why things happen, why people do the things they do, why people are the way they are. My world lights up when there’s a topic I don’t understand and I have an opportunity to ask someone about it.  

But in my early twenties I realized I wasn’t asking myself why enough. Why did I make the choices I made? Why did I react the way I did? Why were my passions my passions? What am I truly motivated by? And why did I respond to questions of why with the same defensiveness as I’ve received?

(On that last one, it was usually because I didn’t know the answer and that was extremely uncomfortable. It still is.)

It’s not the best feeling to not know things in front of our family, coworkers, friends, and partners. But the scariest whys are the ones we don’t know about ourselves. Cuz if you don’t know, who would?

But figuring out what to do with your life is a self-directed path that includes asking yourself a ton of hard questions that often include the word why. Sometimes it may seem like it’s derailing you from your end goal, but the path isn’t straight and going down a why tunnel may be necessary to figure out what your end goal even is.

The journey may not be rainbows and sunshine all the time, actually it can be pretty painful, but if we can look at asking why as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and start getting comfortable facing that question, we may find that most of the answers we’re looking for sit at the end of that tunnel.

So, jump in.