Answering the “Why”
Note from Aaron: Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a class at my little brothers high school, in Dublin, OH. A careers/technology class, they asked me to speak about some of my experiences in life, career, and working in the tech field.
Following the class, I received an email from a student, seeking guidance on a few pre-college questions. The response was worth sharing.
Q: “Is college better than high school?”
That’s a great question! The answer is a bit complicated. So, try and bear with me.
I never attended high school. Rather, I started Full-time college at OSU when I was 15 years-old. Thus, my college experience wasn’t really typical.
For somebody considering college, I’d ask them the following questions:
1.) What are you hoping to learn?
2.) Will you be taking out loans?
3.) What do you want to do with your life?
4.) What are some of your life goals?
5.) What are your values?
Here’s the tricky part; it’s difficult to answer these questions at your age. Why? Well, your brain still isn’t done developing. In fact, the frontal cerebral cortex in your brain doesn’t finish developing until you turn 26 years old. In most cases, 27-30.
Why does this matter? Well, this part of your brain is the part that processes consequence. E.g. when you’re thinking about a decision, this is the part of your brain that helps you think about the possible outcomes.
Simply put, 7 out of 10 of your decision-making brain is working properly. The other three votes are completely non-functional.
“I’m going to get on a boat and take it for a trip” – 7 brain cells say.
“There’s a hole in the bottom of the boat. Stay out” – the broken 3 cells will tell you when you get older.
I share this because sometimes it sounds like a great idea to do one thing, and you can commit to it fully. However, when you get older and look back at these choices, you might face a lot of regret, shame, and even anger that you let yourself make choices that seem very obvious to an older you.
Let’s steer this back to college. Those 5 questions I asked you are really important for you to figure out in your life. In fact, I’d say having an answer for those questions is more important than what you’ll learn in college.
Why? Because it answers the why question in life. Why are you here? Why do you think like you do?
Most people never stop to ask the why questions, thus they never make it to how.
“I want to create faster transportation than a horse. Why? Because horses die, require maintenance, and can’t carry the whole family”
That’s the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ is the idea to build a car.
So, from where you are now, I’d suggest that you first take some time to figure out what you want from life. Don’t worry – this answer will take you many years to figure out. However, if you spend some time really thinking about these questions at this stage of life, you’ll be well-suited for college, a career, and anything else that life throws your way.
I’ll share my story with you. For most of my 20’s, I pursued entrepreneurial success. I worked myself to the bone, made (and spent) lots of money, and took a lot of pride in being young and full of ambition.
But, I didn’t know the why answer. Why are these things important to me? Why do I wake up in the morning?
I tried my hardest to answer these questions with nice things, places to live, and fun activities. However, none of these things ever brought me joy; the kind that money can’t buy.
Slowly, I watched as all of the ‘things’ I tried to fill my own sense of purpose with went away. My business investments failed, my BMW got stolen, my relationships didn’t last, and I went from making $7,000-15,000 a month to not having groceries in my fridge.
After a very close brush with suicide, I made it out to California, at the beckoning of my older brother. He offered me a job in CA, and I decided to temporarily pack up my entrepreneurial hat and work in the tech industry.
Three years later, I put in my time and still found myself lacking the purpose and drive that I was seeking. No job would fulfill that need, and no paycheck was big enough to distract me from the fact that I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to be doing.
In November, the company I was working at decided to fire me. For better or for worse, I’m very thankful it happened.
Because it forced an answer to the question of ‘why am I here?’
During that time, I was looking for an answer to that question. Without having a job, and all the time in the world, I was able to really focus on finding this answer.
Then, it came to me. Simply:
“Make beautiful things and help people”
That was it. That was the why answer to my life.
With those two filters, I’m now able to look at every opportunity in my life, and ask whether or not it’s fulfilling this purpose. If it doesn’t, then I don’t want any part of it.
That being said, simply finding the answer doesn’t necessarily solve all of your problems.
Just like going to college won’t help you get any closer to figuring out what you want to do in your life, why you’re here, etc.
Rather, it just eats away 4+ years of your time and distracts you from answering these questions.
So, to make a very long email short, I’ll say this:
You’re at the start of your life, and have the greatest tools in the world at your disposal; technology. If you want to learn something, you don’t need to go to college to do so when you have YouTube, Free courses at MIT (available online) and mentors who are dying to share what they know with you.
Spend some time breaking the mold. Travel. See a new city. Go broke. Make friends in new cities. Discover new cultures. Learn about how other people worship God – respect it. Learn, firsthand, from other people in their occupations. Ask a million questions.
And most importantly – give unconditionally. It can be a compliment, smile, money, or even something as little as mowing the neighbors yard.
I don’t have all the answers, Jesse. But, I do know this; if you follow the formula above, you will have a rich life. Perhaps not one that is rich financially (it comes and it goes) but one that you can look back at when you’re on your deathbed and say: