Social work professor Brené Brown gave a startling TED talk a while back, and her basic point was this: we usually want things to go a certain way. We usually want to be able to predict what happens and for it to be something we’ve identified as good. What we don’t want is to screw up, to look bad, to open ourselves up to pain, loss, or embarrassment, or to invest ourselves in something that doesn’t pan out. Yet Brown makes a compelling case that without the willingness to be vulnerable, we shut ourselves down and make it impossible to enjoy or make the most of our lives.
To tell you the truth, I’m especially enthusiastic to share with you Dr. Brown’s following TED talk, but it’s important (and rewarding!) to see this one first. If you’re not already one of the roughly 8.5 million people (at the time of this writing) who’ve heard what she has to say, please find 20 minutes now, or as soon as it’s practical, and hear her out. I’ll follow up with a related post soon.
Are you familiar with TED talks? These are fairly short presentations given by passionate and insightful people on all kinds of subjects. Recently I got to see what is probably one of my favorite talks of all time, because I want to change the world*, and Simon Sinek explained to me how it’s done.
Sinek’s central message, which applies to everything from the discovery of flight to the civil rights movement to iPods, is “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” He explains this using what he calls the “Golden Circle,” which looks like a target made out of three rings. The Golden Circle explains what the difference is between the mostly uninspiring things in the world and the things that set us on fire.
The outer ring is “what”: we mostly know what we do. We earn money at jobs, or find some other way to live. We spend time with family, or friends, or both, or neither. We have hobbies, or we look for entertainment, or we try to get outside a lot.
The middle ring is “how,” the way we do things that’s different from the way most people do things. Maybe you don’t have a TV, or maybe you have big family movie nights. Maybe you work for a large institution, or you’re self-employed, or you take care of the house and the family while your partner works.
The center ring is “why,” and Sinek contends that in most endeavors, people don’t have a good “why.” He points to Samuel Pierpont Langley, who could have been the man who invented the airplane, the way Sinek tells it, if he’d had a better reason to do it than to be wealthy and famous. He has other examples. He is rather convincing.
So if we want to make a difference in the world, to hear Sinek tell it, we have to have a reason that other people care about. If we are acting for ourselves only, our powers are very limited. If we are acting for a cause that other people can get behind, then we have the power of the whole world behind us.
*In case you’re interested, my goal is this: I want to understand and spread the knowledge of how we can bring the best of ourselves out into the world instead of flailing around looking for things to make us feel better.
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