This year, I realized how much I love and undervalue protagonists. I’m an avid consumer of books and movies where protagonists weather challenges and succeed. The more I consume such stories, the more I expect that the hero will continue fighting against all odds, be it a multi limbed monster or a trip to the underworld. Before you ask, yes, I did recently read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, and five stars out of five would recommend.
As the protagonist of my own story, I have weathered 2020. It has been A Year, zero stars out of five, would never recommend. Like too many this year, I lost loved ones, and felt isolated, disconnected, and at times, hopeless. I resigned myself to being locked down, to helplessly reading the news, and to ordering a heck of a lot of Taco Bell.
In stories, heroes always have something that drives them, that bolsters their emotional resiliency to keep doing the thing. Because that thing is worth it, even if, as we saw in Avengers: Endgame, worlds are changed and lives are lost.
So what was my Thing? What keeps me resilient? My 2020 journey led me to discover what I value and what keeps me going, and it came from asking myself a whole lot of why.
Now, this might sound a little corporate – I know a number of companies and teams that use Sakichi Toyoda’s Five Whys exercise, and this is very similar. But pestering yourself with and reflecting on the question of “why” turns out to be a surprisingly thoughtful way to uncover your underlying motivations, your personal authenticity. In a show of vulnerability, here is how one of these “Why” reflections went for me:
It’s 2020: why do I get up in the morning?
Because I have a loving partner, an awesome dog, and a job to tackle. And somewhere in this world is the promise of coffee.
Why do those matter?
Because even when the world is dark, it makes me happy to be a part of societal structures that involve those I care about.
Why is that important?
Because by being a part of these structures, I can actively help improve them.
Why improve these structures?
Because if I can improve them, or create new, better ones, I have a chance at enhancing experiences for others.
It’s a personal exercise, and you’ll likely find yourself asking different “why” questions. The exercise is about digging deeper, about exploring your root causes. For me, in going through a number of these “why” reflections, a common theme surfaced: that I’m driven by helping others, and that I want to make everyone’s experience on this earth better. As the protagonist of my story, this is my authenticity, and what keeps me resilient, even in the face of 2020.