Why getting to Your Why is difficult for creatives

“Why” these days has a very specific connotation. The author, motivational speaker and organization Simon Sinek introduced this idea to millions with his TEDx talk, “How great leaders inspire action.”

His idea: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Basically, according to Sinek, most people talk about what they do, what they offer, and that is not interesting. So an artist who puts their heart and soul into the work and talk about what they do will have fewer followers, fewer buyers, less interest than an artist who talks about why they do their art or creative work.

So this why is important. It makes a difference between selling, showing, sharing your work, or not.

But what does that mean for the solopreneur, artist or a creative who has a tendency to merge the work they are bringing to the world? 

A short disclaimer, I haven’t yet read Simon’s book, Start with Why. However, I have studied marketing. I worked in software marketing for many years during a time when technology budgets were moving from the hands of IT departments to business departments. That meant I spent time looking at why business people were buying technology and what messages they were buying which was a why story not a what story.

So the concept of “the why” is not unfamiliar to me. 

For over ten years now I’ve been working with creatives to help them tell their story, so I regularly see the challenges they face. I’m a creative myself, a filmmaker, who has struggled with telling my own story.

I wanted to write about this topic because the deeper I get into helping creatives tell their stories, the more I see the importance of them knowing their why.

Here are some of my observations. I hope this provides some help if you are trying to figure out your own why.


The Why of your creative work vs. Your Purpose

Your why is not about you, not really.

It is about what you believe.

I’m doing this “__” to make a living. I’m doing “__” because I feel fulfilled.

These are reasons but they are not Your Why.

Your why, as Sinek defines it, is a vision statement.

Apple’s Why [shared by Sinek]: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.

My Work Why: I believe we gain empathy with other beings through storytelling. I help others tell their stories and share their perspectives to inspire more compassion in the world.

The why is told in relation to the audience or group your work impacts.

It is the idea that your audience connects with on a deep level.

Why for Creatives

For creatives it can be scary to put this why out in public because we are telling people what we really think, feel and stand for.

It is a vulnerable act. Some people are not going to like what you say.

Why is about something bigger than you. It is a vision for change. It is a recognition that a problem exists that you want to solve. It is an acknowledgement that there is a gap in joy that you want to fill.

If you are a creative entrepreneur, this is separate from your purpose.

Your Purpose

Your purpose is more personal, but still external facing. It is how you want to manifest your unique skills and perspective in the world.

To make things a bit more complicated for creatives, each of my creative projects will have a different vision statement.

The important thing to keep in mind with all of these types of statements is they are not about you personally, they are about your vision for the world and how you are interpreting the world. And they are about what you are bringing to the world with your work.

These statements are not about what you need or what you like.

Here is an example of my purpose:

To use my listening and storytelling skills to share powerful stories, giving visibility to underrepresented people and perspectives to a wider audience.

Your why and your purpose reach out beyond you and focus on the larger community that you want to see changed in some way.

Benefits of having your Why

The process of getting to your why is not always easy.

It requires you get in touch with the way you perceive the world and to accept that you want it to be different. This requires challenging a status quo. It can feel risky as you are stepping outside of a set of norms or expectations of the way things are, to state a way you think things can be.

The benefits of gaining clarity about why you are doing what you are doing are pretty great. It helps you clarify what you deliver, how you deliver it and who you deliver it to and inspires others to want to work with you.

Here are a few benefits I see exist when you have a strong why.

1.     It shields you from shiny object syndrome

If you have clarity with your why, you are less likely to run after every new idea. You have a filter with which to evaluate opportunities and projects ideas. 

2.     It is easier attract clients and press

A strong vision is attractive to people who have a similar outlook on life. Your why inherently is about a change you want to see in the world, and if you feel very strongly about something needing to change there will be others who feel the same.

Those people will want to contribute to your vision, purchase from you and share your story.

3.     It will be easier to bring on partners

Having your purpose clarified will make it easier to bring on partners because you will know your zone of genius.

You will know what aspects of the work are not part of your purpose so it is easier to ask for help in those areas.

And by clearly stating your and discussing the why of your potential partner it is easier to see if you are aligned. Understanding this up front can help you avoid a lot of struggle later.

Getting to Your Why

Here are a few questions to help you understand your why and your purpose: 

  • Why did you start your business or decide to pursue your art?

  • What problem are you solving or idea are you exploring?

  • What result to you hope to achieve?

  • Why is this important to you over other creative endeavors?

  • How do you want to impact your clients, your audience, the world?

I hope this was helpful. I feel that with the shifts happening in our political and in economic systems, tapping into our individual vision is so important. It can give us a guiding light to help traverse these uncertain and challenging times.

And having your why makes it easier to authentically and confidently share your story.