What is your “why”? What motivates you to be who you want to be? To do the work that you do? To attend school week after week working towards your degree? To strive for the things you want in life? Why do you have the goals that you have?
I ask myself these questions all the time. The answers always motivate me and remind me why I go to school, why I have chosen to work in the field of Human Services, and why I want to create the best life that I can for myself and my future family. Asking these questions always triggers reflective moments for me.
The program that I work with, This Way Ahead, provides a first job opportunity to over 400 teens throughout NYC every year who are looking to start their careers. As I am interviewing these young people to get into the program–meeting all these diverse, smart, talented, teens with different personalities–it’s so humbling and inspiring. It makes me think back to when I was 16 and 17 years old and I had all the dreams and plans you could think of. I wanted to be a teacher, a forensic scientist, and own a daycare/after-school center, all at the same time lol.
Do you remember when you were 16? Life was so free and so stressful at the same time right?! We thought we had it hard then, but we didn’t nearly anticipate the obstacles and struggles that would introduce themselves in the years to come. One thing I definitely did not anticipate was the discipline that college required. I was so used to being naturally strong academically and not needing to study because (1) I had great memory, and (2) I was charming and my teachers would probably give me high grades anyway because they liked me (but you didn’t hear that from me because that’s not okay lol). I got into Brooklyn College on a full scholarship so I had already told myself, “girl this is going to be a breeze.” A breeze, it was not.
I was overwhelmed by the amount of work assigned and the fast pace of the classes, and I felt totally unprepared by high school. I was also consumed by my new friends. We had so much fun together at the mall, at the local tattoo shop, and other hangout spots…all during the times we were supposed to be in class. Not to mention my boyfriend at the time lived a few blocks away from the campus. Just a mess, lol.
I didn’t do so well, obviously. I found myself “rebelling” against the conditions of the scholarship because I felt they were controlling my every move. I even ended up having to transfer out of Brooklyn College because I ended up on academic probation and did not pick up my grades the following semester. I got my act together at Bronx Community College but still made the mistake of withdrawing from classes late and ultimately, I ended up taking a break because of the financial consequences. I re-entered school a year ago after 6 years. Now today when I look back on the time I let slip from me, if I could go back, yeah maybe I would do it differently, but I am happy for how it all played out. I’m the high-achieving student I am now (*cough cough 4.0* lol) because I let the past motivate me to not waste any more of my own time and not to waste any more of my potential. I was able to learn from my mistakes, and use them to improve my work habits so that I could excel in school.
This experience taught me that there’ll be moments and memories in our lives that really humble us, and remind us why we do what we do. These moments reveal why we work so hard, why we want to make sure that we don’t end up in certain situations, and why we have certain goals, dreams, and motivations. That period in my life was, and still is, an important reflective moment for me because of the lessons I learned after going through it, and how I ended up on the other side stronger than I was before.
Back to my job. Now, when I first started at my job and we would be putting together our workshop curriculum for programming, my coworker would always want to put in a “What is your why?” activity where he would show his students a video, and then had a discussion with them around the things, and people that motivate them. My supervisor would always joke and ask him, “You’re not tired of that video?” lol and I thought it was hilarious because we could always look forward to him bringing up that video as a suggestion, without fail. As funny as I thought it was, when he actually showed me the video I understood why he used it for his students so much. It really got me to thinking, “What is MY why?”
They say first they laugh then they follow. Now look at me: Every new group of students I get, I’m the one getting joked on for playing this video for them. The video is of motivational speaker Eric Thomas, speaking to a group of college football players who are aspiring to succeed in the NFL. He uses sports references to relate to them and asks them questions like “What is your ‘why’ that leads you to want to play well on the field?” He asks them for who, what, or why they want to be successful, and why they even want to wake up in the morning. He talks about his own “why” and how it motivates him in his life.
Click and watch the video below and take a few minutes to think about your why. I love this video because when I heard it for the first time a few years ago, that’s the first time I actually realized my own why, and was able to identify it as a “why” and as a source of motivation.
So what is my “why”??
My “why I do what I do” is because I want to set an example: an example to the young people I mentor, and an example to my younger siblings and nieces. I want to make my parents proud, and myself proud. It means so much to me to (1) be my family’s first college graduate, and (2) to be showing my younger siblings and nieces that it’s okay for you to create your own pace. I work this hard in school to show them that you can bounce back from anything if you want to, and if you put your mind and will to it. There is a lot of pressure once you start college and I think people do not normalize it enough, as though it doesn’t exist. It comes easy to some and hard to others, and I want them to know that they are in control of their journey, and that they don’t have to hold themselves to anyone else’s standards or pace but their own.
My “why” for returning to college to get my degree even though I felt comfortable just working is because I’ve watched people close to me struggle financially, or be in a standstill position due to a lack of education, and I don’t want that for myself. I push through my tired days because I want to be better than statistics say people from my neighborhood, my culture, and my race can be. When my days get hard and I’m on the verge of giving up, and I am questioning why I need to do all these things– remembering my “why”, keeps me pushing for my success. Instead of quitting, I remember why I started and why I’m doing it.
After you watched the video, how did that conscious moment of reflection rejuvenate you in your purpose?
So I ask you now….”What is Your Why”?? Tell me in the comments!
Love Ya, Neffi