Can answering the Five Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and Silent H (How) about your life, in general, bring more insight into your meaning and purpose? If you go deep into this axiom (which journalists learn to utilize for composing sound, sensible stories), you should find yourself trekking across a long and winding road of self-discovery that may surprise you. The trick, of course, is to really go deep into every question.
I learned about the Five Ws when I first began my career as a writer/journalist more than 30 years ago. I’ve applied it to all kinds of theories and notions on just about everything, and it never fails to bring profound insight.
Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of such an exercise. To possibly make things a bit more interesting and transparent, I included “some” of my personal answers.
Who: Okay, the first question, if answered in full, sits solidly as the basis for the remaining five, so it is the most complex of the bunch. You cannot answer with I am (insert your full name), the son/daughter of (insert parents), born on such date in X. By way of expansion, obviously, you must also address the inner and outer workings of your mind and body, and the way you interact with other sentient beings. So now the Who question starts to delve into your personal philosophy, psychology, biology, sociology, politics, and the world of work. The Who question expands considerably through an unleashing of all your true beliefs, enabling a deeper discovery of your core self.
Here’s the thing about the Who question: Many people do not like to step deep into this largely philosophical exercise. It can be an uncomfortable and very confusing pursuit. It starts with two common Socratic refrains: “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and “I know I am intelligent because I know nothing.”
There are no simple answers, and you can easily fall into existential despair, but don’t let that stop you, as many people do. Go deeper, and I believe you will become a better person overall. Start by reading all the philosophy you can get your hands on. As I noted earlier, you may become very surprised at the outcomes of this kind of exercise.
For another exercise in this vein, try writing out, in as much detail as you can muster, your personal manifesto. I did this a few years back and recently posted it here. Every now and then I go in and update it, as life brings change.
What: The What question, in my opinion, is really about your goals and what you currently do and plan to do into the future, and should not be confused with the Who question, although the two overlap considerably. The What is all about finding your passion or passions to drive forward, and, like the Who question, it may exist in a perpetual state of flux. For example, as a young man I used to be a strong follower of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, but now, in my early senior years, I find her views to be extraordinarily odious.
The What question helps to focuses your energy on whether you are on a path that stays true to your Who? If not, I would certainly assume you have not yet reached the point of honoring your innermost thoughts and desires. Don’t be overly concerned, though; it takes a lot of time and patience to be actively pursuing your What, and some people reach extremely high plateaus of their What sooner than others.
When: The When question seems to be an easy one to answer, at least in my mind. I say this because we often adamantly announce we are going to achieve our What by some specific date, but, in the real world, most of us fail. I am going to lose 15 pounds in five months. I will write more and get on a daily routine of, at minimum, 1,000 words per day. In 60 days I will have the first draft of the novel I have envisioned. NOT!
So, how do we overcome our When failures? My first inclination: It is through consistency of thought and action. Sounds simple and logical enough, but simplicity and logic do not always rule the day. Even when I actively set out on a very specific course of action to meet my What, I go off course after X amount of time. Only one thing seems to help me under these seemingly absurd circumstances, and that is to get in the habit of writing down my goals, along with an action plan to achieve them, and read them every morning before I start my day. After many years of procrastinations, this practice has proven to be the most effective at meeting deadlines – at least for me.
Building a consistent routine is another way for effectively handling the when question.
Where: This question is all about the geography of where you plant your feet. My blog post titled “Resources on Finding Your Place” spoke to the geography of place. One part of that post that I have found very true concerns something I believe many of us rarely think about. Outside of all these ways and means to review any geographic location you may be considering for a move, Winifred Gallagher, author of “The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions,” offers a fairly straightforward set of factors to contemplate as we search for our ideal place. In a chapter titled “A Day and Night World,” Gallagher notes that light and temperature are the “two greatest environmental influences on living things.” How much sunlight and whether or not the temperature outside is conducive to being under direct daylight as opposed to being under indoor light definitely has an effect on your overall well-being.
Why: The big Why certainly is a question that knocks on our inner sanctum, causing us to toss and turn instead of peacefully snoozing away. We may be pretty confident in answering the Who, What, When, and Where and still not have a clue about the Why. Every day we get out of bed and go to our occupations. As we drag ourselves to an often mundane and meaningless work shift, we ask Why. Yes, sure, we work to pay the rent, support our families, etc., but how does our work pertain to our raison d’etre?
A common regret expressed by people on their death beds relates to not following one’s passion/s. Instead of putting our hearts and souls into what we really want to do with ourselves, we acquiesce to accepting the salary that supports our financial obligations above our core selves and desires. This is where risk, stamina, and stick-to-itiveness come into play. Yes, of course, you must support yourself, but if you go into your job day-in and day-out despising what you are doing, then you really need to figure out a way to pursue your better self outside of that kind of toxic environment until you do, in fact, extricate yourself from it and move into something more amenable to your Who and What. It may take a while, and that is where risk, stamina and stick-to-itiveness become your mantra, so to speak. A little serendipity will surely help as well. Short answer: keep trying, which segues to the Silent H, the How.
How: Answering the How is not rocket science. It has been my personal experience that the How is also mostly concerned with consistency and focus. In other words, keep routinely working on the details of your how to ultimately follow your passion and do not get distracted along the way, a theme that is recurring frequently these days as we become overly preoccupied with Digital Age tools and toys. The How centers on your methodology for finding meaning and fulfilling your purpose. So, for example, you wake up in the morning and then what do you do? Read your action plan, get to work, and dismiss all irrelevant distractions. If you consistently stay true to that kind of day, it almost becomes inevitable that you will get closer to what you truly want to achieve in life – a very simple strategy that is very difficult to honor each day.
Well, that about sums things up. As always, I encourage anyone to respond and even perhaps include your answers to the Five Ws and Silent H – or perhaps you’d like to submit your manifesto to possibly bring on some helpful dialogue and/or debate.
Thanks for stopping by George.