What Is Your “Why?” Know When to Say “No.”

Do you know your “why?” Do you know what you are truly passionate about? Inspired by? What puts a fire in your belly?

I was in my final interview for the role of “Director of External Relations” at the start-up The Parklands of Floyds Fork when I got a life-defining question. 

One of the board members asked me, “Christen, are you passionate about parks?”

Job interviews can be tricky sometimes. They don’t always feel like the place for radical honesty. 

But at that moment, my answer was from the heart. 

“I like parks,” I said. “In fact, I would say I love parks.  But passionate about parks?  If you are looking for someone who is passionate about parks, you are looking for someone else.  But if you are looking for someone who is passionate about what parks can do for a community?  Then I am that person.”

In that moment, my “why” became clearer to me.  I have worked with parks, museums, arts, and the theatre … but my passion is not about any of those topics. My passion is for what those organizations do for the community. 

I am passionate about building strong communities and I can throw my whole self into working with lots of different types of organizations – if they help make communities better. 

Do you know your “why?”  Do you know what you are truly passionate about? Inspired by? What puts a fire in your belly?  

Defining your passion allows you to communicate clearly 

I am so grateful I was able to say “No, I am not passionate about parks.” (Although, again, I do love parks!) 

Because saying “no” helped me to articulate my “yes.” My “yes” explained why I was interested and well-suited for the role – because I was passionate about what The Parklands of Floyds Fork would do for the community.

My answer satisfied the board member. (They did hire me.) And it has been valuable to me, not just as an individual charting out my own career but as a leader helping organizations define their mission and communicate their message. 

For example, while I was with The Parklands we created a series of taglines that helped define our collective “why.”  (Thank you to BCH for helping with this!) 

“This is not just a park, it is a gift to future generations.”

“This is not just a park, this is a bridge from our past to our future.”

These taglines represented the true intent of the project, rather than just providing a laundry list of what we were doing. It helped to translate values into words. It spoke to donors – even if those donors weren’t passionate about parks. Because they were passionate about other things – like building a better community for their descendants.  Donors were inspired to give generously, not for trees and playgrounds, but for beautiful green space for their children’s children.

How do you find your organization’s “why”?

At the Fund for the Arts, during the creation of the Imagine Greater Louisville 2020 Master Plan, we started by examining a similar question.  Why were we doing this work? The Fund for The Arts exists to serve the art world, yes. But why does it do that? Because we believe the art world benefits our community!

For many years, we had asked the community to support the Arts . . . now, we flipped the question to ask “How can the Arts best support or serve our community?”

That “why” is what we used to recruit our Board of Directors.  That “why” engaged board members in the work of the organization, motivating them to invest their social capital, their personal capital and hours of their time. It even prompted them to ask others to join them. 

Whether you are considering board invitations, donation requests, or job opportunities, defining your personal “why” helps you select the right organizations to serve. 

What is your “why”? 

Find it, and you’ll find you do your best work with new found joy, excitement, inspiration and tireless commitment.  And, organizations that know their “why” are more successful at inspiring donors, engaging board members, ultimately fulfilling their mission. 

If you want help defining your “why”, whether as an individual leader, team or organization, reach out to me at christen@boone-group.com.  I love these conversations!

And by the way, if you haven’t heard of or visited The Parklands of Floyds Fork, click here to learn more about one of our country’s and our generation’s largest new metropolitan parks. 

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