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What Is Your Why

On recent flight to Orlando with my wife and 12 year old daughter, I had a flashback to a time when I traveled to the same destination at the same age. I too was 12 years old and was headed to Orlando. I remembered all of the fun we had at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and of course the hotel swimming pool. But what really jumped out at me was the plane ride and the salesman who sat next to my cousin and myself.

We boarded the plane first, my cousin took the window seat and I plopped down in the middle seat. Toward the end of the boarding process, this middle-aged gentleman in a full suit, stored his briefcase in the overhead bin, pulled out a work folder and sat down next to me. Shortly after take-off, he engaged in conversation with my cousin and I, asking where we were going and what we were doing.

There was a lot of small talk from us, before I asked him where he was going and what he did. To this day I cannot remember his name or where he was headed, but I vividly recall him saying “I am changing how students do math.” At the time it didn’t register with me, but today I realize it was his elevator pitch. See, this salesman worked for Texas Instruments and was out introducing the scientific calculators to educators all over the United States. He and his company were on the forefront of getting these calculators into the hands of students in middle and high schools. For the next two hours, he showed us what the calculator could do and how it worked. It was fascinating to a 12 year old.

As I thought about that on my recent trip, I realized that this gentleman had discovered his “why”. Instead of leading the conversation with his title/level/company, he let us know what he was passionate about and what got him excited about his work. I don’t know about you but I get extremely bored listening to someone share their job title, level, and company name. This gentleman had this figured out almost 30 years ago.

When you discover your why, I challenge you to get comfortable sharing it with others. Find an opportunity to work for a company or in an industry you believe in. Then, shout it from the roof top. Delivering a refreshed elevator pitch is like throwing a curveball to a batter expecting a fastball. Similarly, an introduction that leads with your passion or purpose will catch the individual across from you off guard, but in a good way. It will open up the conversation and you may actually connect about something beyond having a similar job title or once living in their current hometown. You might connect, for real, and find a breakthrough moment together.

As my cousin and I got ready to get off that plane, that gentleman grabbed his briefcase and sat back down, trapping my cousin and myself in our seats. He thanked us for the great conversation and reached into his briefcase and handed each of us a new scientific calculator. We were the first in our respective schools to have one!