Welcome to Fullness

As you may have guessed from my relative reticence, the last weeks and months have been particularly busy. In the last six weeks (since, roughly April 15th), I’ve travelled to Shanghai, Chicago, Phuket, Boulder, Singapore, a tropical island in Indonesia, Cape Cod, and Michigan. I’ve camped the Nor Cal woods with my fiancée, snorkeled Southeast Asian waters, and taken a beer tour of Chicago. I’ve attended offsites, retreats, annual meetings, and trainings. I’ve coached former classmates on storytelling, tried a new recipe for gluten-free/dairy-free mac and cheese, and volunteered at the soup kitchen. On the home front, we’ve replaced our washer and dryer, fixed the ice tray in the fridge (shockingly complicated), and replanted the front bed. For the wedding, we’ve ordered and addressed wedding invitations, finalized plans for cake, and completed the final fitting for my wedding dress. Most importantly, though, I’ve spent time with so many people I love around the world, including a few walks around the block with Reese, some quality time with Liz, and a beautiful bridal shower with nearly every member of my extended family.

I share this not to provide an excuse for not posting, but to take a stand: Yes, the last six weeks have been busy, but I refuse to call them that. In fact, I am hereby abandoning the word “busy.”  
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Why am I abandoning “busy?”

First, I don’t want to compete in the busy-ness competition. Sometimes, particularly amongst my overachieving friends, we end up one-upping each other with the intensity of our schedules. It’s as if our commitments act as a proxy for importance (“So many people have demands on my time and talents!) and capability (“…and I’m completely able to satisfy them all!”). It’s an alluring game to play as it feeds the ego and seems winnable. That said, winning the busy-ness competition is no treat. You may receive a bit of awe or pity, but to maintain your sense of importance and capability, you need to sign up for being even busier than you were before. I once heard a friend describe it as “winning a pie-eating competition where the prize is. . . more pie.”

Second, I want to encourage real conversations. We often ask each other “How are you doing?” in a ritualized way, not expecting a full answer. It’s easy to answer “I’m busy” and sharing your schedule. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I aspire to respond to those questions with a better answer – one that goes a bit deeper or shares a bit more. Why am I busy? What is happening in the world as a result of my efforts? What is meaningful about that?

Which brings us to the third and most important reason: I want to put attention on the underlying meaning, not the superficial hum of the activity. Ultimately, the word ‘busy’ doesn’t encapsulate the meaning behind it all. We all choose to sign ourselves up for work and activities, for life and relationships. We choose the things that make us so busy – and we presumably choose them because they’re important to us in some way. Being “busy” doesn’t invoke that overarching purpose in the activity; it just implies activity – and perhaps too much of it. Yet when I look at the litany of life in my first paragraph, I don’t feel exhausted, I feel exhilarated. Sure, I’m sometimes overtravelled, sometimes overworked, sometimes overstretched. But my underlying feeling here is one of satisfying fullness, and not of meaningless busy-ness.

Therefore, that’s my new word: instead of saying “I’m busy,” I am going to say “I’m full.” I am full of activity, full of life, and full of meaning. In many contexts, to be full is to be complete. I want the fullness that comes with having my time and talents used completely towards my ambitions.

Goodbye busy-ness. Welcome to fullness.

Meredith

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The Two Whys

I’ve been thinking a lot about why. Why, why, why?

In primary school, we were taught to ask the five W’s (and the accompanying H) to dissect situations in literature and beyond: “Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?” It trips off the tongue so elegantly that it almost runs together into one word – the all-encompassing “Whowhatwherewhenwhyhow?” The list seemed so comprehensive and complete, as if there were no other questions to ask.

Of that list of fundamental questions, the why wandered into the forefront over the past few decades. Modern management theory teaches us to ask why at least five times to get to the root cause of a problem. And much-acclaimed Simon Sinek claims that the soul of an organization is not the how or the what, but instead the why behind its actions (watch his fantastic TED talk here).

I love the why. I resonate with the why. I am a big supporter of the why.

But there’s a problem with why. Our current usage of why is so broad as to be confusing. “Why?” can be answered on many levels. A legitimate answer to “Why did you spend Saturday with your family?” can be anything from “Because my kids had a soccer game” to “Because I prioritize my family and put them first.” To use the examples above, the why behind root cause analysis and the why that Simon Sinek preaches are actually quite distinct.

There are (at least) two whys in the world:two whysThe first why is the proximal why. It is the immediate impetus for an event or action, and is often more of a superficial answer.

“Why did you have a sandwich for lunch?” “Because that’s what I brought from home.”
“Why are we changing our branding and messaging?” “Because the boss said so.”
“Why do I work at this company?” “Because they pay me.”

The second why is the underlying why. You can think of this as the big why.  Instead of lingering on immediate causality, the underlying why invokes our purpose, values, and aspirations.

“Why did you have a sandwich for lunch?” “Because I pack my lunch every day to save money and eat better.”
“Why are we changing our branding and messaging?” “Because we want to make clear our mission of delivering exceptional customer service in each interaction people have with our company.”
“Why do I work at this company?” “Because I’m able help source ingredients responsibly for packaged foods and impact the health of people around the world.”

If we keep on asking ourselves the “Whowhatwherewhenwhyhow?” litany, we tend to gravitate towards the proximal why and forego the underlying why. Since the English language currently conflates the two whys, it is hard for us to answer both in a clear and satisfactory way. I propose separating the whys and adopting new taxonomy.

Let’s allow the proximal why to keep the word why. It’s common, it’s easy, and it’s established. But let’s introduce a new word for the underlying why. Let’s give it a separate word so it becomes its own distinct and important question. We could call it anything really: “Whereto?” “What to?” “Towards?” “Pineapple upside-down cake?” For simplicity, though, let’s try wherefore.

The etymology of wherefore makes it a good fit for the underlying why. It is an archaic form of why also defined to mean “for what” or “for what reason.” Perhaps the most famous use of wherefore is from Juliet’s soliloquy about Romeo in which she asks “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” (i.e., “Why are you Romeo?”) This question invites deep reflection; it is not sufficiently answered by “He is Romeo because that’s what his parents named him” but instead calls forth questions of the meaning of names, the importance of family affiliation, and the function of fate.
whysI invite you to start using “wherefore?” in your everyday life. Reflecting on my own decisions, when I’m able to clearly answer the wherefore, I’ve often been more intentional about my path. When I don’t know the wherefore, I have been hasty, unreflective, or, frankly, just a bit lazy.

It is a lovely (if aspirational) idea: that people would be asking themselves not only the easier why but the harder wherefore. But with any luck, our children will be soon asking themselves exactly that:

“Whowhatwherewhenwhyhowwherefore?”

Meredith