“How did you do that?” versus “Why should I do that?”

Every time I get successful in some area of my life, I get this question from people around me: “How did you that?”

For instance, when I started to teach tango, a year ago, a lot of my friends looked puzzled: “How did you pulled this off? You only danced tango for one and a half year, yet you’re able to teach it now. What’s your recipe?” In the beginning, I was trying to answer honestly: “Well,  when I started to learn tango, I totally immersed into it. During the first six months I took lessons, went to miongas or practicas, almost every evening. Then I chose more advanced partners then me, which forced me to stretch a lot. Then I went to advanced seminars.” And I went like this for a while, telling people what they wanted to know.

Until, one day, I realized it doesn’t really matter. Because the answer to the question “How?” is completely irrelevant.

So I stopped answering to this question and asked back: “Why do you want to know this?”

It’s Personal, Baby

How I went from point A to point B is something very personal. It’s related to my skills, my history, my context, my likes and dislikes and a gazillion of other traits that are actually composing me, as an individual. And those traits are, obviously, very different from yours,. So, the path that I chose is fundamentally very different from the path that you may choose.

That’s why the “How?” is irrelevant.

The question that is really relevant, every time you encounter some successful model is: “Why should I do that?”. To follow the example above, the real question my friends should’ve ask was: “Why would I like to teach tango, like you, in the first place?”.

Role Models and Validation

We tend to identify successful people with the idea of success. Just because someone was successful in business, for instance, we tend to believe that that person is successful in everything. Even more, we tend to believe that we can replicate the steps they took to get there. Like success could really have a recipe.

Alas, it’s not like this. If you ever bought some books, or seminars or videos containing the words: “steps, success, proved, method”, then, my friend, you wasted money.

This perception, or, to be more precise, this projection of our own ideas of success on successful people comes from something called “social validation”, or social proof. If a person does a thing in a good way, a lot of times, consistently, then, at some point, other people will notice this. They will acknowledge that fact and even support that person, so he or she could make more good stuff. They may even promote him or her. That’s social validation.

But, in reality, success is slightly more than social validation. Of course, some level of validation is required to acknowledge your success, be it personal or in business. You have to be a verified provider, so to speak.

But the real benefit of success doesn’t come from this. Social validation is not what makes us happy when we’re successful. It may feed our ego for a while, it may tickle our vanity receptors, but it won’t makes us happy.

What makes us happy when we’re finally good at doing something (being it a business, a relationship, some athletic challenge or art crafting) it’s a form of internal evolution. It’s inner growth.

We’re happy because we’re better than the person we use to be a while ago. The fact that other people are validating us is secondary (or it should be, if we want to keep on being successful).

The real success is actually an internal affair, what we perceive from the outside is just a reflection.

Why Being Successful?

Now you understand why “Why?” is a way better question that “How?”. If you can figure out “why” you should get better at something, in the first place, the “how” will unfold somehow.

Or, to be more precise, you will create the “how”, according to your skills, your history, your context, your likes and dislikes and a gazillion of other traits that are actually composing you, as an individual. And all those traits are very different than mines.

So, before opening your mouth in front of some successful businessman, artist or athlete, asking eagerly: “How did you pull this off?”, stop for a second. And gently ask this question in your mind: “Why should I do this?”.

If you find a good answer to that, the rest is secondary.

1 thought on ““How did you do that?” versus “Why should I do that?””

  1. What a cool way to look at things. I agree that asking how minimizes things. You become awesome at things by doing them repeatedly over a long period of time while constantly pushing yourself to achieve/learn/expand yourself more and more. It isn’t a special formula. It is the same for most things.

    You are right that the real question is Why do you want to do something? Do you want to do it for yourself and for the act of doing something or do you want to do it because you think people will approve you because of it?


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