Going from How to Why

Written as if speaking to a large group of students.

As you grow older, you go from wanting to know how things are done to why you do them. Right now you want to know how to get into a good school or how to get a good job or how to get good grades. You want to know how the world works because you haven't really been in it yet as a contributing factor.

Yet as you get older, and the more you figure out, the more you do, the more you question why you're doing it. And all of a sudden, that kinda sucks. It's like asking how the universe was created vs. why are we on this planet. How did I get here vs. why am I here. And let me tell you the former is much easier to hypothesize.

So to give context as to how I got to where I am today, I had parents who were music teachers, an uncle who designed lights and a grandmother who was a painter. All of a sudden how I got to where I am today makes a lot more sense. I was always pushed in the direction of the arts. It's what I was surrounded by and it's what I was naturally good at.

So when electives were a question, I avoided any math or science and went straight for art. Not a second thought. That was my jam and I was sticking to it. So very quickly my position in life turned into how do I draw better or how do I sell my art or how do I land a job making art vs why art mattered. They were all questions that someone else could teach me. Perfect situation for a college student.

So I went through school and I loved it. I think the majority of people that go through college feel this way, but I totally went from a kid who hated school my whole life to absolutely loving every single moment of college. I felt like I was finally free to do what I wanted with my education and was finally in control of honing my skills. I would dive into all this art history and check out endless classical CDs from the library and burn them onto my computer. I loved my philosophy classes and took an ethnomusicology class. I took figure drawing and anatomy for artists. And during a short, four years, I learned how to become a better artist, both a draftsman and a thinker.

But at the end of college, that question of how becomes a little harder. Instead of a professor showing you how something is done, for the first time you have to show yourself how. How do you get a job? How do you make money?

For me, that transition felt easy. I landed a design internship for a small sports company four blocks up from my school in my last semester of college. Immediately after graduating I applied for a full time position and got it. I worked there for the next 5 years. I learned a lot. Met a lot of people. Saw how other professionals did it. Met my business partners of today. So once again, an invaluable time of learning how the world works and how people work together.

Yet here I am today, finally asking myself WHY. Why have I done the things I've done, why am doing what I'm doing. Should I do something else? Should I do something differently? Waaayyy harder shit to answer. Because nobody can teach me that except for myself. What I'm finding out is those questions will probably be with me the rest of my life now, unanswered until the end when you can look back on everything and understand why you did what you did. But now the question of how is shifting off of me and onto the next generation. It's up to you guys to figure out how to do things and I guess up to me to think about why we do them.

Wait. That doesn't sound very fair. Piecing out some of the creative pie to one side of the room and leaving the rest for the other. You don't have to work that way. I think that if you can ask how and why, what you do will become far more meaningful than just well-done work. If you can answer other people's questions with your work, then you're helping them understand the "why" in life.

Kent St JohnComment