Don’t forget your WHY

I love my job. No truly, I do. I hate so many of the tasks that go along with it, the audits, the paperwork, the e-mails, but I truly love my job. Why?…because of my why. The reasons I got into this profession in the first place. My job is to change lives. My job is to create hope. My job is to make our world better.


Yeah, I know, in today’s world, educators are seen as pie in the sky when they talk like this. Our jobs are supposed to be rooted in teaching content. We are supposed to be well versed in crafting assessments and creating collaborative structures. We are supposed to be experts in PLCs, RTI, MTSS, IEPs, NGSS, NCLB, and hundreds of other acronyms. I mean, I even wrote a book about all of this stuff…(You can actually buy it here…wink wink)

We are scrutinized in the media. We are pushed by the legislators….and yet I LOVE my job!

And it’s all because of my “why”...

Our “whys” are what drive us. They are what we get passionate about, what we hope for, what we long for. They are often the reasons we began doing what we are doing. All too often, though, our why’s get confused with our goals, and our goals become our obsessions. These obsessions are what lead to burnout, fear of failure, and far too often, abandonment of our purpose.

Let me explain this a little bit differently. I am a runner. Every single morning I wake up before dawn, tie my shoes, and put miles on my feel. On Saturdays I go out and run for a couple of hours, while during the work week, I run long enough to wake me up and quickly tire myself out.

When people hear that I run, I am often asked, “Why?” Why wake up at 4:30am. Why make my body ache. Why?


(This is a picture I took at 5am one morning…not a bad view, but not my “why”)

I sometimes make jokes and say that I run so that I can eat. I say that I run for therapy or solitude, but that’s not why.

I became a runner about ten years ago while coaching a middle school track team. During that time I had a student named Justin who challenged me to begin to practice what I preach. He knew I was good at coaching kids how to run, but that I wasn’t really all that keen on doing it myself. Justin then challenged me to a race around the world. The two of us, on a spring day in 2007, set a challenge to accumulate 25,000 miles of running miles. I have no idea what the prize is for the first of us to complete this…and no idea if he is even working on it still, but the challenge was made and I have been running ever sense, logging every mile, and charting my progress ( I even got a tattoo to remind myself of the challenge).  I run, daily because of that challenge, but that challenge is not my “why”. My “why” is bigger than that. My “why” is because of what was hinted at by the challenge.


You see, I have four kids of my own. I have four kids who need a dad who will set a healthy example for them. I have kids who need someone who will do more than tell them what do; they need someone who will show them what to do. My kids need a dad who is willing to sacrifice ten hours a week to run in order to gain ten years of a healthy life later on. I run because of my kids and what I want them to become and have years down the road. They are my “why“. My goal of running around the world is a way to track my progress, but it is not my “why”. If I break my ankle tomorrow and can no longer run, my why will remain. I will just have to find a different way to model healthy living.

In my day job as a school principal, my why is seeing lives changed. My why is brought back into focus when I look at Facebook and Twitter and see former students of mine, now with children of their own, finding their way and owning successful lives. Sure, I can measure my progress through short term tests, evaluations, and assessments. Yes, I need to  make sure I am progressing and am aligned, but I cannot lose sight of my “why“. My “why” is bigger than temporary set backs or short term successes.

Everything good in life requires sacrifice, time, and effort. If my why for running were just about meeting short term goals I could simply show up and run a few races each year, collect the medals, and call myself a runner. Doing so, however, would not be healthy, would not be wise, and I would see very little long term progress. It is the daily training that scares most people away from running. It is the training that makes running the best race I can possible. The same is true about the day job I have and love.

As a school principal and former classroom teacher I know the daily grind is hard. There are days we find success and there are days we want to just hide under our desks. It is the daily grind that gets us down and it is the daily grind that often chases people away from this amazing profession. What we need are more people reminding us that the grind is not our “why“. The test scores are not our “why”.  For me, my “why” resides in the eyes of every child I get to hug each day. My “why” is making every child feel valued. My “why” is giving opportunities where they didn’t exist before. These are things I may not see the fruit of for years, but they are the reasons why…I want my students to have learning that lasts, not a temporary success. (Again- I wrote an entire book about this….shameless plug)

I believe we can always reach our goals if we are willing to work for them. We just might not be able to accomplish them today because we have to work for them.
It’s like having a baby.  We are given 9 months to prepare for the birth of a baby not just so the baby can develop, but also so that we can develop. I believe that maturity is not measured by knowing what you want but by your willingness to wait for what you want.

In life we all have things we want. We all have things we wish we could just get today. Sometimes, most times, though we just simply aren’t ready for them. It is the desire for quick satisfaction that leads to hurt. If I ran a race I didn’t prepare for I would probably be able to finish and I would be able to cross it off of my goal board, but my chances of getting hurt increase dramatically and finding long term success gets compromised. My inability to stay focused on my why and instead my desire to chase a quick goal can set me up for lasting frustration. Maturity results in fewer hurts and greater long term satisfaction. Be patient and you will get what you want when you are ready for it. Don’t look for the easy way out. Stay focused on your “why” and use your goals to track your success, not the other way around.

You can read more of Dave’s thoughts at

or you can buy his book at: It’s Like Riding a Bike

cover art

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