What is YOUR Why?

NOAA-NDBC-discus-buoyEvery once in a while I have a need to revisit the question of…why. “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”  When asked how I got to where I am, I often respond with “I saw a buoy, and I swam to it…I saw another, and I swam to that one…and so forth.”  But of course, there’s a reason I “saw” that particular buoy, and why I chose to swim to it, even if the water was cold and filled with the dreaded unknown! (Cue: Jaws theme) So why is what I’m doing so important to me?

Windmill-SculptureWalking along The Way last month, and encouraged by my Spiritual Director, I determined it was time to clarify my “why” – my purpose. What gets me up in the morning? Why do I choose to spend my time and energy on the EMERGE Leadership Project? In a nutshell, here’s what I got:


  1. Connecting people really turns me on. Even though an introvert, I do love to be fostering relationships, connections that serve. In fact because I am an introvert, the structure of teaching is a way for me to touch, connect, and love you in a way that is comfortable. And because life has me swimming with the green building community “pod”, you’re the ones I’m busy connecting with and about. Simply put, you are my people, and I want to serve you ‘cause it fills me up.
  2. I have a strong current of social justice running through me (you might blame that on a dozen years of Catholic schooling, but it didn’t help that I went to college in the ‘60s). And there were signs early on that I had a thing about protecting the environment. When my nursery school took us to a pond to go fishing, I made a stink (yes, literally stamped my feet) about how fishing with hooks was cruel, and refused to participate (even though, honestly, it looked like everyone was having fun.)
  3. I’m a practical pig. While I have participated in demonstrations, marches, and letters to the editor, I generally prefer actualization over advocacy. I like the idea that by building and developing more resourcefully and generatively we are, in a very concrete way, making the world a fairer place for generations to come, and for sister societies that have been harmed through overconsumption. Sustainable building is a practical way to address the spiritual anxiety I feel about the way the world is. And emergent leadership is the means to accelerate its adoption.
  4. I’m a grandmother (several times over). If you’ve seen me teach, you’ve heard about a trip to China I made in 1997 to visit my granddaughter Ellie. At that point, I was a bit burned out on the swimming gig, and I wasn’t seeing any buoys. But here was my granddaughter living in Shanghai, a City polluted primarily by a driving need to develop and build multiple “Manhattans” overnight. Even if I’m sometimes disappointed at how hard it can be to be the person the universe seems to think I am (based on the assignments I get), I am moved to address my generational responsibility in some way, and this seems to be the way.
  5. Finally, I like success. No, I actually LOVE success. And I can honestly say that our green building efforts have paid off. I’m about to keynote an event – the EcoBuilding’s annual Green Building Slam — that highlights this fact in a big way. The projects are remarkable and the folks putting them together just as remarkable. We’ve come such a long way since the days when I gave a talk on green building at a builders’ conference in Portland attended by two people — one thought I was going to talk about building green houses, the other thought I was going to talk about issues relevant to builders new to the field of contracting! I need affirmation just like anyone else, and its events like the Slam, and emails I continue to receive announcing the successful completion of projects I was involved with in my consulting days that give me a boost. I got word this week that the West Hawaii Explorations Academy met its goal to build a school designed with the motto “no child left indoors” and meet the LEED for Schools Platinum Standard. And from time to time, EMERGE Alumni share their leadership success stories. (Here are some.) These make me very happy.

To be truly effective, a leader needs a clear purpose in mind. Mine is to accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and development, and today that takes the form of teaching, mentoring, and writing about an approach to leadership that I believe will help us get there. Driving this purpose is my personal why.  What is yours? Think about it, share your thoughts with friends (and me if you like, at kathleen@emergeleadershipproject.org). And if you desire a boost in achieving your why, please check out the EMERGE Leadership programs coming up at: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/.