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March 25, 2016

What is your 'why'—and 'how'?

Camille nelson wgu

At WGU, each student is assigned a personal faculty member to work with them as a mentor throughout their time at WGU. Additionally, each course has its own course instructors, subject-matter experts who are available to help students get through course material. Advice from your mentors is invaluable as you make your way through your online degree program. But we also want you to benefit from the wisdom of mentors not necessarily assigned to you, so occasionally, The Night Owl features advice from WGU mentors in colleges throughout the university.

By Camille Nelson
Course Instructor, WGU College of Business

"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." — Friedrich Nietzsche

What is your why? Why do you pursue the goals you have set for yourself?

Understanding and rekindling your why in each goal you aspire to achieve can help you be more successful and can also help you feel more fulfilled in pursuing your why and your goals.

As a student, you might ask yourself, “Why am I pursuing a college degree?” Perhaps you want to set a good example for your family, you want to advance your career, or maybe you dream of becoming a doctor, a nutritionist, or a professor and a college education is necessary to achieve your dream occupation. In my work as a Course Instructor in the College of Business here at WGU, my why of helping students find applicability between the course material and their lives and careers as well as motivating and helping them build their confidence—which is vital as a student—brings me fulfillment in my career.

As Nietzsche suggests, once we understand our why, it is easier to get through any how. However, sometimes the allure of goals and the thought of completing them and crossing the finish line can make us forget about each how and the sacrifices involved. When people sign up for a marathon, it is easier and more appealing to think of the why—a medal, the sense of accomplishment at the finish line—instead of the how—each 6 a.m. training run and hitting the notorious, grueling “wall” at mile 20.

What are the hows of being a student? They might be different for each student and situation. For some, it might be getting up earlier or staying up later to get in a few hours of study time. For others, it might be missing out on social outings or saying “no” to things so that you can say yes to studying and the things that will lead you to completing your goals.

As I have worked on setting and completing goals throughout the years, I have learned to embrace the word autotelic, meaning “self-goal” in Greek. The idea is to set a goal that is fulfilled by intrinsic motivation and not for any extrinsic factor or consequence. It is fulfilling a goal because of your own personal motivation, not to gain praise or to please others. I was introduced to the word autotelic in “Painting in the Dark,” a video essay by British movie maker Delve, who told the incredible story of artist Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh didn’t sell his first painting until the age of 37, when he finally started to paint for the sake of loving painting and not painting what he thought others would like to see. It was only when Van Gogh realized his why that he was able to continue bearing his how and complete thousands of paintings, earning the acclaim he has today.

I encourage you to find your why and identify your how—and embrace them throughout your college career.

Camille Nelson is from Salt Lake City, Utah, where she graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in Communication and a minor in Italian. She completed a master’s degree in Second Language Teaching at Utah State University. She also completed a Ph.D. at Gonzaga University, where she survived years of writing, the how that enabled her to fulfill her why of becoming a Course Instructor at WGU, helping students realize their potential and achieve success.

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