Your WHY – The Essence of a Personal Brand

“Why do you do what you do?” The question comes to you from the young man sitting next to you on a recent flight. Like yours, his seat back is comfortably angled 30 degrees back, and his tray table is in the down position. You’ve both settled in.

The two of you are on a first class flight home from Dubai. Fate and a travel agent have thrown you together, and now you’re making chit chat over strong coffee, colloquially known as Turkish coffee. It tastes good, and the caffeine/cardamom combo cuts through the morning fog of your mind. Last night’s dinner-and-drinks with your client quickly turned into dessert-and-one-too-many.

“I mean,” your seat mate continues, “what drives you to keep giving these keynote speeches?”

You’ve already swapped stories about the Zig Ziglar audios which you were surprised to learn were on his smartphone. His stories of singing Sinatra standards from a tiny stage where he gigged aboard a 120′ private yacht last week seem to have gone dry for the moment, along with the cucumber water in your glass. Still, the young singer seems bent on keeping the conversation going.

“It sounds like you could just retire right now,” he says, “and you wouldn’t have to put up with these long flights and grueling schedule. Is it really worth it to be a keynote speaker? I mean, why do you keep doing it?”

“Why indeed…” you parrot, adjusting your glasses with a thick hand. ” Dubai to LA seems like a long haul this morning, I can tell you that,” you chuckle. “And I’ve got more of the same waiting for me at LAX – same hoopla, same glad handing and photo ops. You know, I haven’t thought about that question in a long time.”

But his question is a good one, and you feel its heft in your mind like a gold ingot in the center of you palm – rare and worthy.

Your thoughts trail back a couple of days, back to the night you arrived in Dubai and the limo picked you up at the airport. Your client, the CEO, was already in the back seat, eager to be seen with you, arriving together at an exclusive gala at a towering hotel behind a velvet rope. The cameras and the crowds offered a heady glow of success.

That night was capped with too few hours of sleep in your suite on the concierge level, fruit and flowers in every room, scenting the air with their heavy perfume. You found a gift from the meeting planner thoughtfully left on the entry table – a silver monogrammed business card holder and a note of thanks. It was a nice touch, if a little impersonal. Back home, there was closet in your office that was full of things like this – chachkies and souvenirs, corporate gifts from exotic ports of call where hoards had been swayed by the words you spoke.

But that’s not the reason. Why then?

Your mind drifts back to your early career when you stood on the platform in a meeting hall at a local winery for 30 minutes, the audience mesmerized while you shared your best stuff. That talk was the springboard for the words you said in Dubai yesterday, and it launched a thousand opportunities for you. The warm feeling in your heart of touching the hundreds of people in that winery hall – influencing their lives – was as sweet as wine itself. You would have done it for free, but the back-of-room sales you made after the talk were a nice bonus. A whole new world had opened up for you that day.

Now you search your memory for an even deeper answer, and a vague form takes shape. You were meeting with a publisher over a cocktail, who was an old colleague who’d worked with you on that start-up years ago. The experience is like a private joke you share between the two of you, like veterans of a war.

“Say, I’m writing a book,” you told him casually, pulse racing. “Do you think you could give me some tips on how to make it successful…?”

Now the memory starts to flood back. You remember that you had been sweating this meeting for days, thinking your friend’s professional advice would kill your enthusiasm, afraid he would laugh at your naiveté or tell you that your ideas were too controversial. You feared that the unique and precious thing inside you – the song that only you could write – would be silenced before anyone heard it. You were afraid that taking a chance, confiding in your friend, meant that your dream must live or die in that moment. You were afraid of terminal rejection, afraid that you would depart this earth with your music still inside you, afraid to let go of that burning fire in your heart.

You were afraid.

You couldn’t bear the thought that your passion for these concepts was yours alone. You had to get the word out. It was your mission. You simply must tell others, because you knew that they could be changed if only they knew about the key that you had discovered for yourself. You knew that their lives would be better, easier and more provident if you could just reach them – if you could share the gems that you had come by through years of trial and error, of love and blood and sweat. You could shorten their learning curve and you could help others by making their lives easier. You could change a piece of their world if you could just reach them with the message in your book.

And then it happened, the thing you couldn’t have expected, though you’d dreamed of it often enough – your friend said yes.

“Sure,” he smiled, “I’ll help you publish it too, if you’d like. You might want to think about writing a talk to go along with that manuscript of yours. These things work best in tandem.”

Now the memory fades as the flight attendant brushes past you, gliding down the aisle. The young man in the seat next to you sweeps the shock of hair from his eyes and searches your face. The hum of the jet drones on, like a bass note in the dance of your life. “Why wouldn’t you want to put down roots or retire early and get off this merry-go-round?” the young man says. “I mean, what makes you want to trek the planet and say the things you do?”

In the back of your mind you hear a Ziglar quote from one of his audio programs which comes back to your mind like a distant memory: “You will get everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

And suddenly in a flash you connect with your reason why, that driving force that silently compels you to push forward…serving others.

Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success Publishing. Bryan works with best-selling authors in the role of publisher and marketer, including the late Zig Ziglar, Chris Widener and John C. Maxwell. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book that condenses knowledge on website conversion from 7-years running an online ad agency. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes running high impact marketing campaigns for Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.