When you ask people their “why” will you be comfortable with their answer?

I am writing this post as a way to process my thoughts. It is more of a “writing to learn” blog post rather than a post to share my learning. Here goes!



Nikola Jokić is probably one of the five best basketball players in the world right now.  He won the MVP of the NBA twice in the last three years and led his team, the Denver Nuggets, to their first NBA Championship in 2023.

He also doesn’t seem to love basketball.

I can’t read into another person’s mind, but he doesn’t seem to love it.

After winning the championship, he was asked about the championship parade to be held in Denver, and he seemed utterly annoyed about the prospect of attending, as opposed to going to his home country of Serbia.

When asked about the possibility of getting better, he stated, “Basketball is not the main thing in my life.”

Yet, every team in the NBA would take Nikola Jokić on their team.

He is that good.

So, what does this have to do with education?

If you asked Nikola Jokić what his “why” is, he would definitely not say playing basketball. I don’t know how much he loves the sport, but at this point in his life, it seems like a job (that pays exorbitantly well) more than anything.

Yet, people still encourage educators to “remember their why.”

I am also guilty of this, especially as an administrator.

At that time, my life looked very different. I had no family, and I immersed myself in my job in an all-encompassing way. For me (at the time), it defined who I was. Being involved in education is now part of what I do, but other roles are more critical.

And if you are reading this right now, and that is you, I think that is great (as long as it makes you feel fulfilled).

But if you are reading this now, and education is a job for you that pays the bills, that is also fine with me.

If I were hiring someone to work in a school today, the non-negotiable for me wouldn’t be “why” you are involved in education; it would be how good you are at your job.

For example, if you were the best teacher in the world but were more interested in pickleball on the weekends, I would still hire you.

On an opposite note, I don’t think I would if you were not a great teacher but were passionate about education.

Thinking back to that time in education when school was everything to me, I remember being really frustrated with a staff member who didn’t seem to have the same commitment to the work that I did. My mentor, Kelly Wilkins, said something to me that always resonated.

She looked at me and said, “George…not everyone is you.”

It was her way of saying that my passion (at the time) wasn’t necessarily the passion and drive of others. I got it then, but I really understand it now.

If you encourage someone to remember their “why,” will you be comfortable if their answer doesn’t a) match yours or b) your belief of what it should be?

And often, when we are asking people to “remember their why,” it is often a disguised guilt trip for something else that is lacking (i.e., salary) or a way of asking for over-commitment to work from others.

Please don’t think that this means that we should have lowered expectations of those in education for the quality of their work. Not at all. We should want the best for all students who are in schools today.

But we should also want the best for the adults, to put them in a position to do the best work possible.

When we ask people, “What is their why?” it is sometimes (maybe often) more of a reflection of something lacking in leadership than it is lacking in teaching.

I hate to say this, but I have experienced it myself; people often care way more about the organizations they work for than the organizations that they work for care for them. This is true in and out of education.

I was taught never to ask questions you don’t want the answer to. If you ask someone what is their “why?” will you appreciate an answer that has nothing to do with being a better teacher?

The focus should be more on their ability to do their job than the reasoning behind why they do their job. If that is true, administrators need to do everything possible to put people in a position to succeed at their work rather than questioning their reasoning for why they are there.

Just some thoughts…



Scroll to Top

Changing the Trajectories of Those We Serve​

Join over 40,000 Educators who already get the Newsletter