Why Are You Here?

Zev Asch, MBA, BS
Adjunct Professor
Graduate School of Business, Touro College

I start each class by asking students to (anonymously) write the answer to a simple question: “Why are you here?”  Students typically look up with a confused expression; they anticipated a discussion on the syllabus and how to get an “A.”

One step at a time.

The question is existential, a timely and necessary (I believe) reminder about the power of purpose. It is not meant to cast doubt why the student is present but instead to remind her about the potential of her choice.

We are more than educators; we are also life coaches. We must recognize that each student walks into the classroom with her hidden reality; juggling school and work, paying for education, health concerns, and the stress of an unknown future. This reality can push purpose far below the surface, masking the reason why she is here.

The recalibration of purpose is powerful and energizing.

Let me share an example from the business world. I started to ask employees this question many years ago on January 2nd, during our company’s New Year’s kick-off meeting:

“Why do you come to work every day?”

“I need a job.”

“I need benefits.”

“I have to save for retirement.”

“I am a single mother.”

“I have three ex-wives.”

While each answer represents an individual circumstance, they all lack ‘purpose.’ The absence of a meaningful response to the ‘why do you come to work everyday’ question, cultivates an ‘I don’t like my job, but I don’t have a choice’ mindset.

There is a direct correlation between a positive mindset, productivity and ultimately, success. And the same applies to academics.

When we recalibrate and remind our students of their purpose, they experience a combined sense of relief and renewed motivation to succeed. It won’t work for every student, but I’ve seen the transformation happen as soon as our discussion ends.

“Professor, why are you here?”

“I am here to make a difference in your life. To share what I know and for us to learn from each other. With your help, to be a better teacher and mentor. Together and through our collaboration, I am here to remind you that you possess the power to succeed regardless of current or future challenges.”

And so, here is the answer to “why am I here?”

“I am here to do the best work I am capable of doing and of making a difference; not for a letter grade or to advance my career but to utilize my full potential and to take one more step towards fulfilling my goals.

I encourage you to start your classes by asking this question. The discussion will resonate with students way beyond the semester.  Some students may require a ‘booster shot,’ (a reminder) but overall, I promise that they will tell you how it has affected them.


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