I am sitting at a wooden picnic table with few other people. The spring sun is warming my back as I take sips of coffee I have grabbed half an hour ago.
“So, why are you doing this?” someone asks me. I take a deep breath and try to remember my past. My eyes scan the surrounding for some visual clues, and get hooked to a giant screen displaying “Welcome to Facebook!”
It is a hot day. I am rolling a tyre in the street of Layyah. A hard slap hits my face. The bicycle crashes into a rickshaw. My hand slips from hers. The mountains are full of snow, the river, of blood. “Remember, you are the son of a labourer!” I bury my head in the books. Someone drags me through the office by the hair. I give her a kiss on cheeks. A storm fills my mouth with the sand. I collapse on the ground coughing and vomit all my dreams one by one.
The ringing of a bicycle bell brings me back to the world. This is not the first time, I have been asked this question. I have been facing this question since my arrival in the US. And I feel lost.
Sitting among highly successful people inside the headquarters of world’s top tech companies, I try hard to come up with a profound answer, but nothing comes out. It is as if someone suddenly has wakened me up from a deep sleep and ordered me to dig for gold. My mind is shovelling desperately, but instead of striking gold, it is hitting hard rocks and creating sparks.
Would it make sense if I tell them I was overcome by emotions which made me set out on this journey even when I had no financial means for it? But that wouldn’t be enough. Why did I do my previous trip from Germany to Pakistan and the ones before? Why did I begin cycling at all?
I can connect the dots and go back in time when I got my first tricycle as a kid but the tautology wouldn’t give the explanation to why. Why does an apple fall to the earth? To say the gravitational force pulls an apple to the ground doesn’t answer the question. Why does the gravity exist? Because of gravitons? But why are there gravitons? Why do the mass bodies exist? We can keep on regressing forever. “Why is there a universe?” Eventually, we will run out of an explanation and will have to leave this question to the God. The why becomes God!
When seeking the motivation behind an experience the why question ultimately examines the purpose of life—why are we here? It questions our own existence in a way as if we had another option. When someone has no alternative path, there is no point in asking them why they chose it. Will we ask ourselves “why are we here?” if we were dead or had not existed in the first place? Besides, the life may have no purpose.
We may associate our motivation to internal factors like happiness or to external factors like social responsibility but sometimes the motivation behind life goals is so deeply rooted within us that we may not observe it yet involuntary respond to it. Many people refer to it as listening to the inner voice. There is no an explanation for that. We do what we must do. Don’t ask a moth why it flies into the flame. He may be truly overcome with love.
A better way to gain more insight into a subject would be if we turn the “why questions” into “how questions”. So, instead of asking “why do birds fly?” we should ask “how do birds fly?” While the why question complains, the how question seeks for an explanation. Just note the difference between “why is he rich?” and “how did he become rich?” The why question arrogantly puts a question mark at someone’s decision: “why do you cycle around the world?” On the other hand, the how question shows empathy and genuine curiosity: “how do you cycle around the world?” The how question also shows moral support: “how do you plan to cycle around the world?” The how seeks a path to enablement, the why blocks it.
But this is all too complicated. How should I convince professionals with a short answer? Over the past few days, I met with people who work at Google, Facebook, Apple, Intel, Nvidia, Adobe, and Oracle. The products that I and billions of other people use every day. I am still in awe. After cycling in the wilderness for over two years, I feel like a caveman who suddenly finds himself in the 21st century. For the first time on this trip, I realise I have been away for a long time. All my university degrees and work experience were targeted towards tech industry. It would have been a dream come true for my family if I had been working here. The question “did I lose my potential?” still comes to my mind even if I no longer have a dream. Looking at the programmers coding behind their terminals, I do feel envious sometimes. “What a waste of life!” I think about myself.
My siblings aren’t happy either. They complain, “what should we tell others about you? ‘Keh cycle chalata hey? (That you cycle?)’” I wouldn’t blame them. Tour cycling is not a career. When people ask me, “why do you cycle?” maybe they want to know how a person can live without a career, or perhaps they are trying to understand the objective of my journey in the grand scheme of the universe. But again: why is there a universe?
Only after coming to the US I have realised why it dominates the rest of the world. The best of the best minds are here to work for tech companies which solve problems for the business profit. From the day one, everywhere I went, everyone I met, I have received tons of advice about how to turn my travel into a business. People are genuinely concerned about me and want to help me. They have shown a lot of love and I feel humbled that they spare time for me from their busy lives. We are talking about a fast-paced life. When the DJ is playing the dance song, everyone has to keep up with the beat. You cannot dance blues when the fast party music is on. Sometimes, I do realise I am late to the party and I am dancing at the tempo of a ghazal. I feel confused and have conflicting thoughts about what to do and what not to do. This is an indication that perhaps it is the time to get back to the wilderness and be alone for a while.
I also cannot blame myself. I want to solve some problems. In essence, we humans are problem solvers. As we solve one problem we involuntarily create a few more problems. Whenever we identify a problem we have a subconscious belief that we will be able to solve it. So the cycle continues and this is what fuels the modernisation. The industry is the perfect example of dealing with the question of how and not why. But, instead of solving every problem we face and creating a few new problems on the way, what if we do not consider the problem as a problem.
Coming back to the question of “why are you doing this?” This is a question no one else but we should ask ourselves and if this question keeps haunting us every day, there could be something wrong in our life. Perhaps, an indication of true fulfilment is when we don’t have to deal with the why question.
Now, it would be interesting to hear the response of professionals if I could direct the same question back to them: “so, why are you working?”