Why me? Wrong question?

In an interview, one of the survivors of the Boston marathon bombing said that she doesn’t ask “Why me?” Instead she asks “What next?” What a powerfully succinct message. It highlights the fact that “Why me?” is the wrong question to ask.

While most of us would agree that she has an exceptionally healthy attitude, we can’t help but wonder “Why don’t more people possess this attitude?” We may even be wondering that about ourselves since it’s highly likely that at one time or another we asked “Why me?” Let’s explore this question.

Why me implications

Implied in the “Why me?” question is that:

  • We are victims.
  • Life isn’t fair.

Let’s examine each of these in more detail.


Isn’t it interesting that we feel like victims when we feel that misfortune has visited us. In that moment, we forget that nothing is all good or all bad. We forget that we have options available to us and each of those options, as Thomas Sowell (opens in a new link)l the economist says, represent tradeoffs.

In other words, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each option, the only question is “Which of these options serves me the best?” The realization that nothing we experience is all good or all bad…that everything we experience represents a combination of advantages and disadvantages should preclude us from feeling that we are victims.

Not fair

What we perceive as misfortune often leaves us feeling that life isn’t fair…that if life were fair, we would not be experiencing what we’re experiencing. The obvious retort to this sentiment is “Upon whom should this misfortune be visited?”

Most of us would say “No one.” The follow up question is “Who is exempt from misfortune?” Again, most would say “No one.” So if everyone experiences misfortune of some sort, then why do you say that life is unfair?

Flip side of why me

Interestingly, we never ask “Why me?” when good fortune befalls us. If we do, the question is often accompanied by thoughts of the good we’ve done…implying that to some degree we’ve earned this good fortune.

We also don’t think that life’s unfair when we experience good fortune when others don’t. We may hope that they too experience good fortune, but we don’t feel that life is unfair when they don’t. Indeed, we may think that they too could enjoy our good fortune if they worked a little harder or a little smarter.

What next implications

The “What next?” question recognizes the randomness, and unpredictability, of life. It accepts the fact that nothing is all good or bad; only tradeoffs. This mindset also recognizes that what we experience, however good or bad it might seem, is merely a situation that presents choices and we get to choose how to deal with the experience.

Those who respond with “Why me?” choose to view themselves as victims who have been treated unfairly. Consequently, they don’t see the options available to them. Because they don’t see these options, they don’t have the opportunity to evaluate them or choose from them.

Let’s be clear; “Why me?” is a choice…one made subconsciously rather than consciously. Better choices are almost always the ones made consciously. That’s true because they’re made unemotionally, after objective analysis, and after having evaluated the tradeoffs each option affords.

Now that we have a sense for the advantages of thinking “What next?,” let’s see how we can form the habit of thinking that way.

For you

Each morning, shortly after rising, remind yourself that whenever you’re faced with a challenge, something that you may feel is misfortune, you’re going to pause, allow your emotion to wane, then ask “What next?”

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you get answers to that question. You’ll also be amazed at how simple the solution is and how easy it is to implement.

Each evening, shortly before retiring, review your day. Pay attention to the successes you had in dealing with the day’s challenges and “misfortunes.” Also recall those instances when you weren’t as successful as you’d hoped to be and ask “What will I do differently when situations arise in the future?”

If you do this daily for a week or two, you’ll find that “What next?” has become your default way of thinking. That’s when your life becomes much easier and much, much more enjoyable.

For our kids

When the kids in your life ask “Why me?” ask them “What next? What are you going to do to deal with this situation?” By asking this question, you’ll shift their thinking from that of being a victim to being someone who’s in control of their lives…who has choices available to them and the right to choose among the options available to them.

You can supplement these questions with messages that highlight the fact that victims remain at the mercy of what life presents while what-next-minded people shape their lives regardless of what they experience. What differentiates a victim from a what-next person is the choice they make. Let your kids know that it’s up to them to either choose to be a victim or to shape their own lives. They’ll be forever grateful to you for teaching them that “Why me?” is the wrong question.

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