Looking for my Aboutness

Aboutness is the “why”, the “how” and the “what”.

An American insight

In January 2016, for a most peculiar succession of events, I left my home in northern Italy, flew over the Atlantic and spent two months in North Carolina (US). It was a very insightful experience under many points of view. In the future I will certainly take the time to write about the wonderful Old North State.

“Where friends are true and cold hearts rare”

It was a cold but sunny Tuesday morning, when I walked through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and entered the Greenlaw Hall. I took the stairs to the third floor and found my way to room 304.

The class in which I sat in as an observer was Creative Non-Fiction and it was taught by a woman in her forties, thick dark hair, intellectual glasses and the uncanny ability to communicate with more energy than a nuclear power plant could ever produce: Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

Now, in my mind I had always pictured Non-Fiction as a metaphorical box containing journalism, biographies, memoires and a bunch of other pretty boring stuff. Rather than Non-Fiction, to me it was more like No-Fun. I didn’t know how wrong I was until one day, sitting in the class, a brave new world was opened in front of me.

Over the course of that lesson, I heard this wonderful word for the first time: aboutness.

As Mrs Griest explained, aboutness is more or less the subject: the what it is that you’re writing about.

The Golden Circle

If you’re familiar with the concept of Golden Circle (and if you’re not, please take the time to watch this video), you will understand the particular meaning of this “what”. The “what” is the final part of an often unconscious process that characterizes every action we take, including writing. It’s the thing we practically do, the material product — or work — that our mind and body put together as a result of our intention.

If we look inward, before the “what”, this process passes through the “how”, which is the mean, the road, the method we choose to achieve the result we’re looking for. It might be a technology, a skill, a mindset or a simple action that represents the best way to get to where we want and do what we set our mind to do.

“The best way to get to where we want and do what we set our mind to do”

But we’re missing the most important part of the process, the one that sets everything in motion, the one that makes you want to find a way to do something and actually achieving the result you wish. The fulcrum of this process is inside of us, it’s the value that makes all the rest worth doing.

It’s our why.

The “why” is what we have to look for when we really want to understand what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. This 3 steps process is present in all aspects of our lives, although often we find ourselves doing something, not very sure about how, and without the foggiest idea on why we’re doing it.

What is your Aboutness?

My experience as a traveller, as short as it has been so far, taught me exactly this: if you don’t know what to do with your life it’s because you don’t know your “why”. What is that sets you in motion? What gets you going? What makes your day worth getting up in the morning? This is what I’m looking for, it’s not an easy question to answer and that is why I’m spending some time travelling and trying to know myself better.

So, what is this aboutness? I took the word out of its pure literary lingo, I admit it, but that’s because because I feel it can convey much more significance on a wider scale.

Aboutness for me is the “why”, the “how” and the “what”.

It’s the personal meaning, it’s the answer to the question: what are you about?