Why Do You Do What You Do?


When our primary goal is cash, career, or cause, we focus only on the output, rather than on learning to value the input.

Have you every dragged yourself out of bed on a grey, wet day, stumbled around the kitchen making breakfast, put on your suit and tie or whatever clothes you wear for work, and found yourself looking in the bathroom mirror asking yourself “Why?” 

Why do I bother? Where am I going? What is the purpose in my life?

It’s a sensation that is often all-too-familiar for so many people.

All of us have our reasons for working. For many of us, cash is the primary purpose of work. Our principal motivation is the paycheck that funds our everyday needs and the needs of our family. Sometimes we are motivated by ambitions for a career; to move up the professional ladder and expand our experience, yearning for the respect and status that comes with being renowned in a particular area. Still others of us work for a cause, believing in the wider purpose of our work and attempting to make a difference in the world – to leave a mark in some way.

All of these are legitimate motivations. It is vital that we earn money in order to provide for our families and those we love. It is good that we take pride in our work and seek to push ourselves on to new challenges. It is noble to contribute to the world around us.

Yet each of these motivations harbors the danger of that “Why?” Too great a focus on cash can leave us feeling empty and lifeless. Too great a career-focus can leave us chasing the mirage of status and power. And too great a focus on cause can leave us feeling unfulfilled, fixated on the areas where change has proved impossible.

Missing from all three is any sense of the value of work itself. When our primary goal is cash, career or cause, we focus only on the output of the workplace, rather than learning to value the input.

A wise King once wrote “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.”

This is great wisdom. Not “work with all your might because then you’ll get a better return or make a bigger impact,” but “work with all your might, because you won’t get a second chance to put your skills, talents and passions into use.” In other words, value the work itself. Value your contribution on its own merits.

What this King spoke of, was the need for a sense of calling. To have a sense that we are called into a particular place and at a particular time. If we only value our work by the output, then in the grand-scheme of things, it’s all been futile anyway. But those who see their work as a calling, a vocation, experience a rich integration in their lives. There is innate purpose and direction to their activities. Work has intrinsic meaning, rather than being simply a means to an end – a place of self-expression, where skills and abilities can be put to use.

All of which might not stop you from staring into the bathroom mirror on occasion, wondering what you’re doing with your life. But it’s a good first step to knowing your “Why”.

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