Why Do You Work?

For many of us, going to work every day is simply something that we do. Oftentimes, we do not really pause and consider why it is that we work. It is a routine, a habit, a part of who we are. If we pause for a moment, however, there are a lot of different reasons to go to work. There are a lot of good reasons to go to work. But sometimes, we sometimes run into trouble when we are not clear about what those reasons are. We have not really thought through the reason we work, and because of that, we find ourselves confused, frustrated, or dissatisfied. We all have different reasons for working, and those reasons likely change for us over time.

A lot of the time, we work simply to support ourselves in our families. We go to work because we are seeking financial stability, or financial success. Life costs money, and we need to get that money from somewhere. So, the most obvious reason to work is for an income, to provide for our needs. But when we think about the kind of jobs we have had, the kind of jobs we have left, the kind of work we’d like to do, and the kind of work we would not like to do, financial considerations are usually only a part of our calculus. Beyond income (in addition to income?), what is it that drives us to work?

Work can provide a sense of purpose. It can be a way for us, as individuals, to contribute to something larger than ourselves, whether it’s a company, a cause, a community, or our country. This sense of purpose can be a significant source of motivation and satisfaction. We may go to work, or choose a job, because we believe in the mission. Our job is an expression of the world we hope to live in, a part of the change we want to see in the world. Our motivation to work is driven by our ideals or desire to leave the world a better place than we found it. Money is not really the reason to do a job, but instead, it’s something else, some higher purpose.

Sometimes, we work because we desire social interaction and connection with others. We get lonely at home, and so we work to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Work provides a sense of belonging and community, which we have trouble finding in other places. We might work because we really like the people we work with– they are fun, engaging, interesting, and good to be around. Going to work means spending time with people we like.

Sometimes, we work because we are fulfilled by the work itself. This may be some type of creative expression (think: working as an artist), or because we enjoy the process of working on complex problems, or solving difficult challenges. The intrinsic nature of doing the work itself motivates us to do it and provides us satisfaction. This could also be helping people– we find satisfaction in making a difference in the lives of others.

Some people work because of a desire for achievement and recognition. Success at work can provide us esteem and admiration from others– whether that’s through receiving promotions, awards, money, or simply being acknowledged for a job well done. This can boost self-esteem and motivation, and make us feel valued, important, and appreciated. We look up to people who have achieved great things, and work might be the avenue for that achievement.

The workplaces can be an environment for learning and growth. Whether through formal training programs or on-the-job experiences, work can provide opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge. We can learn new things, new skills, and grow our skills. As we progress in our careers, we take on new challenges and learn how to tackle different problems– that learning can be satisfying.

Work can provide us structure and routine. Whether this comes from the obligation we have made, the commitment to others, the feeling of being needed, or something else, working can provide a cadence to our days. Without this cadence, some of us flounder– we need the structure that comes from a job. This structure can be beneficial for our mental health and general well-being.

This list is not exhaustive– it’s not meant to be. The idea is to help clarify thinking. The more clear we are about our motivations for being at a given job, or doing given work, the more we are able to align our actions with our values, our time with our intention. If we are working somewhere because we like the people we are working with (but don’t really need the money), and then get reassigned to work with people we do not like– why stay? On the other hand, if we are there primarily for financial stability, perhaps reassignment is not such a big deal. Thinking through these ideas, and being clear what it is we are hoping to get out of working, can also help protect us from spending our time doing things that do not align with our needs or values. It can help us identify discontent when it comes to our job as well.

As we go through our life, our motivation to work will change– and that’s ok. I know people who are “retired” but keep working because they like their coworkers, they like meeting new people, they like the structure and routine of a job– and that makes sense. The point is not to say to this but don’t do that, the point is to be thoughtful and intentional.

Why do you work? How do you evaluate your current job in light of that reason?


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