Answering Why, not What, is the Key to Loving Your Work

  • March 16, 2019

The first and most important step in loving your work is not in discovering WHAT you want to do, but WHY you want to do it.

How many of us have heard variations on the following quote?

You may get to the very top of the ladder, and then find it has not been leaning against the right wall.”

– Allen Raine

Many of today’s students have taken this to heart. They declare themselves an “Undecided” major or routinely switch majors, and generally delay their decision in this area. They readily admit that they have no clue what they want to do with their life and feel great anxiety about their need to answer this one day.

In contrast, the unmotivated professional can readily answer what it is that he or she does for work. However, the days there are spent with a focus on the weekend, retirement, and an unhealthy obsession for 5 pm. Suffice it to say that their best work, their own personal fountains of creativity, remains untapped inside of them.

Just for today, I ask both the indecisive student and the unmotivated professional to allow yourself to set aside the question of what you want to do. Instead, I want you to define and internalize the list of your own personal whys.

Ask yourself, why do you want to work? If all you can say is to get a paycheck, then ask yourself what would you do with the rest of your life if you had enough money to never work again? If you say sit on the beach and sip margaritas, what if you had to do that for 50 years? Would you really feel fulfilled if you did nothing else with your life if you found yourself in that situation? What types of things and activities would you really need to fill your life with in order to feel fulfilled? Who do you need to help in order to feel this way?

The answer to these questions creates your own personal list of whys. Why work at all if not to meet those deeper needs that you’ve identified? If you honestly and exhaustively identify this list you can now focus on finding which jobs will help you meet these deeper needs.

The truth is, it matters less what work you choose as long as it meets the criteria in your own personalized list of whys. The job is interchangeable, your list of whys is not. As long as your chosen job really fulfills your list of whys, it no longer matters to you what you do for work. If what you do now doesn’t meet your list as well as you hoped, begin planning how you can achieve work that allows you to be truer to yourself.

In my opinion, this is the most important and first step to take towards being able to say that you truly love your job.