Understanding Why You Work

Ever feel lost when trying to decide what kind of career you want to have?

This simple activity is a great why to reframe your thoughts on work, by outlining your workview. It helps by identifying the why before starting to consider the kind of work you want to do. The workview concept comes from the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

Photo by Annie Spratt | Accessed on Unsplash.com


A workview is a concept from the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. See my previous post here that provides an overview of the book.

The concept is simply to understand why you work.

This has nothing to do with the type of work you want or the job you want to have. Don’t worry about what kind of work, just focus on why you work.

The best way to start clarifying your workview is with a reflective exercise to better understand what your values are, specifically your work values. Work, as considered in this exercise, can be anything that you do during your days, either paid or unpaid.

It’s valuable to consider both the needs you currently have (rent, bills, etc.) and your idealized vision of work. Right now, some aspects of your life might be unchangeable, and work may very well be a way of covering basic needs. But it’s also important to understand what role you want work to have in your life, to outline what you are working towards.


To do the reflective exercise, take 30 min to an hour to focus on this. I recommend being very intentional about this time. Make sure there are no distractions. Put your phone on silent and in the other room. Grab some tea or coffee and come ready to be honest with yourself.

The activity is simple. All you need to do is write and reflect on what work means to you and why you work.

You can use the guiding questions below to form your reflection. There’s no need to answer each question directly, they are just to get you thinking and help guide your reflection.

As always, you can get more details in the book, Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

Guiding Questions

Key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Why do you work?
  2. What does work mean to you?
  3. What role does work have in your life?
  4. How does work relate to other aspects of your life (society/friends & family/money/etc.)?
  5. What is the purpose of work in your life?
  6. How will you feel satisfied by work? Do you need improve the world around your or help others?
  7. How important is it for your work to align with your personal values?

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed learning about this concept, because it completely changed my perspective.

The idea of working is assumed, there’s never a discussion about will you work or why you work, but simply jumping to focus on what kind of work will you do? Looking back it seems like we jump two steps ahead without laying a proper foundation.

Now, almost everyone will have to work in some way, either at a paying job, volunteering, or through domestic/care work. But if you already start with asking what kind of work, you’ve missed the opportunity to evaluate what role work has in your life.

Currently, I think there are more people thinking critically about work, especially after the pandemic, and I think it’s fantastic. I feel multiple things are contributing to this change, such as the job market has changed so much, working remotely is very much a possibility/reality for many, and now there are also so many alternative ways to make money with the internet.

I like the idea of taking a step back and identifying why you want to work, and what role you want work to have in your life. Sure, you may have to work to take care of your needs, but I think understanding why you work can lead to greater contentment. Especially if it provides hope that this is just temporary, while you work towards a better fit.

My Journey

For me, it’s helped reframe my understanding of why I work. It reminds me that my job is not my identity, and a job can simply be a means to an end until I get to a place with more purpose. Sometimes, a job is simply a means to make money and pay the bills, until you can find or build a better fit that encompasses your full understanding of a workview.

It’s given me a greater vision of the type of work I want to do, now that I better understand why I work and the role I want work to have in my life. Honestly, this reframe has been a big inspiration to start this blog.

Pair With: Lifeview

In the book, this activity is paired with a similar activity to outline your lifeview. Your lifeview is how you view the purpose and meaning of life (no biggie, right?). It’s there to help identify your values and what you think is important.

I understand this can feel daunting, especially as you may be trying to sort out smaller aspects, like a job or career direction. But it’s a critical aspect to consider, so that you can align your workview with your lifeview. For instance, if you think part of your purpose in life is to make the world a better place, then you’ll likely want to find a job that incorporates those values to feel fulfilled.

As this is a huge concept and frequently evolves throughout a lifetime, it’s an activity you can continue to return to and evaluate how to integrate it with your workview throughout your life.

Concluding Thoughts

The benefit of this exercise, is not simply that you do it once and you’re set for life, it’s rather that you can keep coming back to this activity at each stage in your life to evaluate why you work and what purpose it serves in your life. It’s a tool to assess the role of work in your life and what you want it to be in the future.

The most powerful part of this tool is the most simple reframe of changing the initial question from “what kind of work do you want to do?” to simply “why do you work?”. When you come back to ‘the why’ of anything in your life, you can then properly assess if it’s serving that purpose.

Have you done this exercise or read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.


How to design a life with purpose

Do you feel like unsatisfied with your current life, but unsure of how to change?

As I was reading the book Designing your Life by Bill Burnet and Dave Evans, I learned so many useful tips and tools to build a better life. Keep reading below for what stood out to me and some simple steps to start designing a life of purpose.

Photo by Kiki Siepel | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Key Takeaways

  • Passion is not the focus. Most people (80%) don’t have a singular passion, so the career process of “figuring out your passion first” is incredibly inapplicable.
  • It’s all about the process. Life is a process, designing is a process, and designing your life is a process. Enjoy it! Don’t just focus on the end goal, but make the most of each step.
  • Mindset changes are important, but so is action! Sometimes you need to change your perspective to properly address a problem or accept that it’s unlikely to change. But the most important thing you can do to start designing your life is to take action!
  • Prototype, prototype, prototype. This means to try and try and try again. Keep trying things until you find what fits you best. If you’re interested in a career, try aspects of it out or learn from someone in that area. While you’re trying things, be mindful of what grabs your attention and what energizes you.

My Journey

I find that whenever I feel stuck at a crossroads in my career and unsure of where to go next, I come back to this book (Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans). I’ll be completely honest, I haven’t done all of the activities, which is probably why I keep getting stuck at crossroads.

But I keep coming back because I’m so impressed with the way the book is structured and activities outlined throughout.

This is not a passive read, it’s more of a tool that you need to apply and use. Just like designing your life requires action, so does getting the most out of this book. Almost every chapter ends with an activity for you to do that gets you closer to a better life. Each of the activities are clearly outlined, with both a description of why you’re doing it and successful examples of how this helped others.

The activities are such a great way to reflect on your current life, what direction you want to go in, and who you want to become. It’s not just focused on aspects of a job, or how to get a land a job; but genuinely building a life you enjoy. The activities can help you improve any area you want to focus on, or simply to find a better balance.

Five Steps

I would say you could summarize the process into five key steps:

  1. Assess yourself
  2. Find your energy
  3. Brainstorm ideas (and share!)
  4. Try it out
  5. Accept and continue the process

1. Assess yourself

Like all good planning, it starts with an assessment of where and who you are.

To understand where you are, you look at the current status of your life and what you want to change. I’ve seen lots of variations on this, styles like the 10 level life with the pretty circle diagrams.

Basically, you pick a handful of categories and decide if you’re excelling in this area or not, usually ranking it from 1 to 10. With 1 being an absolute mess and 10 being the best it could possibly be.

In this book, they stick to four categories: work, play, love, and health, which I really liked ‘cause it kept it simple and easy to approach. When there are too many categories, it can start to feel overwhelming. I would start with these four categories and if you really feel like something is missing, feel free to add an extra category without overcomplicating it.

This helps you to clearly see where you are thriving and what areas could be improved.

This assessment stage also aims to gain an understanding of who you are, including what’s important to you. It has you take time to sort out your core values, both for life and work, to help you align what you do with who you are. For more on this check out my post on your workview.

2. Find your energy

The next large step is still assessing yourself, but this is now focused on the types of activities you do. The objective of this stage is to pay attention to how you feel during the various activities you do, especially highlighting those activities that you love and hate.

Throughout your week, you’re encouraged to keep a log of your activities and how they make you feel. Do they energize you or do they drain your energy? Which activities excite you and which do you absolutely dread or bore you to tears? Do any of them get you into a state of flow?

Highlighting the types of activities you love and hate, will help give you a better idea of what you should be spending more (or less) time doing. This is key if you’re looking for a career change. It’s not about passion, it’s about what you do every day.

3. Brainstorm ideas (and share!)

Now that you have assessed your situation and better understand what you enjoy, you need to come up with lots of ideas!

This is the time for brainstorming, which is simply the act of putting as many ideas on paper as possible, without filtering or judging them, that will come later.

There are two activities you can do to brainstorm ideas:

  1. Odyssey lives: This is the idea that we all have multiple potential lives to live, and your job is to think of what would happen over the next 5 years for three different lives. The lives include:
    1. Business as usual: the current one you are in the middle of living – what would it look like if you keep on the same path?
    2. Forced career change: the next one is what if your current job is made obsolete and you had to change your career – what would you do?
    3. No limits: the last one is what would you do if money and people’s opinions were not an obstacle – if there were no limitations, what would you do?
  2. Mindmapping: You start with something you like, and just keep branching out and connecting words/phrases to each other. The further away from the center are the most exciting ideas. You want to do this quickly, maybe use about 10 minutes, then take three or so words from the outer edge and piece them together to create a potential job/situation.

These are simply activities to get ideas flowing, not to land on the perfect idea, rather to spark your creativity and think outside the box. Basically the crazier your ideas are, the more likely you’ll stumble upon ideas that will really resonate with you. The crazy ideas help breakdown any potentially unconscious barriers, and can be a way to reframe elements that inspire you.

4. Try it out

Now that you’ve got lots of ideas, you need to start filtering them down and trying them out!

Filtering down can be frightening, but it’s necessary to start with focusing on trying just a few ideas. You can always come back to your list and try something if nothing fits.

Also, don’t hesitate to cross items off your list, you’ll know exactly how you feel once you’ve made the decision. When you flip a coin to make a decision, once it’s in the air, you know the decision you want.

To try out your ideas, you need to prototype and find ways to experience them before fully committing to a new life path. The whole focus of this stage is to learn what that kind of life would be like by talking to people currently living it, trying some small freelance jobs with similar roles (i.e., try catering before opening a restaurant), volunteering in a related area, or learning more about the type of skills you need to have. Remember to focus on the type of daily activities you would have in this new role and find ways to experience them.

One quote I loved from the book is “The future is already here, it’s just unequally distributed.” Meaning there are already people living your ideal life. Find someone living the kind of life you want, and see if it’s really all you have imagined or desired.

As you try out your ideas, you’ll keep refining them until you find the best fit. Often times, you’ll start in one direction and gradually narrow down your direction to a singular path. As a key part of the process is interacting with others, you’ll often make useful connections along your way.

5. Accept and continue the process

Finally, comes one of the most difficult parts, accepting the decision you’ve made. Once you’ve gone through this process (it can take a while), you’ll need to accept where you are and stop thinking “what if”?

Now, this doesn’t mean you should stay in a bad situation. Rather to simply live and fully experience life without regrets. At some point you’ll need to fully consider the life you’ve built and stop looking for new things to try. Fully accepting where you are allows you to examine what is working and what’s not.

Now, we must understand this is an ongoing process, and you can continue to refine any area of your life with the same steps. Life is about growing and thriving, but also accepting what life gives you. Remember, this is simply a tool or framework for how you can design your best life.

Concluding Thoughts

I keep coming back to this book because it’s such a useful tool to use.

It outlines clear activities, while giving you a fresh perspective on approaching big changes and the language to assess each option. It’s always relevant as the reflections and activities can be tailored to any situation, are useful on so many different levels, and your thoughts can change every time you go through the process.

Even if you don’t do all the activities, you will still gain new ways to look at your life and critically assess how you feel.

There is so much more information available in the book, with clear examples and encouragement throughout. I would highly recommend reading this book if you are looking to change any aspect of your life.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!