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

Concept

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.

Activity

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.

Resources

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