Why do you work?

I think this is a great question to ask, and probably not one that we spend enough time thinking about. Having said that, the global pandemic has ushered in The Great Reshuffle and The Great Reset, which has seen more people revisiting their values and priorities at work and life. Of course, we always relate work with money: we’re exchanging our time, our energy, and our expertise for money.

What do we do with the money we earn? The first thing we do is that we put a roof over our head and that of our family. So, we can equate work in this context with survival. But what about “thrival”? I think we should spend some time looking at the boxes we can tick for thriving and growing through our work.

Even if you don’t love every aspect of what you do (spoiler alert: no-one does), you need to love at least 20% of what you do. Very importantly, you need to have the opportunity to use that 20% every day to feel fulfilled and happy at work.

Here are a few good reasons for why we work – which of them resonate for you?

  • To put a roof over your family’s head
  • To learn new things
  • To test your knowledge and skills
  • To be stimulated
  • To have a different experience of yourself
  • To discover what you love to do (and what you don’t)
  • To discover the difference between what you are strong at and what you are passionate about (they may not be the same)
  • To invest your time and skills contributing to or building something really meaningful
  • To do something or build something together with other people who have a common purpose; ultimately to be part of a team

Do this exercise:

Start making a list of the parts and details of your work or job that you find really fulfilling. These will be moments when you lose track of time, don’t get distracted, are 100% mentally and emotionally present, and are in a state of flow. This usually only constitutes up to 20% of your job. These are called your red threads, according to Marcus Buckingham in his new book Love + Work, published in conjunction with the Harvard Business Review last month.

I want you to start thinking about which parts of your job really light your fire. Not just what you are good at. On the whole, most of what we do at work is really not that sexy. I talk about the iceberg principle when it comes to thinking about my own work. The public only gets to see about 10 to 15% of what I really do. If somebody had to job-shadow me, I think they would be pretty bored watching me in front of a screen doing research, writing up quotes and proposals, making phone calls, developing new talks, and writing scripts for the media. What I do in front of an audience is the sexy part, but I love the creation and crafting of new talks and customising them for clients. I get a real kick out of that, where others wouldn’t.

There is much talk about in finding your ‘why’ and living your purpose, but you don’t get to stop what you’re doing to discover this. You will find it in the red threads of your everyday work if you are awake and aware. I want you to keep a lookout for those red threads over the next few weeks.

What are you going to tell your grandchildren about the work you did one day? Is your work meaningful to you?

Work is an exchange, whichever way you look at it. Are you just surviving through work or is it ticking the boxes for thriving too?

Let’s go back to the question I asked you at the beginning. Why do you work?

Whatever job you do, I hope your work provides you with the opportunity to discover more and more of your red threads; to discover more of who you are.