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An Essential Question to Ask Before You Go to Work


WHY Are You Going to Work?? 

I know. That seems like a stupid question to ask. I mean, you go to work to make money, right? To save for retirement, or maybe to support your family? Perhaps it’s about the security of a paycheque which allows you to pursue other hobbies? Or maybe you go to work to be with like-minded people. Or maybe to make a difference? (Let’s face it, “making a difference” is fast becoming a buzz-phrase these days).  

Truth-fully, there are a myriad of reasons that each and every one of us goes to work each day. And the most common answer to this question lies in the practicality of it all. Going to work is our opportunity to earn the money needed to support ourselves and our families, whatever that looks like. 

What I want you to do, however, is look more closely. Dive deeper. 

You wake up every single morning and go to this place called “work”. You fill your days doing “work”. “Work” is a central part of every day. Why? 

Understanding your “why” is essential. As leaders, this is a question we need to be asking, not only of ourselves, but of those around us. Why are you here? Beyond the very practical aspect of earning a living, what is it that you are here to do? 

The core of this question can actually be asked in a far more provocative way: what is the problem that you are trying to solve? 

No matter who you are, what your title, or who your employer, the fact is that your work has been designed to solve a very specific problem in the world. It may not seem like it, at first glance. In fact, you may be so far removed from the “creation” of your job -- it’s likely been around for a while -- that you haven’t given any thought to how you are actually helping the world at large. But you are. 

Company custodians solve the problem of building maintenance and cleanliness.
Automotive assembly line workers solve the problem of creating transportation for a modern world.
Physicians work to solve the world’s wellness and health problems.
Accountants help folks with financial problems.
The folks at the coffee-shop drive-thru help us all with our need for nourishment in a fast-paced world.  

And on, and on, we go.  

Perhaps the word “problem” feels like a challenge for you. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re actually solving anything major. That’s okay. Problem-solving doesn’t have to be major. At its core, problem-solving  is about improving things. Filling a need. Making a difference (there’s that buzz-phrase again). 

This summer, we spent a fair bit of time touring universities with my daughter. She’s fast-approaching that moment when she will be applying for post-secondary programs, and we wanted her to take a look at what her options might be. During one of her appointments with an academic adviser, she was asked this exact question -- what problem do you want to solve? With the follow-up question, who do you want to help? 

My perspective was that both of these questions were great shifts from the usual “what do you want to do when you grow up”? These questions force you to look beyond the technicalities of any job or line of work and look more closely at the impact you will be having. And when it comes right down to it, the work that we do, whatever it may be is all about impact. 

Bottom-line: it’s time to reconnect with why you do what you do. Beyond the basic nuts and bolts of it all, what’s the difference you’re making in the world by going to work each day? How are you contributing? What’s the impact you’re having in the grand scheme of things? Understanding how you fit into the bigger picture is very inspiring and helpful, especially on days when you’re feeling a little unmotivated. Figure out WHY you are going to work each day, and you will ultimately feel better about doing so.