Why Do You Do What You Do?

Why? A simple question using only 3 letters and a question mark. In this case, the, ‘why?’ refers to whatever it is you do in your work or professional life. Of all the jobs and careers which exist in our world, why do you do what you do?

Some people don’t think about this a great deal. They work at the job they do because it’s a family business, it’s what they went to school for, or it pays the bills. In some cases, there are those that don’t want to think about why they do what they do because they aren’t proud of their job, they feel trapped in a job they hate, or telling others what they do just opens up discussions they’d rather not have.

You know what I find extremely interesting? Almost all the people I interact with who have no job at all think a great deal about why they’d want or not want a certain job over others. Whatever job they focus on has to be fulfilling, bring a sense of security, tap into their creativity, offer opportunities for advancement or bring about positive changes in the lives of others. So why are so many who are out of work focused on the why of what they’d like to do moving forward, and yet many with jobs don’t think a lot about the why of what they do once they’ve been in a job for a period?

I don’t know where you are on the age timeline, but it doesn’t matter as much as you think it might when it comes to figuring out what you want to do in one key respect. When you are considering various career or job options, if you don’t fully know what a job entails, what the pros and cons experienced by the people who hold them at the moment are, or why the people working in those jobs love the work they do, there’s one simple thing you can and should do; ask them. Simple really.

“So, Ahmed, why IT?”

“You obviously enjoy your job Dave, why is that?”

“Nancy, why did you first think this career would be right for you?”

You see it’s not that hard to pose the question and you can come at it from a view different angles. Bottom line, you’re still asking, “why?” You can go on of course to ask the other questions; How did you get started?/”How should I get started?” “Who helped you in the beginning?” “What are the qualities generally found in the people who succeed in this position?” “Where are the opportunities for tackling current issues?” “When would you suggest I apply?”

Now I suppose you might feel that you’re being invasive; you know, asking something of someone you don’t know at all or very well, why they do what they do. Is that the truth or is that actually a tactic of your own for avoiding asking because of your own comfort level? I tell you this, a lot of people would love to pause and remind themselves why they do what they do. Further, if they feel positively about the work they do and the impact they have, they would truly love to share that with someone (insert your name here!) who is genuinely interested.

As you’d be well aware, a great number of people change jobs and switch careers entirely over their lifetime. Want proof? Connect with a large number of people on LinkedIn and you’ll get daily notifications inviting you to congratulate your connections who have started new positions. I get 2 or 3 a day – no exaggeration. People move and the question I wonder every time starts with why. “Why the move?” Why now?”

Of course sometimes the why turns out to be getting away from something that’s turned sour, but the majority of the time it’s for something the person perceives as a better fit. Again the question is why though? Better pay, a change of scenery, a fresh start, the infusion of energy brought about by a greater mental challenge? Why?

There are so many, ‘why’s?’ in this piece, I’m reminded of young children who keep asking why this and why that, almost exasperating the adults around them with the never-ending  series of why’s that follow every answer. We can learn from them though because this is how young children make sense of things they are curious about and want to understand. Likewise, you and I might be just as curious to know why someone chose a career, why they’ve stayed for however long they have, why they might be thinking of a move, or why they made the change. It’s how we can gather necessary information needed to make better informed decisions about our own career paths.

You objection is likely that you don’t want to be viewed as the young child pestering people with questions to the point of exasperation. So don’t pester. You should still ask politely and learn what you can about career choices, why people do what they do and why they find fulfillment in the jobs they hold.

The next piece in these lines of inquiry is to take that information learned and look at yourself. Why would this job, this company, etc., be right or perhaps not for you?

If you haven’t thought about why you do what you do for a while, why is that?


Talk With People In Jobs You Might Like

Some common advice given to people who are looking at a number of career options is to go out and ask people currently doing those jobs a number of questions. The hope of course is that by asking people questions about their jobs, you will get an honest idea of what the job is really like, (both the pros and cons). This information can then help you determine for yourself whether it would be advisable or not to pursue that line of work.

So supposing you took this advice. Would you know what questions to ask in order to get the answers you really want? When I say the answers you want, I don’t mean just hearing what you want to hear, I mean gathering the information you really need to make an informed decision on the appropriateness of a career for yourself.

Before we look at some of the questions you might ask, let me suggest one key thing you do. Make an assessment yourself of the person to whom you are posing the questions. If they appear bitter, tired, beaten down or even resentful of the situation in which they find themselves, their advice will be tainted. On the other hand, if they’ve been in the job only a few months, they may be in the ‘honeymoon’ phase where everything is wonderful and they themselves don’t have a full grasp of the job in its entirety and some of the heavy workload might be still awaiting them. So their advice and perception of the job even though they are doing it might be limited

Let’s assume then that you’ve contacted someone doing the job you might be interested in and you’ve requested 20 minutes or so of their time. You are now preparing for that interview in which you’re the one asking the questions. Do yourself a favour and go to the meeting with your questions written down in black and white. Don’t count on inspiration to hit you while you are there although you may come up with questions on the spot based on what you see and hear.

One question might be, “How did you get started?”, but I’d rather suggest the question, “How would you suggest someone today get started?” The first question might take you back in time 35 or more years, and their answer could be a long personal reflection. What you really want to know is how YOU would proceed today if you opted for this job.

“What do you like and dislike about the responsibilities of your position?”  Keep in mind as you listen that it is probable that just because the person likes or dislikes some aspect of the job, you yourself might feel the same or differently. If something strikes you strongly, you could zero in on that and ask what it is about something they have mentioned that makes it a like or dislike. It might be the way in which they approach the task not the task itself.

“What does a typical day look like?” The answer you get to this question is really the best chance you get to see the job for what it is. The answer you get might vary depending on the time of year you are asking, whether the job is routinely the same each day or not two days are alike. If you like consistent days that all look the same, you might be cautious about a job where the activities you do are always changing and evolving.

“What are some of the personal qualities of people who are successful in the job?” Here you are hopeful of comparing your own personal qualities and attributes with those the person describes. If you are creative, spontaneous and an independent type, you might find it revealing if the person says you have to be a real team player, work according to a structured plan and work within the guidelines of set procedures. Your creativity might be stifled or encouraged, so if it’s important to you, best you find out now!

Now after some questions about the job, the environment or culture, turn to whatever is really critical for you. If you are a single parent, you might desperately need job security or benefits. If you’ve been mistreated in the past, you might need a nurturing supportive atmosphere in which to work. You might be bitter about missing promotions because the company you worked for in the past went external instead of promoting from within. Ask the question(s) that matter most to you tactfully and respectfully.

As you listen to the answers to all the questions you ask, keep in mind this is one employee and one company. You will be well-advised to ask several people the same questions to get a balanced well-informed idea of the job or the company you are thinking about working for. Mind you manners, that the person for making their time available for you, ask them for others they might suggest you speak with, and whatever you do, sound and look interested in what they have to say!

Many people skip this entire process when job hunting. Fear of asking, being rejected, taking initiative – who knows why really. This is still a low investment, high return use of your time. You might get a tour of the place, a request to look over your resume from someone in the job you’d like. Who knows? It’s all good!