“What do you do?” is a common question we are often asked. Meaning that is your profession, your occupation, how you making a living. What if you were asked, “Why do you do what you do?” In other words, why were you born? That’s a different question with a different answer.
Here are six reason you need to know why your do what you do.
- When you know your why it effects how you do your job.
Jim Brown served as a hospital chaplain for years. He explained the difference between a reason and a purpose. The words appear to be synonymous, but they are not. For instance, I may visit someone in the hospital. The reason I go to the hospital is because as a pastor it’s my responsibility. The purpose of my visit is to encourage and comfort them. That’s the why. See the difference.
The answer to the why question makes all the difference. The key to life isn’t what you do, but knowing your why. When you know your why it gives meaning to your what.
2. When you know your why it fuels your drive to do the work needed.
If I told you that it was your job to sort through a box of potatoes and to throw away the rotten ones, would you feel a strong sense of purpose? Or would you feel like a cog in a machine? Now, what if I told you that by sorting out the bad potatoes you were helping out the local food bank in supplying fresh food to needy families in the area—would that change your perspective and your sense of purpose in the work?
3. When you understand your why it potentially can change your attitude or perhaps even your choice of work, and how you work.
All of a sudden working 80+ hours a week is no longer a drag, Monday mornings become a favorite part of the week, and every day you wake up feeling excited and pumped to take on the world. And not because you have to, you get too.
4. When you know your why your work fulfills you.
A middle-aged man had spent several years making the transition from being laid off as the head of a staff department in a private corporation to teaching at a small liberal arts college. He talked about his future. He had tears in his eyes. “Some people when they realize they are about to die say, ‘Oh, no!’ I’m not going to be one of those. I’m taking the risk now to create the second half of my life. I finally got it—there is a difference between success and fulfillment. I had success, but I wasn’t fulfilled. Maybe success is getting what you want. Fulfillment, though, is wanting what you get.”
5. When you know your why it provides you with patience with other people.
The last time I bought a car I was going over the car with a fine tooth comb. I knew that when I drove it off the lot it was mine. So if anything needed to be done I had to make sure it was done before I signed the papers and handed over the check. The salesman was standing to the side nonchalantly and apathetic. I said, “I’m sorry this is taking so long, but this is important to me. I need to make sure everything checks out.” He said, “It’s just a car.” I said, “Yea, but I’m going to keep this car a long time. I only buy a car every ten years.” “Well,” he said, “I sell about a hundred cars a year.”
That exchange has proved invaluable to me. In my profession I perform the same tasks over and over again—from sermons to visits to funerals to weddings. It’s like the salesman: I’ve done them so many times its easy to lose the emotional attachment. But the people that I’m serving it may be their first or their only experience.
Knowing my why helps me to be patient, to put myself in their shoes, and to extend comfort and compassion to them. It would be easy for me to treat the many tasks as mundane and unimportant.
6. When you know your why it compels you to make a difference.
An old story tells about a man who came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.” A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.” A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I…am building a cathedral!”
With startling clarity, this story illustrates that when we know our why it has the power to transform not only our attitude about the work that we do, but the quality of our work as well. And if knowing the why can help one transcend even a physically laborious task as that undertaken by the three masons in our story, then imagine the impact that clarity of purpose can have on our work. We, too, will realize that we are making a difference. Our efforts are affecting the larger whole. We are engaged in a work that is bigger than ourselves and will last even when we are gone from this planet.
Mark Twain wrote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” If you don’t know your why, I hope today is the day you find out why you were born.