Why do you work?

It’s late on a Sunday night; you wearily set your alarm clock, close the blinds to the same rain clouds you’ll greet in the morning, and shuffle into bed. As the hour hand ticks to midnight, you might ask yourself a question composed of a single word: why?

But as quickly as the thought comes, you’ll blink it away. Because can’t we assume the answer? Isn’t questioning why we work like questioning why we exist? The two are inextricably linked after all – we exist to work and, conversely, we work to exist, and any untying of that perennial knot is forbidden.

We’re at odds to fathom beyond the idea that work is a requisite to social order, and in keeping with structures that precede recent memory. Even to some the question is startling and strange. Because is the reason not self-evident? Nobody gets something for nothing – and the basic exchange of goods for services, and vice versa, is what we call a community (at least one that doesn’t unravel into anarchy).

But we don’t work to survive; we survive to work. At some point the balance tipped with huge repercussions, both for our mental wellbeing and how we experience life. It explains those moments in which we’re prepared to question why – glimpses of doubt and uncertainty that tip-toe the fringes of our minds, but seldom surface.

For anybody striving towards a goal, it’s important to pause and take stock of your work-life balance. Burn out affects the best of us in different ways, and it starts when ‘reason’ becomes disconnected from ‘result’. Going full throttle in circles means you’re not really moving at all – you’re just suspended repeating the same motion without a real horizon – without an actual goal. Eventually, everybody comes to a halt and wonders where they’re headed.

We often work hard for the wrong reasons. We work because we assume there’s a fixed formula to achieving our goals, such as time spent working (often misconstrued as hard work) correlates to success. But many find themselves betrayed by this belief, angered by the realisation that frantic work patterns without accompanying objectives are like pouring water into an already full bottle. And success takes a bunch of different forms; there’s never just one bottle.

That’s why we doubt ourselves. Hard work helps companies, it helps society, but does it help you? Isn’t the general advice to work smart, not hard?  

We’re encouraged to work over normal hours for a company that may or may not acknowledge the effort; we’re encouraged to have faith in the idea that if we continue to rise each morning, we’ll eventually be justly rewarded. It’s a fallacy propagated by those that know it to be false economy, as a means of facilitating their own ambitions. Not that hard work isn’t involved – of course it is – but it’s hard work with a direction – your direction. Even if you’ve no answer to why you work (other than not wanting to be homeless), asking the question is nevertheless important. To get where you want to be – and have the spirit and mind left to enjoy it when you’re there – start understanding your reasons, your objectives.