Why Do You Do What You Do?

This is a very different question than the most often asked question in day-to-day life, whether in a social setting or the marketplace: What do you do? The latter is a fair question and a reliable conversation starter, one that people are used to answering in a cursory fashion, unless they happen to be unemployed or hate their work, in which case they usually dread the question and answer it awkwardly in one way or another. People who actually love their work tend to answer the question in a noticeably different and interesting way.

Why do you do what you do? is an important question in career coaching and life coaching. I’m not suggesting that you go around asking other people why they do what they do. They would probably think you were challenging them or implying something negative and become defensive. What I am suggesting, though, is that you ask this question of yourself, and see where it takes you. Be gentle, curious, open-minded, and compassionate toward yourself. You could find out some very interesting things. Maybe you are more committed to your work than you thought; maybe you haven’t been paying attention to the meaning you could derive from your work; maybe your mindlessness can be transformed into mindfulness. Work that is performed in an unconscious manner becomes a meaningless paycheck.

A friend recently attended a non-profit board retreat and was asked a similar question regarding his board participation: Why did you decide to volunteer for this? Participants were asked to reflect for a few minutes before writing down their thoughts and before answering the question aloud. (I refer to this as “reflect and capture”.) The answers when shared aloud to the whole group were surprisingly moving and inspirational. As each person shared their story, the group sensed a deeper sense of purpose in their shared commitment. By stopping to reflect and capture their thinking about meaning and purpose, mindlessness was transformed into mindfulness, and all things became new. That would be the point of a retreat, I imagine.

In my work, by the end of our series of career/life coaching sessions, I want all of my clients to know why they are doing what they are doing and be able to explain it effectively to other people, whether a husband, a wife, a partner, a relative, a friend, or a potential employer. We don’t just jump in and write a different story. What we want, and what is most powerful, is the authentic story, the authentic narrative, which begins to emerge all by itself as we dive in and do the work of reflecting and capturing your thinking on several Big Questions you might not be asking yourself.

I know you have the answers within you. I just help you to hear them and follow them into the future you want. This is what career coaching and life coaching are all about.

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