When we think of work we think of a job or a role. Or as something difficult, something requiring effort.
But do we ever pause and ask ourselves what is the point of doing all this work? Why sit at desk and make slides? Why drive a taxi? Why lay bricks? Why raise children?
What is the purpose of all this striving? Survival? Freedom? Acceptance? Power? Growth? Worth? Validation?
Is there something beyond that? What makes work worth doing?
Why do we live?
Work is how we express ourselves
Any work we do expresses who we are. Whatever we do in life is simply an expression of who we are.
If we feel bored are unfulfilled at work, it could be that work is not allowing us to express ourselves fully. It is like there is a part of ourselves locked away and allowed to come out to play.
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – Gospel of Thomas
So why do we work?
There can be as many ‘why‘s as there are people. Some people work to uphold ideals, some work to serve, some work to gain power, some work to survive, some work to save themselves.
Our why affects how we do our work. If the energy behind our why is anger (for example, we are angry with the injustice), then we may do our work in a passionate, driven, high-energy sort of way. If the energy behind our why is love (for example, compassion for our fellow beings), then we may do our work in a determined, loving, caring, uplifting sort of way.
The energy behind the why affects the how.
Then there is the what. What can be anything. Two people with the same desire to uphold justice can do this by being a lawyer or a policeman.
Here are some examples of what/how/why:
How: Passionate, inspirational
Why: Ignite curiosity
How: Authoritarian, strict
Why: Establish order
How: Authoritarian, strict
Why: Establish order
There can be many combinations. But the key is the why, because it affects everything. It affects how well a person does the job. It affects how the person does the job. The why is everything.
Uncover your why
Our whys are reflections of who we are. When we realise that whatever we do is simply an expression of who we are, then it becomes paramount to constantly renew, refine, and clarify our why.
So we start to recognise that whatever we seek in the external world through our work and our achievements is simply a manifestation of what goes on internally. It is a manifestation of our whys and our intentions. Consequently, we see that we can solve our problems by taking responsibility for the totality of who we are.
This means we begin to question our intentions to find out where they come from. Do they come from fear? From love? From greed?
This requires a constant self-discovery and seeking the truth of ourselves.
Let me give you an example.
Previously, when I was in banking, I worked really really hard. I was working until midnight most of the time, and even worked on weekends. My work involved building financial models to value companies and future cash flows. The purpose of the bank was to make money. I felt unfulfilled at my job even though it paid very well. I was unfulfilled because I was trying to prove myself worthy of acceptance. Everything I did was to get recognition. That made me sloppy and careless, because I did not care about the actual job, I only wanted the validation.
How: Careless, miserable, no passion
Why: Wanting validation
So I learned that any job done for external motivation will not be done well. Because the intention was never to do the actual job, but to have the job done in expectation of rewards to soothe the incomplete self.
Today I’m a coach, and I love every moment of it. I love being completely present with my client and giving them the space to express what they need to express. I love watching someone get in touch with their truth and muster the courage to live their lives in alignment with their inner truth. It is like watching a seed sprout. It is the unfolding of pure potential. I totally love that. And I love who coaching makes me. It makes me a stand, it inspires me, and it drives to be more than who I am so that I can be better at being a coach. This is something for which I can give my 100% best effort and still want to give more.
How: Curious, persevering, passionate
Why: Uncovering truth, igniting potential
So you see, the more powerful your why, the better you will become and your work and what you do. The journey is more enjoyable too.
Refining your why
If we find that the work we do is empty and dull, then we have to look into our whys.
Sometimes the why tells us to seek security and safety and survival, and we do work because of that. Or the why tells us we need more power and influence and control, and we do work based on that. But there is a huge difference in quality between the whys that seek external fulfilment versus the whys that seek internal fulfilment.
Seeking fulfilment externally is a wild goose chase that leads to short-term dissatisfaction and long-term burn out.
We seek external fulfilment because we feel we lack these qualities within ourselves. We lack self-worth, so we must seek worth from somewhere else. We lack personal power, so we seek power over others. We lack self-acceptance, so we seek acceptance from others.
That is why we feel so dull and unfulfilled. Because what we should be giving ourselves we are trying to gain from others.
The only real work worth doing
The real work of a lifetime is then to work on ourselves. All work leads there anyway.
Many wise men, same message:
“Ultimately, work on self is inseparable from work in the world. Each mirrors the other; each is a vehicle for the other. When we change ourselves, our values and actions change as well. When we do work in the world, internal issues arise that we must face or be rendered ineffective.” – Charles Eisenstein
“If you feel what you are doing is important, first thing is to work upon yourself. Whatever you do will only be an expression of who you are. So who you are needs to be enhanced.” – Sadhguru
“The only thing you have to offer another human being, ever, is your own state of being. Whether you’re cooking food or doing therapy or being a student or being a lover, you are only doing your own being, you’re only manifesting how evolved a consciousness you are.” – Ram Dass
“Know thyself.” – Temple of Apollo at Delphi
If you’re serious about your life and work, then inner work must be at the core. For the foundation of any meaningful growth in individuals, groups, organisations, and systems, is personal growth. The maturity of the group or organisation cannot be more than individual maturity.
Inner work is the difficult work of confronting ourselves to find the truth of who we are. And in so doing we find deeper and truer ‘why’s for ourselves.
Yes, within us lies confusion, conflict, and pain. There are parts of ourselves we rather not see – that we systematically avoid, deny, or reject. But that only leads to greater suffering. Even the most destructive parts of ourselves can be transformed and transcended if we only face it fully and understand its nature.
Inner work is a journey leading us to discover the riches within.
Already the call to inner work exists within each of us. We feel it as a longing for something more, something greater, something deeper, something truer. But we did not know what was possible to achieve internally. We did not know that by overcoming fear we can be free. We did not know that by facing our internal demons we could experience heaven.
So we only knew how to answer the call with the material. We sought ever more money, status, power, position, fame, glory. Only to discover a mirage. They were poor substitutes for inner strength, confidence, integrity and love.
If you can turn away from quick and easy answers, for distractions and band-aid solutions, the path of inner work is open. In doing the difficult work on confronting what lies unsolved within yourself, you open the doors to greater freedom, possibilities, strength, and joy.
Your own hero’s journey awaits.
This is the work that truly matters.