In the same way that knowing who you are is important to deciding on a career that’s right for you, so is considering the reasons why you want to work. It might seem somewhat a strange question – surely, we all ‘work to live’ – to buy the things we need, creating the lifestyle we aspire to? That might be the case – although hello to all those who ‘live to work’ – you know who you are!

Spending quality time thinking about why you work, why you think you want a particular job, career or profession, is highly relevant to living a fulfilled life. Take your time to work through each of the following reasons for wanting to work. Give each area your full consideration. If you were ranking these areas in order of importance or value, which would be in your top 3?

Knowing this may go some way to helping you choose a job or career path that is relevant to your needs. You can also come back to it as things change and experience shapes the person you are and want to be.


Financial security

Financial reward is important to everyone, but do you value financial security above other factors? Is this your primary motive for having a career? This may be the case if you are raising a family, saving for something that will take time to acquire, supporting others (like a sick or elderly relative), or trying to become financially stable or independent.

why do we work

Is it most important for you to feel that you are properly financially remunerated for the work you do or is what you get paid a lesser consideration to something else such as being appreciated or feeling you have made a difference? How important is it to feel you are entering into a career that is secure and less impacted by external factors out of your control? How important are benefits and perks to you? Are there any career perks that are more important than others – for example, embarking on a career that will require you to travel the world?



Prestige is about enjoying the admiration and respect that a particular occupation or job holds in society and how much perceived status the outside world assigns to a particular career. Is how others perceive your career, job and position important to you? Have you trained for many years, such that you expect status to naturally align to the effort you have put into becoming competent? Do you naturally seek the admiration and respect of others to help boost your confidence and feelings of self-worth?

Don’t be shy about acknowledging the desire for prestige – there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be valued, especially if you’ve worked hard to gain a particular level or status. It’s important to know if this is a significant motivator for you.


Love of learning

You might be motivated by a need to master your chosen specialism, job role or profession. Do have an innate desire to learn? Do you enjoy being tested to the maximum, seeking out new ways to do things better? Do you love tackling complexity, new projects or challenges? Do you love sharpening your existing skills, honing them or learning new ones?

why do we work

If you love to learn then getting stuck in a series of jobs where you are never tested, stretched or challenged, could be extremely frustrating. What role is going to challenge your brain, your mindset, or your physical self? What careers rely on you constantly learning, remaining up to date with new skills, knowledge or aptitude? And just how quickly will you get bored and want to move on from roles that do the opposite of these things?


To release creative potential

Many people get immense satisfaction from being creative. Creativity isn’t just about creating something innovative or novel, it can also be about building on other people’s ideas, modifying what is already in front of you.

Is it important for you to be in a career that produces, designs, makes, or creates something tangible such as a show, a piece of art, clothing, or music? Do you love brainstorming and flexing your creative thinking to solve problems, come up with new ideas or find new or different ways of doing things?

Much like having a career that gives you lifelong learning, for those who enjoy creative pursuits, jobs that are monotonous, and without the space to imagine, play and create, can be very frustrating.


To contribute to a purpose

Purpose goes beyond the work you actually do. It goes beyond the products or services your employer provides or sells. Purpose is altogether bigger. Doing purposeful work provides meaning to what you do, and often to who you are.

Purpose doesn’t have to be big – it’s what matters to you. It might be as simple as a career in volunteering, looking after the welfare of abandoned animals. It could be a local career working in organic farming. It might be a career aligned to an oath such as those taken by medical professionals’, or it might be about environmental sustainability. The key is that you connect to the purpose. It gives a sense of fulfilment beyond a specific job – the whole is more important than your single part.

why do we work

Do you want to have a career that contributes to something beyond yourself – perhaps within your community, society at large, even the world? If you value a career that has an impact beyond the work you individually undertake, you might need to think about an employer’s purpose. Do you want to do a job that makes a difference to other people? Do you want a job that contributes to bringing about positive change in the world?


To feel the pressure to perform and be productive

Perhaps feeling the pressure to perform and be productive and competent is critical to your career happiness? You might hunger for achievement and feedback. Perhaps you are competing against yourself to reach your personal best.

Are you goals oriented? Do you get a sense of achievement from ticking off completed projects from a list? Do you need to achieve targets to feel a sense of satisfaction? Success is sweet for the achievement-motivated person, but true satisfaction is also found in the demanding quest to reach that success.


For social connection

On the whole, we are innately social beings, needing a sense of community to survive and thrive. When we find a job and career that suits us, we often become part of a group of people who join together to achieve a common purpose, leading to a shared vision or mission. Are you a people person whose primary source of energy is the connections you build with others? Do you enjoy working in an environment where your job role fulfils a social function – where you can meet new people, chat, and make friends?

why do we work

If social interaction is of most importance to you, then working alone, independently or somewhere you have infrequent contact with others could demotivate you quickly.


For power and influence

Is it important for you to be recognized for being influential or in charge? Do you want to direct others, being last in the line of authority over key decisions? Are you seeking a career where you can attain a high-ranking title, with the opportunity to set strategy, shape goals or be the leader?

Jobs with power and influence don’t always come with decades of experience, but they do generally happen to those who have worked extremely hard, and who have created a track record of success or mastery of a particular skill and competence. The desire for power and influence can also lead to behaviour that is less than becoming if it is misused.

Search deep inside yourself to find out what power and influence really means to you? What is it you really want to be able to do? And remember, leadership is not about a job title or salary level. Anyone can lead at any age and from any position – providing you can garner followership. Click here for more information on how to work out what kind of leader you are.


So, perhaps you’ve worked out the reasons why you work (or want to do so)? You now have some guiding principles that will help you make informed choices about what jobs to look out for and what environments and ways of working will suit you. If you desire financial security, then working in a tech start-up where there are lots of risks might not be right for you. If you want to indulge in lifelong learning, then finding yourself in a job where you repeat the same manual task over and over, is likely to wear thin pretty quickly. If you want to influence others then you will need to work out how to garner followership, not just power.

What do your top 3 choices say about the jobs or career types that might work best for you?

Sarah Coombs is Head of Brand & Marketing at Notebook Mentor, providing the best career journals to help ordinary people manage, develop and be happier at work.


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