Are You Working for the Right Reasons?

If you're going to work so hard, make sure you're headed toward something.

Posted Jun 22, 2017

Doenertier82/German language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0]
Source: Doenertier82/German language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0]

In this second post on defining success for yourself, I want to highlight the question posed by writer and cartoonist Jessica Abel in the title of her blog post: “You’re working hard. But are you heading towards the right life goals?” Abel focuses on our tendency to work a lot, and feel satisfied that we’re working a lot, without necessarily stepping back and making sure we’re doing the right work for the right reasons—in other words, towards the right life goals or idea of success.

According to Abel:

This is the key to understanding why finishing some amazing project can ultimately feel so disappointing. Your goal was “finish the project,” and you may not have figured out the bigger why. WHY finish the project? What is it for? Picture it: what is the life goal that this project builds towards?

I write a lot, and every time I finish something, I’m relieved but not sure what the next step is, because I don’t have any idea of how it fits into a goal. Abel nails it when she writes: “what usually happens then… is that you plunge straight into the next project because all you can think to do is to keep working, working more and harder…” Exactly—as long as I keep working, I won’t have a chance to wonder why I’m doing it, which is how I avoid the problem that I know will return if I let up for even a day.

Like Joanna Penn in my last post, Abel considers the often contrasting goals of doing what you love and doing what pays, especially when you rely on your creative work for your income. As I explained in an earlier post, I don’t rely on my writing for my income, which both frees me from the latter concern but at the same time makes me complacent, not being forced to write to make a living.

Abel also asks a number of questions to help answer the main one: What role should creative work play in your life?

  1. Is it what keeps you sane? You just need to do it?
  2. Is it meant to be paying your bills?
  3. Is it a means to an end? And what is that end?

Once you answer those questions, it’s easier to answer the more specific questions about the work you need to do to meet those goals, including what type of work you do within your field, where you target the end result, and how much other work (such as promotion) you need to do to succeed.

The main takeaway I get from Abel’s post is that you need to know what your overall goals are before you put a lot of time and effort into something that isn’t going to contribute to that goal (and may actually lead you farther from it). It’s fine if your main goal is doing the work itself, deriving ultimate satisfaction from the process and not being concerned with getting something out of it when it’s done. In a way, that’s the ideal, but it assumes that your other needs are taken care of. If your work serves another goal, though, you need to make sure it’s doing that and not just filling time.

Be careful not to finish your days merely with the feeling of “well, at least I did something”—because that "something" won’t add up to anything at all if it doesn't serve your idea of success.

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