Why do you do what you do?

I'll start by saying that if I don't have all the answers. I don't pretend to and I don't think anyone does.

Instead I think the focus should be on asking the right questions to get people thinking of their own answers.

"Why do you do what do?"

This question popped into my head the other day. Why do any of us do what we do? We could go down the existential route of looking at why we exist, but I think that's a bigger question for another time. I'm more focused on why do we pick the activities we like and why do we pursue the opportunities we do.

If I'm at a social function and someone asks, "What do you do for a living?" I inevitably give them a long list of professional and personal titles and responsibilities. While this can be interesting in a way, it doesn't get at the heart of the question: "What do you value? What are you doing that is interesting that I connect with, relate to, or learn from?"

Values show up in everything that we do, whether we realize it or not. If you disagree take a look around you. Where do you live, what are you wearing, who is there? Believe it or not, those are all answered in part by your values.

By looking at what we are actively choosing to do, we can determine what we value. If I'm a school teacher, it's because I value working with children to educate, entertain, and inspire. That's really what teaching is about and what teachers value. If on the other hand your values are not showing up in your job, then that's probably a good sign that you need to reevaluate your focus.

In your personal life, the same question should be asked. If your activities and outside commitments are not supporting your values, it's time to reevaluate. 

By focusing on finding the 'why' in what we do now, we can determine if we need to stay the course or make some changes. They can be small changes, even just the way we approach doing the same activities. If you enjoy reading, taking the time to figure out why can make it that much more enjoyable. Is it because you enjoy learning new ideas? Is it seeing the world from another perspective that gets you excited? Or is it the act of envisioning a new world in your imagination that draws you in? Each of these reasons doesn't change the act of reading, but it guides what you read, when you read, and of course why you read.

None of this means that you need to quit everything you're doing, drop all of your relationships, and seek out a quiet little island to spend the rest of your days pontificating on the meaning of life. On the contrary, I think that would be a terrible waste of time and life. What I'm advocating for is spending the limited amount of time we have on this planet doing things that are in line with our values. And cultivating relationships is what brings meaning to a life that would otherwise be filled with collecting objects and memories of short lived experiences.

Short-term and long-term goals. Fifty thousand feet views, life plans, and career goals. These are all based on the idea that doing something that follows our values will inevitably lead to fulfillment.

The life we live, the people we touch, and the legacy we leave are really all that counts. I can write a fantastic book and share it with absolutely no one. What is the purpose in that? Would that count as a contribution to society? Would that be staying true to my values of sharing knowledge?

What do you value? Are you choosing activities that follow those values or move away from them?

- Ryan