Why We REALLY Work! (It’s not about the money)

“It really does come down to having a good work ethic, and no organization can be outstanding without it. Let’s work!” 

Chapter 22, Outstanding!

“Dad, why do we work?”

Charlene, our 18-year-old, didn’t ask that exact question, but she might have. Here’s our conversation:

Char: “Dad, come see online how much I made last week at Target! Whoo hoo! Sweet! That’s why I work!”

Me: “Um, well, not exactly, Honey.”

Char: “What do you mean? Yes it is … I work to get paid.”

Me: “That’s one reason we work, but it’s about fourth on the list.”

Char: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dad. Is there a speech coming?!?”

And from there The Wise Father (that’d be me) told her why people work. 🙂

1.   To serve upwardly

Most people—again, I said “most”—tend to believe that we are each made. I sure do. I also believe we were not made so that we can feel entitled, be taken care of from cradle to grave, or lay on the couch watching TV not contributing to this world. Only when we work do we create, and only when we create—build stuff, fix things, solve problems, imagine, invent, and implement—do we honor the One who made us. To do anything less just isn’t right. Anyone disagree?

2.   To serve outwardly

Whether it’s Charlene at Target assisting a grandmother in finding just the right toy for her grandson, a doctor or nurse helping a patient to heal, or a highway worker fixing that bad pothole so you and I can have a smooth ride, each is engaging in an “act of service.” And when we serve others by helping them reach their goals and adding value to their life, we’re using our mind and body in a meaningful way. Only by working can we do all that.

3.   To serve inwardly

It’s when I work that I avoid boredom, discover my purpose, and gain recognition from others. (And, honestly, who doesn’t like a little praise now and then?)

In other words, when I work, I add value to my life—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I often ask audiences, “When I play victim, feeling the world owes me, who am I serving?” Then, before anyone can respond, I warn them, “Be careful with your answer!” I add that because if I don’t, someone will say, “Me!”


When I play victim, there’s no way I am sharpening my skills, acquiring new capabilities, honing my talents, and experiencing those wonderful intangibles that make life good.

It’s true …

There’s no fun, joy, or satisfaction in playing victim.

Charlene, hard at work ... sort of.
Charlene, hard at work … sort of.

Plus, it’s hard to “take pride in our work” when we haven’t done any!

So, in summary, I shared with Charlene that we work to serve our Creator, people, and ourselves. But lest Miller Child #5 think Dad crazy, I added this:

“And it’s great to get paid, too.”

Yes, it surely is. It’s just not one of the first three reasons we work.

Discussion and Application:

So, why do you work? Do you want to change the reason you’re working? What are other reasons we work? Comment away … and don’t miss our give-away below!

If you liked this piece, you’ll enjoy: Personal Accountability: Doing My Job

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38 Responses

  1. Like many, I work because I need to, but we all have a choice in how to approach each day. Regardless of the role I play in an organization, I achieve my maximum satisfaction by improving the lives of others. That could mean saving someone money on their mortgage payment or putting a smile on their face with a pleasant conversation.

  2. I work for my family and to provide the comforts in life that they deserve. That being said, I also choose to work in a field that provides life saving vaccines for infants and older adults. I have chosen to work in this field because I beleive that at the end of the day, you should be proud of the contribution you have made to your firm, your country, and “dare I say” , the world. I have been very fortunate with the choices I have made and I sleep well each night and can face the guy in the mirror each morning.
    That’s why I work.

  3. I am a teacher/educator and I work for the light bulb. That moment that someone in class “gets it” with the it being whatever theory or process I am teaching. When the light bulb doesn’t come on, I review my process to see if there is something I can do better next time.

    i also work for what I get in return which is knowledge from the participants in my classes. I frequently learn more from them than I feel they do from me!

  4. QBQ is good stuff! It seems like I get an email from you just when I need to hear about personal accountability.

  5. I work to be a part of something bigger than myself. I get reward from seeing a project through to success and like putting together a plan and executing it. Then measure how well it worked.

  6. I love this article and I am sending it to my daughter who just starting working at a fast food place in town. She was amazed at the amount of money that is taken out of her paycheck everytime and this will remind her that it about more then the money.

    Thanks and keep up the great work.

  7. I work in the nonprofit sector, and I firmly believe my personal mission is to help others be the best that they can be. I work to do that.

  8. As a trainer I really enjoy it when a person finally gets the concept of what is being taught and the excitement of learning more. I find that when I get those Light bulbs, it really spurs me to learn and do more.
    QBQ emails definitely do come at the right time when I am needing an extra reminder or boost.

  9. This is an AWESOME Article! I definitely think everyone can take a lot from it. Personally, I work because I have a deep passion for what I do. My current role allows me to combine my passion for agriculture with my love of working with & helping people. At the end of the day, I feel like my work with the training of the employees in the Operations job family has a real impact on my origanization, them, me and most importantly their safety!

  10. Thank you for your recent email.

    Why I do agree with much of your email, it took me a while to get there.

    You see, at this time, I am not gainfully employed outside the home. I would love to be but I cannot find anyone who will hire me. I want to be gainfully employed for the money. At the present time I have none. My brother/sister provide me shelter and the state gives me $450 in disability money and $140 in food stamps each month. The reason I seek EMPLOYMENT is to have money. Now, to the extent you are talking about “work” and not “employment”, I can understand as I am currently the secretary of one hospital advisory council, the chairman of another, a representative to the hospital system council at large and “active” in other ways within the community.

    hat said, if I obtain employment it will mean giving all that up in order to “work” and I’d do that just to have a bit of income.

    But to the extent you are separating “work” from “gainful employment outside the home” I understand …

    My mother taught me: when she and my father (a PhD electrical engineer) applied for their first home loan (many years ago), she had written “chef/seamstress/nurse/chauffer/tutor/” on the application. The banker crossed that out and wrote “housewife”. Mother stood up and threatened to immediately leave. She did not sit back down until the banker apologized and wrote back what she had written.

    Whenever she would be asked “do you work”, she would respond with this question: “Are you asking if I am gainfully employed outside the home?”

    Thank you for the article.

    James S. Huggins

  11. I LOVE what I do for work, because the satisfaction I receive in helping someone as a trusted advisor doesn’t feel like work. I work in a field where we provide peace of mind services to individuals and companies that have disasters in their homes or businesses. Being able to financially provide for my family and feeling like I can made a difference continues to help drive my focus. To use a sports analogy, I try and look at each day to be undefeated…1-0. If I have given some advice or helped someone be better, I hope I have made more postives choices than negative things happening to be 1-0. Pay it forward!!

  12. Each and every day, I work for the greatest and greater purpose, to ultimately serve. In doing so, the hope is that by serving, others will also be drawn to serve, which benefits everyone. This is circular and brings great pleasure in knowing that you are making a difference. One day it might be making a difference in a patients’ life, or to an employee or coworker, knowing that they are respected and appreciated and that you value and care about them, not only as an employee, but as another heart and soul of the organization and here on earth. Monetary compensation is necessary for the lives we lead, but will not drive someone to have better values, be honest or accountable. This is evidenced all the time, when we hear of penniless individuals turning in money they found and highly compensated individuals breaking the law, harming others, with no accountability.

  13. As a teacher, I learned awhile back that I couldn’t do the job if I didn’t want to serve my students. I have made more money doing other things but hated the conditions and the job. I don’t complain about my pay because my work is so much more than money. It is the young lives I touch, it is the future of my community, and it is the opportunity to share a broader view of life than many of my students have experienced. It is my ministry.

  14. I work for so many reasons. I began working at my ‘regular’ job for the paycheck. However, I was working at ‘secondary’ jobs as a volunteer. I volunteered for boards, women’s shelters, working with kids simply for the feeling of giving back to the community. I knew there was a lot to do, but not enough hands to share the work. Over time, i’ve been able to realize that i can combine the things I liked to do when i volunteered with a paid position. Therefore, now i can do even more with my time. I find that when i’m volunteering my hard work, I feel much more balanced. And it reminds me that there is more out there than just the four walls of my office building as well as the recipe of a paycheck for work done well.
    As far as what i’m doing now, i’ve recently changed jobs because I needed to take care of myself. I was becoming burnt out and not as effective for my colleagues as well as our customers. So now i’ve transitioned into a teaching position that is equally rewarding but in a different way. i’m able to draw upon my previous experience and teach others.
    I knew i was in the right field when i was so exhausted, tired and emotionally wrung out at the end of some days. But the next morning, i woke up energized and ready to go for the another day at work. 😀 In so many ways, i almost feel like i should be paying my company to allow me to work (just don’t tell my boss, k?)

  15. When I started my business, I needed income, I needed to pay my bills, I needed to provide for my family, I needed a career. Did you notice how many time “I” appears in those comments.

    Thanks to my wife, Mary, for giving me a book for Christmas, 2005, titled “The Eternity Portfolio”. In it, I discovered what I should have already know. That God has all of the blessings, and there are people that need to receive them. Some of us get to be the conduit that they flow through. So, I became a pipe.

    Now, the stated purpose for my business is:

    To honor God by adding value to people.

    We do this in three ways:
    1. Employing people
    2. Filling a need with excellence.
    3. Contributing to and influencing our culture.

    This has brought tremendous peace, and seeing the fruits of this effort is a huge reward in itself. Face it, without people, we are lonely, inadequate, and we really have no purpose. Ourselves is not supposed to be the end point of God’s grace and blessings.

  16. Honestly, right now it’s for the money. I’ve lost my passion for my day job and go just so my wife and I have money to live on.

    Now, my side projects I do because there’s something I find fascinating about the work. It draws me in, takes up my time, and leaves me feeling refreshed.

  17. Great reading as always John!!!

    I work for 2 main reasons… Job satisfaction and to be in a position to provide what my son wants, particularly with respect to his education (given the cost of education these days!!!)

  18. John – great entry. I’m one of the weirdos who love Mondays. I love my work because I see purpose in my work. I believe the key is finding purpose. For some the purpose is serving God, for others it is serving others, self, family, or paying bills. All of these have value and are purposeful. I love what I do.
    I believe we are all gifted. One of my goals is to help students discover those gifts so that they are better equipped to make career choices based on their natural abilities. When we are using our gifts and talents, we find joy and fulfillment in our callings.
    Thanks for the reminder John.

  19. The timing of this post is extremely interesting because I recently renewed my vigor for my job. I felt sorry for myself in the past few weeks because I was blaming others for the situation. I tried putting my efforts into my side projects when I got home, then I realized something : if I continue this way, I will lose my job.
    Now, 11/7/2013, I declare that I am obsessed with the success of others. My passion will drive me to a better future. This obsession won’t exist just in my podcast/online pursuits, but in every aspect.

  20. I work to learn. Believing knowledge is power, I must want power and this has always been in my top three. At different points in my career, my top reasons changed. At some points I worked because I loved my job, people and/or opportunities afforded me. At times it was to make others happy and sadly at times it was a place to go that you could feel in control. Point being for me it was great to think through why I worked and oddly enough the realization that life chapters have a great bearing on those reasons.
    Thanks for making me stop and think about why we work. It was good to know that learning is still one of the top and paying the bills is still the necessary but lowest reason.

  21. This is great one to share with our kids, our interns, our team mates. I work for all of the reasons listed, but also so that people can have results that change their life. As part of a diagnostics company, we make machines, tests and other ‘items’. But doctors and patients don’t care about what we make- They care about the results they get. And the have to be perfect, every time. This helps us remember what we aspire to be – not just dollar a day people, but people that change lives.

  22. I try to work as I am told to in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” – and thank God every day I have a job that I enjoy and that provides for my family.

  23. It’s quite simple for me, I really enjoy helping others and working with their ideas. Seeing people use/play with what I helped dreamed up and or built, just warms my heart. And seeing young adults win through their failures and dreams. It’s not easy but it sure is fun!

  24. We work to serve God, our residents, their families and each other. Thanks for QBQ. I am sharing this one with my three 20 something children.

  25. We work because … our mind just wants us to work or keep ourselves busy as said “idle brain is devils workshop” busy mind with proper direction can lead to lots of creativity… having said that … only few people are lucky to choose the right working environment … and they enjoy work but for remaining chunk work becomes a way and hope for leisure and happyness

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