What is your why? And if it has changed over the years, that’s absolutely fine. I’m talking to myself, yes, but I’m also talking to a lot of people out there. I know you’re out there because I speak to you. I see how your brains flicker between the love of work and the guilt of working too much. And, I watch how people offload the burden of their minds onto Twitter, talking of their dreams and how they’ve shifted focus since the pandemic.
It’s hard not to see this happening but perhaps like when you decide to buy a new car and then you see said car everywhere, I’m just tuned into this thought frequency.
I’ve been reading Sian Meades-Williams’ The Pyjama Myth: A freelance writer’s survival guide this week and there’s a section in it called ‘What’s your why?’ – which is partly what spurred me on to write this blog post. “Every goal I set, everything I follow through on, needs a ‘why’ driving it. If I don’t have one, I often discover that I’m chasing something pretty flimsy,” she explains.
What is your why?
My reasons for working used to be quite linear; I wanted a book deal. It was the be all and end all for me. I got a book deal and realised that I also needed it to be a specific type of book to satiate my needs. And, I wanted – and still want – to write a women’s interest non-fiction book. I write these books for fun – honestly, I do. I’ve got 80,000 words of manuscript in my Google Drive that I’m just sitting on.
It’s only recently, post-lockdown and post-baby, that my ‘why’ has shifted dramatically. This period of my life has been christened as the ‘coasting’ period.
I don’t need to take gargantuan strides forward. Strides that impact my time with my family and my mental health concurrently. Right now, all I need is to work as minimally as possible to keep me in my world of my chosen career without impacting my time spent with Isaac.
It’s a shift, for sure. It’s a shift that none of my friends were anticipating. I was fastidious to an eye-roll inducing degree before having a baby and just like that my work goals went plummeting down the pecking order.
I’ve written a whole blog post on what it’s like to be a mum, if you’re into it. I tell you that because it gives you a bit of an insight into why I feel the way I do about work nowadays.
Is your why in alignment with your work?
What is your why?
If you don’t immediately know it, I think a few minutes of thinking will paint a pretty clear picture for you. Perhaps it’s an end goal, like a book deal, maybe it’s to climb up the career ladder, or to be at home as much as possible. Maybe you want to be a millionaire or maybe you want to be somebody who has enough money to be comfortable. It’s probably a mixture of all of those things and more.
If your why is to spend more time with your family but you’re working 70 hour weeks, then something is out of alignment. I know it’s not as simple as saying ‘cut down your hours’ particularly when the cost of living is astronomical at the moment, but there are ways to edge towards your ‘why’ without falling off a financial cliff without a parachute.
My why – for the time being – is to spend as much time as possible with Isaac while still keeping my toe in the door for when him and any future children we have go to school, grow up and don’t hang onto me like perfect little koala bears anymore.
It’s just five years. Isaac will go to school in three and a half years and then our roles change. I want to spend as much time as possible with him during that time. This approach isn’t for everybody. Some people will think I’m crazy for putting my career on the back burner, others will think I should spend seven days a week with him, rather than five. That’s why it’s my ‘why’, and that’s why yours will look different to mine.
Is your why just for you?
Have you ever started pushing towards a goal you didn’t think you had because somebody else was? It’s easy to fall into that trap at work. If you’re all going for a promotion and you see somebody spending time in a new area, you might find yourself panicking and thinking you need to take more on.
This is particularly true of working mums. We’re always trying to be everything to everyone and it’s easy to feel like you’re on the back foot when you come back from maternity leave. Many people end up over-working or over-committing to show that they’re still able to keep up even with a baby. Mums need to be able to do everything after all.
It’s ok if things change
I wrote an article recently called Is change as scary as we think it is? and for me, at least, I’m starting to learn that it’s not.
When you’re young, it’s easy to steadfastly stick to goals. You spend most of your younger life in an educational system designed to harness your skills in particular areas readying you for a goal of working in whatever industry you end up choosing. We’re programmed to feel comfortable with goals.
Part of growing up, as I’ve learnt, is that we have to be even more comfortable with those goals shifting. You may have to learn to let your goals run alongside somebody else’s. You may have to pause them entirely while you look after your children or help elderly parents.
Life is seldom on a single track without any stops or diversions.
Some people will think it’s selfless to give up your career to raise your family, others will think it’s stupid. It takes all types of people to make the world go round and you categorically cannot please everybody. My advice; don’t try.
For many, it’s not about goals
For a lot of people, working in some form is a necessity. In fact, it’s the case for most working mums who get very little in the way of help back into work. I talked a lot about this topic here, so it’s best I don’t get started in this blog post, too.
Even if they wanted to, spending five days a week with their children simply isn’t viable and that’s equal parts frustrating and upsetting.
Your ‘why’ in that case is to earn money to provide your children with a great life.
We feel so much guilt as both parents and non-parents that what we’re doing isn’t enough. Whether it’s that we’re not hitting our goals by 30, or 40 or 50, or we’re not spending enough time with our kids, or if we’re stay-at-home parents, that we’re not having enough adult conversations. There’s always something we think we could be doing better.
What I’ve learnt through the whirlwind of life lately and by tirelessly assessing my ‘why’ is that perfection will never exist. We’ll always have times our careers are in an upward trajectory, others when we’re happily coasting and other times when it feels like our personal and work life is in a free fall towards a lump of concrete.
Life isn’t ever simple and straight-forward and whatever period you’re going through now – good or bad – it will also change again.