Why do we do things we don’t really want to do?
Why do we get up in the morning when, let’s face it, most of the time we’d rather hit the snooze button? Why do we go to work every day? Why do we eat healthy food instead of chocolate for dinner (most days at least)? Why do we watch action movies our partner loves even though we hate them? Why do we let our partners, friends or family drag us on holidays we don’t really want to go on, to museums we’re not at all interested in or to join them for activities we don’t really want to do?
Why do I spend 40+ of the best hours of the week at the best time of my life inside an office when there is a whole beautiful world to explore out there?
The easy answer to a lot of these questions is “because I have to”. We have to get up and go to work each day because we need to earn money and money makes the world go around. We have to, occasionally, do things with partners, friends and family because that’s how relationships work and because it is ‘expected’.
But if you really think about it, there is more to it. In most situations, we do actually have a choice – it might not always be obvious and certainly not easy but most of the time we have a choice. We don’t actually HAVE TO do anything.
There is a reason why we feel like we have to. There is a bigger why. We feel like we have to work 40+ hours a week because we need to earn money. We need to earn money because we want to buy certain things, be able to afford a roof over our head and, for many people, be able to provide for a family. But if you were willing to really cut back your spending and make sacrifices in terms of your lifestyle, many of us don’t actually have to work anywhere near as much as we do right now.
Similarly, we feel like we have to do certain things with and for our partners, friends and family because we love them and we want to make them happy and the occasional sacrifice is far outweighed by the joy, happiness and love we get out of the relationships. But if we really don’t want to do something, we could just say no. Of course, that would mean risking to lose that person from our life which we usually don’t want – but we do have a choice.
I believe that understanding your WHY is the key to a happy life. We all are faced with difficult decisions and situations where we ‘have to’ do things we don’t really enjoy. I believe that understanding your why is how you turn these situations into positive experiences (or at least less difficult or unwanted ones).
Getting up in the morning and going to work every day is much easier if you know what you’re working for. If you know that what you will do for the next 8+ hours is because you want your children to have a secure and awesome life or because you want get that promotion, achieve that big target, buy a house, go on that big dream holiday or make a difference in the world, you will find it much easier to be motivated and happy than when you just think about the 8 hours of work ahead of you.
If you know that the reason you’re letting your partner of friend drag you to museums once a month is because they do other things for you in return and because you love having them in your life, a ‘boring’ day at the museum might actually be a really enjoyable experience.
But what if you don’t know your why anymore?
I’ve known for a while now that I probably won’t do the whole traditional get married, have kids, buy a house, get a dog kind of life - expect for the dog, I still plan to have one of those one day :)
I think what kind of happened automatically is that I invested a lot of energy into my career – mostly because that seemed to be the obvious thing to do. We tend to classify people as either ‘career-driven’ or ‘family-focused’. There doesn’t seem to be a lot in between. Since I’m not family-focused, I ended up being career driven. And I’ve done really well. I worked my way up quickly, had some great achievements and currently am the head of marketing for a high-growth tech company. I’m good at my job. I work for a business I believe in and I get to work with great people.
But lately I’ve been struggling to remember my why! Why do I get up every morning to then spend the best hours of the day inside an office starring at a computer screen?
I look around the office at my colleagues. I see the family people who do it to support their kids and spouses, I see the young ones who do it because they want to get ahead in their careers and lives, I see the ‘geeky’ ones who want to develop the next big ground-breaking technology, I see the ambitious ones who want to be better than everyone else…
But where do I fit in?
Money is certainly a part of it. But I have everything I need and more. I don’t dream about buying a house or a fancy new car. Yes, I just bought a campervan and a new surf board but now that I have those, I don’t know what’s next. What’s the next thing I should save for? Of course, money matters but I definitely wouldn’t need to work 40 hours a week to pay for my lifestyle.
I used to be the ‘young and wants to get ahead’ type but lately I’ve noticed that promotions, titles and professional achievements don’t really mean that much to me anymore.
I’ve been thinking about where I’ll be in 5 or 10 years given the path I’m on. Maybe the company I’m with right now does really well and I’m the Head of Marketing of a huge success story which is basically what everyone in the startup scene dreams of. Or maybe I end up working for another business and do really well there. I’m good at what I do so I can quite easily see myself with a very successful career.
But somehow, that doesn’t really excite me that much anymore. It used to. I used to dream about being the big startup success story – Being a key member of a startup that has that big exit or does really well internationally. But even though I do still like the idea, I also know that it won’t be enough. Having a super successful career alone won’t be enough to make me happy in the long-run and it won’t make me feel like I’m living a meaningful life.
Where does that leave me? If my 'Why' is not about money, titles or achievements than what is it? What do you do if you believe knowing your why is the key to happiness but you can’t remember yours anymore?