Mommy, Why Do You Work?
As we head back into the office on our “official” last week of summer (I see you Labor Day), I thought this might be a good time to talk a little bit about work, but maybe in a different context than we typically do.
And I picked this question very intentionally because it’s one you’ve probably heard from your little angels as you packed up your things and headed out the door. I’ve talked to tons of women about this question and I think what we say most often when one of our littles asks is some variant of:
“Well, so I can make money.”
“Because clothes are expensive and all those toys you want cost a lot of money.”
“Because we have to eat.“
“Because I haven’t won the lottery yet.”
These statements get tossed around quite often. And I think we just kind of want the question to go away because something about it touches a nerve and we feel that pang of guilt about leaving our child or parting ways in the morning. But these answers that we give are some of the very first ones that our children will hear about what work is and what it means to us. And therefore, what it should mean to them. So our answer to this question really matters. Our language matters. Within this answer, you have a chance to start shaping their narrative about work and planting seeds early about the aspirations that they might have.
So the next time that one of your children asks you, I want to make sure you have a framework to answer. There are two main buckets to think about so that you can have an answer that you’re really proud of, one that’s really aligned with what you truly believe and want to teach.
So let’s get into the framework.
The first part is what you give: what you have chosen to contribute to the world and why
Ideally, you want to be able to say:
“I get to use this gift or talent in service to this community of people to make their lives better.”
And when you fill in those blanks with your own specifics, that answer should really light up the eyes of your child. Let’s dig into the three main parts of this response:
How do you use your gifts and talents to make an impact through your work?
Are you a great communicator? A great strategist? A gifted designer? A quick negotiator? When you think about, at your core, what are those gifts and talents and how do you use them each day?
How did your interests as a child lead you (directly or indirectly) in this direction?
Origin stories about why you chose the field you’re in can be really powerful for kids because then they can recognize those little seeds in themselves.
Who do you serve?
Sometimes your answer is linear, like an attorney serving clients or a doctor serving patients. Sometimes it’s a little more removed, like maybe you make a product that ultimately touches the life of someone else.
The second part is what you get – what does your work do for you?
And this is where money rolls off our tongues pretty easily. And it’s ok to share with your children that when you go out into the world and use your talents, you get a paycheck for it. You can explain some of the things that it allows you to do in your household that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. But don’t miss the other things you get from your work – dig a little deeper.
What about the sense of satisfaction that comes from having an objective and nailing it? What about the friendships that you are able to form with your colleagues? Sometimes we call this divine compensation, or at least that’s my term for it. These are things that are not necessarily showing up on your pay stub, but it’s part of what you get back.
People who love what they do and people who are doing the work are meant to answer this question. It will just pour out of them. If you don’t like your answers to these questions – if your current work doesn’t line up with your interests at all, or if you don’t think you’re getting enough back – then that’s something you want to pay attention to.
When you don’t have those things in alignment, it’s much more difficult to find that deep sense of fulfillment from work. And it’s a signal that you might want to do some digging and maybe even make some changes.
Want to talk to someone about aligning your work with your purpose? We’d be delighted to have that conversation with you. Click here to set up some time to chat with me or someone on my team.
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