Aurelia Flores: Why We Work (Not Just for Cash)

During the holiday season, we tend to be reflective and thoughtful (or maybe that’s just me!). Nevertheless, while many of us take time off work, it’s a great time to think about the bigger purposes behind why we do what we do.

As we settle into our home, family and friends this week (and throughout the season), it might be useful to think about the greater purposes behind WHY we work. What does our career add to our life, beyond monetary recompense?

Yes, the fact that our jobs provide our income is not a small thing! We work because we need income, because we are responsible for taking care of ourselves and others, and because we like the things our paycheck makes possible.

But there are other, more profound, reasons behind our work. When we remember these reasons, it can help us decide if we’re in the right job, and appreciate how and what we contribute.

We Work to Contribute

We all have a need to make a contribution to the world. And we do! In addition to contributing to our family, to our households, and to our community, our workplaces all benefit from the contributions we make as well.

Whether you realize it or not, your presence in your workplace is your contribution to that environment.  Your energy, your attitude, and (of course) your work product, are all parts of your contribution.

But HOW you contribute is also part of why we work…

We Work to Share Our Gifts

You have certain special qualities, gifts and skills that you bring to your workplace just naturally.  Perhaps you are a good communicator, or good with art and design, or have a way with numbers, structures, and how things fit together.

Your gifts are part of what make you uniquely YOU, and you share those in large part in your workplace (in part, because we tend to spend much of our time there).

So even if your gifts are not directly related to your job – let’s say you have a great sense of humor and a quick wit – you still are able to bring those gifts to lighten the load of those around you. Since we all need a good laugh from time to time!  But whatever your gifts are, they bring important qualities to your workplace.

We Work to Build Skills and to Strengthen Our Gifts

In addition to sharing our gifts, our workplaces also allow us to *strengthen* our gifts, and to add to our skill sets.

You may not have entered your current job thinking, “I want to learn how to work with difficult people, get over workplace criticism, and get better at dodging the office gossip.” But even those skills we didn’t expect to get, we do.   And to the extent we are able to make a conscious effort to learn new skills, or build on our skill sets – and seek out opportunities to do so – the stronger they get.

Our gifts are our natural talents, but if we strengthen them, and use them, they become stronger, and we see more and greater use for our gifts.

And don’t forget to acquire skills that compensate for your weaknesses, too!

Our workplaces, for all of us (although to a greater or lesser degree), give us a sense of worth, purpose, and meaning. We derive meaning from many other places, as well, but acknowledge all the wonderful things that are YOU, that you get to practice in the workplace.

It’s good to acknowledge the multitude of reasons behind our careers and jobs – and add to them, if necessary! What are the reasons you work? What do you contribute to the work place, and what unique skills and talents do you bring?

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website,, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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