Why Do You Work, A Look to Nellie Bly for Inspiration

Posted by Sherry Borzo on

The noun work, meaning “exertion of effort directed to produce or accomplish something,” is an activity we all engage in every day. Not that all of our labor is paid for with money. In fact, a lot of the work you do in caring for yourself and those you love meets intrinsic needs instead. We are all working, but here we’ll dive into the why of vocational work, and how to align your work with your best self.

I’ve long held the belief that the ideal job situation should permit someone to utilize talents they possess and truly enjoy. I understand this vision of work is lofty, and likely rarely occurs in the real world. Many of us, in fact, labor in mind-numbing jobs. I spent y-e-a-r-s in jobs that had little to do with my talents or interests, but pragmatism wins when you pay the bills, and a job is a must for income.

This made me think about Nellie Bly, a Storied Gifts History Hero. In her time of the Victorian era, women had few methods for earning a wage, and could not count on making a living from their limited work options. (This may sound familiar for many of today’s workers!)

Yet Nellie overcame the obstacles to become the first female investigative journalist. Through her story, we can glean inspiration for pivoting from work done solely for the purpose of making money, to work that fills our soul as well.

The Reasons to Work

Per Reference, about one-third of a human life is spent working. Apart from sleeping, work comprises the most significant portion of a person’s life. A quick look on the internet brought up some of the primary reasons most people work.

  • Money is needed for fundamental aspects of living such as food and shelter. The income we earn is a metric of how much our work is valued not just an employer, but the market and society. Sadly, this measure doesn’t always reflect our cultural values (or it does, and we just can’t come to terms with it!) For example, in the care service industry what we pay those who care for our children and our elderly is far less than a sustainable income.
  • For many who work, the social component of working with others is important. They enjoy the community of teamwork of meeting shared goals. The work they do provides them an opportunity to interact and even build friendships.
  • A sense of purpose is a driver for many people in their work. They know, even if the money or other indicators don’t reflect it, that their work is contributing to some greater goal. The structure of work and a sense of productivity imbue life with meaning for many.
  • Often, and sometimes to our detriment, we associate our work with personal identity. The labels of our work reflect markers of our values. A teacher, for example, cares about the education and welfare of children. And if we’re honest, we recognize that others assume a lot about who we are based on the work we do.

Lessons of Work from Nellie’s Story

Nellie had pragmatic reasons she pursued journalism, but she was driven to do the work based on her passions and values. We’ve created an SG video discussing some of the whys each of us work, that also highlights Nellie’s early career.

Through the power of storytelling, there are takeaways to be gleaned from Nellie’s story. Here are five.

#1: Find the passion for whatever you’re doing and let that guide you, (and ultimately aim for what you want to do.) 

#2: Be your best advocate. If you’re not advocating for you, how can you ask others to believe in you. 

#3: Keep trying. Success comes for those who persist from one failure to another. It’s too easy to feel hopeless, so that’s when you need to double down and take action.

#4:  Measure your improvement with your own yardstick. The only person to be better than is the person you were the day before.

#5: Keep your mind open and fresh to what your success may look like. The adventure comes in sometimes going with what you least expected. You are on an exciting journey, and your work is one way that you can leave a legacy. Strive to be interested and you’ll be interesting.

Understanding the reason you work can help you plan for work that meets up with who you are and who you want to be. As Nellie Bly said, “Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.”

Please check out our printable figure of Nellie Bly. 


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