The unbelievable value of a why in youth work
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
Youth workers need a range of skills and knowledge to do their job well, but it’s why they do it that really matters.

As a new graduate, it’s easy to feel motivated in a youth work job. You’ve got all that shiny new theory about how to help people, and a few skills you’re keen to try out too. The excitement of a new adventure keeps you leaping out of bed and rushing to work each day.

Fast-forward a few years though, and lots of people are ready to throw in the towel. Helping others no longer feels satisfying. Those moments of success are just too far apart to make you feel valued.

“Once something is a passion, the motivation is there.”


The people who stay in youth work long term are the people who have a strong sense of why they do it. They have a “why” that doesn’t focus on their achievements, or what they can get other to do, but drives them from within.

This is the first of a three-part series on what a why is, why you need to find yours and what to do if you lose it. But before you work out what your why is, let’s look at why a “why” is so important.

Why you need a why

When your job involves caring for others and supporting them through the tough times of life, you need a reason for doing it. It doesn’t need to be altruistic, it could just make you feel like you’re doing your bit in the world. But something motivates you to choose this sort of work over something that will make you a lot more money or be less draining on your soul.

Having a why gives your work three things:

  • A purpose. Knowing your why gives you something to focus on in how you interact with others and what tasks you do.
  • A push. Your why motivates you day after day. Even when the going gets tough and the results aren’t showing, your why helps you turn up to work and do your thing.
  • A path. The power of your why is that it shows you what the end goal is. It might be to make life better for others, or to do what you’ve been made for, but your why will show you how to get from where you are now to where you’re going next.

People who do a good job in youth work, or any helping profession, really know their why. They confidently roll it out in the context of their workplace week after week. It’s not a pushy or demanding expectation, but a quiet inner yearning that keeps you pressing forward.

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” – William Barclay

Working out your why

A why isn’t like a favourite pair of earrings or that old comfortable hoodie you pull out each winter. It’s not a solid thing. A why changes, as you get older and experience life. As you pass through different seasons and take on different roles. But there are likely to be fundamental things in your why that don’t change all that much.

The first step to discovering your why is to pause in what you’re doing. Leap out of the rat race and take some time to ponder what it is about your job that makes it meaningful and gives you meaning as you do it. What parts of your job make you feel like you’ve hit a home run?

Then turn those thoughts over. What is it about your job that feels most draining? Why do these not feel rewarding or valuable?

Take some time to look at your job description. What things on that list of qualities or tasks were the reason you applied in the first place? What things scared you or presented a challenge?

Often your why has something to do with the purpose of your youth work role. You can dig deeper into this idea by reading my article on working out your purpose.

The best way to find your why is to listen to your heart. To ponder what you want your life to mean. Shannah Kennedy suggest you think about these questions, in her book The Life Plan: Simple Strategies for a Meaningful Life:

  • How do you want people to remember you?
  • What messages would you like others to pick up from how you live your life?
  • What difference will other people say you made to this world?

Knowing your why is like having a super power when it comes to working with others. It’s the driving force that motivates you and gives you clarity about what you do. And it gives serves as a guide on where to step next when it comes to making decisions.

If you’ve had a why in the past but don’t seem to feel it anymore, then it’s time to find it again. And that’s what I’m going to be looking at in my next article in this series. Keep an eye out for it next Wednesday.

Do you need help working out your why? Revisiting your why is part of what I do in professional supervision, so send me a message and let’s work out your why together.

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