Our time, attention, and energy are the most precious commodities we have. We should devote those resources to what we value most. Since we spend so much of our lives working, our work should reflect those values. If it doesn't, we should make a change.

But sometimes it's hard to know just how we should be spending our time, or exactly what our values are. At least, I found out it was for me. A while back, I wrote a column from an interview with executive coach and best-selling author Wendy Capland. We clicked, and as a follow-up we decided she would coach me and that I would write about it.

My first coaching session began with two deceptively simple questions:

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • How does that choice express your values?

I thought I could answer any question there was about my profession, but I'd never been asked why I do it. I thought back to when I was a child and I created a story series about three friends called "The Joanie Trio." I illustrated it in Magic Marker. It was pretty dorky, but my mother saw it and suggested that I might be a writer. The notion stuck, and she always claimed credit for my career choice. But that doesn't explain why I stuck with it all these years when there are less labor-intensive ways to earn a better living. Or how it fits in with my values.

So I gave Wendy a vague answer about my need for self-expression and desire for fame, but clearly, I really had no idea. She suggested I think about it some more. After we hung up, I wrote a long note to myself trying to comb out my real motivations for being a writer:

To say: I am here. This is my place. This is what I believe. This is how I understand the world. To be known. To connect.

Ah--there I was onto something. What I love about writing most is the way it can connect you to strangers across distance and time. As a college student, I read a medieval poem whose author asked the reader to kindly pray for him. Even though I'm not religious and felt silly doing it, I whispered a quick prayer for that centuries-dead poet. That's connection.

I most love writing that is absolutely honest. I adored the late columnist and memoirist David Carr for that reason--his intolerance for BS was second to none. When you speak the truth, welcome or not, you offer a real connection to those who want to hear. When you lie, obfuscate, fudge, or stay silent, that connection is broken.

What next?

Thinking through all this made me realize I need to adjust my priorities. I love writing from the heart, but I spend most of my working hours doing something else. Some of that is by necessity--I need to earn a living--but a lot of it is sheer laziness. Writing things I don't care much about because there's a market for them makes life a lot easier. It's following the path of least resistance.

But it doesn't reflect my values. And it's not work that really matters, at least not to me. So although it's tougher to do, and really tough to do well, I'm going to look for chances to do more writing from the heart. Beginning with this column.

What about you?

Now it's your turn.

  • What are your deepest values?
  • How does the work you do reflect those values? (There are no right or wrong answers here. Maybe your value is to take the best possible care of your family, and you express that value by earning as much money as you can. That's perfectly valid.)
  • If the work you do all day doesn't reflect your values, is it time to make a change?
  • What should that change be?