What Is Work?

In the dynamic realm of career education, there exists a fundamental inquiry that often goes unexplored by students — defining work. As educators in the field of career development, your mission extends beyond the mere conveyance of information about particular vocations; it also entails fostering a profound comprehension of the concept of work among your students.

In this blog post, we will introduce a straightforward, yet impactful, Work and Self framework designed to empower students in crafting their own definition of work. It’s important because, as these students go through life, their definition of work will change, and they will have a better understanding of where these changes come from. This framework sets the stage for a deeper exploration of this fundamental concept in the context of career education. Let’s begin with a definition that encapsulates the essence of work in the workplace:

“Work means helping other people get things done. When other people find your work valuable, they reward you. So, work means helping other people.” 

~Millard, R., & Clark, T., YouX: A Simple Method for Making Decisions About Life Beyond School (2019, p. 7)

Understanding the Work and Self Framework

Let’s take a closer look at how to harmonize the two sides of this framework. As the illustration below shows, the framework comprises two distinct facets: the workplace side, where work contributes to society and improves the lives of others, and the more meaningful “self” side, where work transcends mere income generation and becomes a means to find personal fulfillment and purpose.

Choosing between ‘Work’ and ‘Self’ can often feel like standing at a crossroads, faced with the decision to walk through one door or the other, each leading to its own unique path. However, it’s when you step through the ‘Work and Self’ double doors that you unlock the full potential of ‘Purpose’ within yourself, integrating your authentic self your work and creating a meaningful journey.

Let’s take a closer look at how to harmonize the two sides of the framework.

Work Is Helping Others: The Workplace Side

At its core, the workplace side of work is about contributing to society and making life better for others. It transcends the mere act of earning a living; work serves as a means to assist, support, and collaborate with others to achieve common goals. Ignite a sense of purpose in your students by encouraging them to reflect on how their future careers could positively impact the lives of individuals or communities.

Work Is Helping Others: The Self Side

The more meaningful self side of the framework underscores that work is not just a way to earn a living but also a means of contributing to something greater than oneself. It’s about finding personal fulfillment in assisting others and collaborating to achieve common objectives. Emphasize to your students that rewards and benefits, beyond just monetary compensation, are a result of delivering meaningful work.

Work Is Providing Value: The Workplace Side

On the workplace side, providing value is why the activity, job role, and organization exist. They are needed to help customers get things done. When a person receives value from the work provided, they experience an improved situation or state of mind. Encourage your students to consider how their actions and contributions can help others to achieve goals and how this can improve their overall situation or state of mind.

Work Is Creating Value: The Self Side

On the self side, creating value goes beyond just completing tasks — it is using your skills and abilities to do specific activities that create something of value to provide to others. When a person receives value from using skills and abilities, they experience purpose and meaning in work. Empower your students to notice when they are using their unique skills and abilities to provide value to others. Highlight how these actions foster a profound sense of purpose and fulfillment in their own work.

Reward and Benefits: The Workplace Side

On the workplace side of the framework, rewards and benefits are closely tied to the value a particular role generates and offers to its customers. These rewards encompass more than just financial compensation; they also include tangible and intangible advantages like promotions, job security, and professional development. These rewards acknowledge the valuable contributions made within a system or organization through a specific role, laying the groundwork for individuals to sense that their desires and requirements are met. Encourage your students to explore how rewards and benefits from a role can contribute to an organization.

Reward and Benefits: The Self Side

On the self side of the framework, rewards and benefits go beyond material gains. When individuals receive these rewards, it goes hand in hand with the development of a valuable purpose in their lives. Just as on the work side, where rewards acknowledge contributions within a system or organization, on the self side, these personal rewards recognize the progress and growth of an individual. They signify not only external achievements but also internal fulfillment and a sense of purpose. This self-fulfillment and recognition provide individuals with a profound sense that their needs and desires are being met, enhancing their overall well-being and satisfaction in life. Empower students to broaden their view of personal rewards and benefits to go beyond monetary compensation; help them recognize that they might be overlooking a desirable role if they only consider its pay.

Introduce this dual-sided, integrated framework of Work and Self to help students explore the intricacies of work, the reciprocal nature of giving and receiving, the underlying motivations, and the recognition of value. By fostering a deeper understanding of both sides of work, you empower your students to develop a profound comprehension of work’s essence and significance, or meaning, in their lives and in society.

This understanding encourages students not only to make informed career choices but also to become purpose-driven contributors to their communities and to the world. As they embark on their journey to define work for themselves, they’ll carry with them the wisdom that work is not just about what they do; it’s about who they become in the process.


Millard, R., & Clark, T. (2019). Youx: A Simple Method for Making Decisions about Life Beyond School (2019 Facilitator Evaluation Edition). Business Model Youth.

Discussion or Journal Prompts

These questions are tailored to encourage personal reflection and discussion on the concept of work and its various dimensions, as presented in the blog post.

Engage your students in discussions about both sides of the framework, including the roles of value recognition and rewards and benefits. Use the following questions to spark.

1. How would you define the concept of “work” in the context of your own life?

2. Why is it important for you to have a clear understanding of the concept of work?

3. What does the Work and Self framework aim to achieve in your career education?

4. How can you benefit from harmonizing the workplace and self sides of the framework?

5. Can you relate to the idea of choosing between ‘Work’ and ‘Self’ in your own career decisions?

6. What are some examples of work contributing to society and improving the lives of others that resonate with you?

7. How can your future career positively impact individuals or communities, according to the workplace side of work?

8. In what ways can work go beyond earning a living and contribute to something greater than yourself?

9. Why are rewards and benefits in the workplace not solely tied to monetary compensation, and how does this apply to you?

10. What tangible and intangible advantages can you consider as rewards in the workplace?

11. How can rewards and benefits on the self side of work relate to your personal growth and fulfillment?

12. Why is it important for you to recognize personal rewards and benefits beyond monetary gains?

13. How can broadening your view of rewards and benefits impact your career choices?

14. Have you ever overlooked a job solely due to its pay? Share your experience.

15. How can the dual-sided Work and Self framework help you better understand work’s significance?

16. What would motivate you to become a purpose-driven contributor to your community and the world?

17. How does understanding both sides of work empower you to make informed career choices?

18. How can a deeper comprehension of work positively impact your satisfaction and well-being?

19. Do you believe that work is not just about what you do but also about who you become? Explain your perspective.

20. As you embark on your own journey, how might the wisdom that “work is about who you become in the process” influence your career decisions and goals?