Social Work, Writing

What ’s Your Why? (For Social Workers and Other Humans)

Of the many pieces of knowledge my best social work professor stuffed into my head this year, this is my favorite. What’s your why?

It asks, in essence, why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s driving you? What’s the point of all this? Clearly an important question to ask when putting together a strategic plan[1] or nonprofit mission statement, it’s also a good antidote to the burnout and frustration that can take social workers down. Pulling out the What’s Your Why card can remind the frazzled do-gooder[2] why she didn’t go into banking or why it’s not time – yet – to turn to organic rhubarb gardening.

Everyone in the social justice field has a Why. Among the favs:

•End homelessness.

•Stop hunger.

•Fight racism.

•Protect refugees.

•Preserve mental health.

I’m all for those missions, but my bottom-line Why involves kids. More specifically, hurt kids. As in: cut it out.

I’m going to grad school to become a social worker so fewer kids get hurt. That’s my why. Remind me when I start complaining about homework.

There’s a Why to this website, too.

As a momentarily-retired professional writer with a toe in the social work world, I needed a place to write what I’m really thinking; a place the write the kind of things that aren’t allowed in peer-reviewed, APA-formatted social-science “literature”; a place to ask questions that might not have answers; to point out acts of absurdity and moments of splendor; to teach good people about bad stuff they might not realize is going on every day. And, yes, fine, ok! –  a place  to rant.

I want you to opine, too, so comment away. And by “you” I don’t just mean social work/nonprofit/do-gooder types. I mean everyone.

What’s your why?

[1] Social work jargon. Also, redundant.
[2] It’s a compliment – go with it.


  1. Been thinking about this a lot since I read your blog. My “spoken” answer to this question would have changed many times since the beginning of my career as a psychologist. But really the answer has always been the same underneath it all – to sit beside people, so that no matter what they are experiencing they are not alone and feel support and witness.

    1. Beautiful WHY.

  2. As a Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse, I am often asked why? Why not work somewhere happier like maternity or easier like outpatient surgery. My answer has always been, “why not”. This patient population are most vulnerable, scared and experiencing multiple physical/ emotional symptoms. They need someone who truly cares and that will advocate for them day after day. Why not me? If I can make one small difference in someones life or death then my why is answered. However, that is not the only why. There are times that my patients give more to me than I provide for them. The strength, courage and wisdom I have come in contact with is overwhelming. My patients may not know it but they too are my teachers and heroes. A win win situation!

    1. Well put, my friend!

  3. I get asked a lot why I became a teacher. I hear, “Oh I could never be a teacher!” And…after 16years as a teacher, I often wonder the same. In the end it all boils down to helping kids. They drive me crazy on a daily basis, but in the end I always feel great when I reach at least one student each year.

    I can understand your why, Sue. Helping kids is vital to our country’s future. I look around at my current students and wonder what the world will be like in about 14 years when they’re adults. Helping them now gives me some satisfaction that perhaps I assisted them on their journey…in a positive way.

    1. I think you are! But as your dear old friend, I reserve the right to encourage you to do even more by becoming a foster mother. You and your husband will not regret it.

  4. Michelle Seener

    My “why” centers around children as well. I want to save them precious time. My childhood consisted of poverty, neglect and every type of abuse you can imagine. Growing up in this environment, as you can imagine, obliterated my self-worth. I spent most of my life feeling worthless. College? No, I’m too stupid to go to college. I did not even attempt to sit for the SATs. What was the point? Flash forward and I am a 45 year old single mother with no education. My future and that of my children, was bleak. I decided to give college a try. That was three years ago. I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa and I serve on the executive board of my chapter. I wasted A LOT of precious time. I allowed my circumstances to define me. I am entering the field of social work to hopefully prevent other children from making the same mistake I did.

    1. What a wonderful story! I’d love to ask you more questions. Can you write to me at

  5. One of the best assignments I ever had in my undergraduate career was in my intro to social work class. The professor had us write a reflection paper about why we wanted to go into social work, but we weren’t allowed to use the phrases “I like people” or “I like to help (people)”. It was a challenging assignment, but I think it really helped us all see the bigger picture that social work is so much more than that. And I know for me personally, it helped me figure out exactly what I wanted my focus to be in. My “why” is also for children. To let each child know that they have value and can achieve their goal (which is the short, cliff-notes version of course).

  6. a comment?

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