When we meet someone new usually one of the first questions we are asked is “what do you do?” It’s such an odd question because it’s asking something so broad, typically expecting a narrowly defined answer, detailing our profession.
Whenever I am asked that question I carefully think about how I want to respond or I just say whatever is on my mind. Because I do a lot of things. We all do. And more of what we do is outside of our professional lives (for some of us who don’t make their work their lives). For me, my work and life interlace, so the distinction isn’t as clear. Here are some of the ways I like to answer that question:
“I make gelato”
“I practice yoga”
“I write comedy”
If someone is really pressing for a more professional answer, usually I say something like “I create solutions to solve problems (or I’m an entrepreneur)”
Recently someone asked me to describe what I do for work and I used the above description. She continued to dig deeper into my work, asking:
What about it is really satisfying?Making an impact in peoples’ lives (whether an employee, customer, partner, etc)
What about it drives you crazy? It can be a very lonely road & there are lots of ups & downs, highs & lows. And the lows can be very low.
What are your goals? To leave the world a little bit better place
What is driving you? Honestly, probably achieving. I’m highly competitive. And making an impact. Doing something that positive impacts people.
What is holding you back? Myself. I’m my own biggest hurdle. Self-doubt.
Do you regret any significant decisions you’ve made about your career? If you had it to do over again, would you do it differently? No regrets. Lots of lessons though. I live by the philosophy “no mistakes, only gifts & opportunities”
There you have it. That’s what I do and how I feel about it.
Am I satisfied with my work? Does it meet my needs & fulfill my desires? What am I working for? Am I working to make a living or to make a life?
“If your work supports your goals, that’s great. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to make a change.”
This reminds me of a class I took at the University of Michigan business school, MO 300 & the specific class titled “Why Work?” This was the class where I first heard the Mexican fisherman parable. Why do I work? To make an impact. In my life & others.
Once at my office someone brought up a lottery, particularly mentioning the size of the potential winnings ($450 million at the time) & that she purchased a chance to win. She also made it clear that if she won, she’d leave her job. This got me thinking…if I won the jackpot, what would I do? My mind went off, making a list of where I’d invest, where I’d travel, what I’d get my family for Christmas, what I would do… What I realized is that I wouldn’t feel like leaving my job immediately. I don’t work where I work because of the paycheck. Of course, supporting myself financially is important to me, but there are a lot of things I could do to pay the bills (in fact there’s a lot I could do & make more money, a topic deserving its own discussion). To me, work should be meaningful. Work should be enjoyed.
That being said, why do I work? To make an impact. In my life & others.
5 years. Seems so far away, yet I’m sure it will come soon. 5 years from today I will be 29 years old, one year short of the big 3 0. In 5 years I want to be able to say (with honesty)…
I am making a positive impact in peoples’ lives
I respect the people I work with & they do I
I love waking up in the morning, not only to go to workout, but also because I’m so excited about what I’m working on & the work environment that awaits me
I have a significant amount of responsibility
I am facing challenges that I enjoy figuring out
I am learning
Clearly that does not paint the clearest picture about what exactly I will be doing in 5 years, but it doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t matter so much what exactly I’m doing in 5 years. It matters who I’m doing it with, where I’m doing it, and how I am making an impact.
In 5 years, how do you want to answer what do you do?
What do you do to get in the zone? What helps you focus?
I tested out my “fire focus” – lighting my focus on fire, literally, lighting my campfire candle in my room while cranking through work. Uber focused only programs opened was the one I was fire focused on. For my fire focus experiment, I was working in excel on an IRR model. I think it worked well because I got a lot done in an efficient amount of time. No multitasking or distractions. When I blew the candle out that’s when I stopped working on the fire focus task.
An almost burnt-down lit candle on a candle holder. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My early experiment results indicate that this is something I’ll continue to test out. Make it a habit.
If you try it out, or use other methods to focus or get in the zone, please share!
When I was studying at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, I took an Organizational Behavior class that was required for all undergraduate business students to take. It wasn’t taken seriously by many…it wasn’t a finance or accounting class that so many pre-investment bankers & consultants sought out. For me, I loved the class. Business is about people. Understanding people. Motivating people. Leading people. Inspiring people. Numbers are one thing, but without people there are no numbers.
For one of our reading assignments we were asked to read articles that evoked thoughts around the question “Why work?” & the following class involved discussion about that very topic. The class shared various reasons to work, ranging from helping people to making a ton of money. No one’s reasons are wrong. There are no right answers….everyone is different & as such the reasons people work vary.
Why do I work? In no particular order…
to be challenged
to make the world a better place
to contribute to something bigger than myself
to inspire & be inspired
to meet amazing people
to create something meaningful
to make money
I understand the need to make money to support my basic needs, but I also don’t consider that the only reason I work. If working was only about making money then my job choice would be much different than if working was about more than just money. If you think money is the primary reason you work, consider this: you could probably make the same amount of money working at Starbucks as a barista (or even better, Iorio’s Gelateria as a Gelatista), as you could working as a teacher in an urban setting. When money is the same, how do you choose where to work? There must be something else besides money that influences your decision. Or is there?
I would take a lower paying job if it meant that I was doing something that met the other reasons I work in a more significant way. Obviously there’s no formula to figure out the best place to work. It is entirely possible to “create a formula” by giving weights to factors that are important to you & then scoring each of those factors, but a number can’t replace what’s in your heart. It can supplement it, but life isn’t a formula. Work isn’t a formula. For much of my life I have analyzed the heck out of things like jobs, relationships, decisions…all the way down to what to make for dinner. There are somethings though that can’t entirely be decided on with numbers alone & I think working is one of them.
Me working at Iorio’s when I first started the business.
Why do you work? Write down the reasons you really work. The better you understand your reasons for working, the easier it becomes for you to recognize how you want to work, where you want to work, & what’s important to you.