“What do you do?”
I never liked that question.
Who you are is not what you do. What you “do” is not defined by the way you accumulate money. You can “do” millions of things that never put a dollar in your pocket, but ultimately define who you are.
Pairing the thing you love to do with an exchange of money is one of the most satisfying accomplishments in this lifetime. The problem lies in the love/money balance and making sure your love for money doesn’t f*ck that up.
This is something my dad taught me from a very early age and was always pointing out how lucky he was to have a work/life balance that allowed him to spend so much time with our family. It’s a goal I remind myself of all the time.
Recently I was listening to a podcast, “The James Altucher Show”, featuring Ryan Holliday, and the topic of conversation turned to this subject.
“The reward for success should not be that you don’t get to do the thing that you like anymore.”
Immediately I paused the podcast and jotted down the quote. It reminded me of a story about a fisherman and a businessman that I always think about but hadn’t read in awhile. After looking up the story, I resumed the podcast only to realize they had made the same connection between their topic and this legendary tale.
At this point you are very curious what this story is so I will include a version I found on author Paulo Coelho’s blog.
There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
When I say I think about this story often, it’s because I am repeatedly asking myself, “isn’t that what I am doing now?” And if I’m not, “Why am I NOT doing that right now?”
“Am I in a place that gives me balance between what I love to do, what I have to do, and what will provide for my family?”
It’s all about balance and prioritizing the things you love to do first. Sometimes a quick reflection helps me realize the “have-to-do’s” are not even that. And in that moment, the love-to-do’s are the have-to-do’s.
Later in the podcast Ryan connects this story to an old 14th century tale about a King who wants to build his army in a time of peace in order to fight another country and obtain land so he can ultimately have…well…peace. He talks about how we lie to ourselves so that we can find ways to obtain something that we probably already have.
The most common modern day example of this is trading time for money when you want money to buy you time.
We lie to ourselves and say we need this car or that house. We work ourselves to the bone in order to find something that is “enough” for us, when “enough” is already in front of our face.
If you are trading time for money, I hope you get something in addition to money for your time. Remember, when looking for reasons beyond money, be honest with yourself and watch for those lies creeping in. For me, I get priceless friendships, the ability to transform people’s lives, the ultimate gym/playground to have fun in, and a welcoming place I can bring my family anytime I want.
Even when you find that dream profession, the work/life balance is always a work in progress. I wish I could say I have it nailed down to a science, but in reality it’s a constant give and take. Recognizing this dynamic is half the battle. You won’t always get it right, but you can be mindful of the balance you try to get back to.
Possibly more important is the balance within your job. Do you still get to perform the jobs that made you like your profession in the first place? If you started a gym because you loved to coach, it wouldn’t make any sense to stop coaching because of the flood of administrative tasks. In that case, you might need to fire yourself from the jobs that make you unhappy.
I never want to stop coaching at my gym because it is my favorite part. Currently, I wish I was coaching more hours. I relieve my coaching urges by writing. (Can’t you tell?)
One of my favorite comedians, the late Mitch Hedberg summed it up like this… (He would probably make a joke there about being called late.)
When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say “All right you’re a stand up comedian, can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.” They want me to do things that’s related to comedy, but it’s not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, and they said “All right you’re a cook… can you farm?”
Whatever it is that made you love your job in the first place, make sure you still get to do it everyday.
What you “do” does not define you, unless you want it to. When you have a job that you enjoy so much that you proudly let it be your identity that’s a very special thing.
I use to hate that question, “What do you do?”
Now I can proudly say, “I change lives using fitness as a vehicle.”
I guess I didn’t hate the question after all. I didn’t have a good enough answer.