April 5, 2021

what we do is not who we are.

what we do is not who we are.

The following essay appears on today's podcast.


“What do you do?”

Silently, we’ve collectively agreed how to answer this question.

Today, I’m asking all of you to join me in changing that.

Imagine if I answered that question with what I really do.

I explore cool places and crazy things that happen to me along the way. I exercise daily. I call my friends regularly. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day and have a four-hour morning routine.

Now, imagine what you might say. Maybe you’re an avid reader, a cat lover, a shop-a-holic. Maybe you're in to Bitcoin and NFTs.

Doesn’t all that make for better small talk? Can’t we understand a person better by listing these things, rather than by describing the monotony of our day-to-day work lives?

Whenever we meet new people, we default to droning on and on about our careers. It’s simple. It’s easy. But be honest: For those of us nodding our heads as the other person speaks, how much do we actually care? How much of that info will we retain?

I think we all know the answer.

When I talk to someone new, I want to know everything. I ask about hobbies, families and backgrounds. Dreams, ambitions and fears. What motivates you? What makes you who you are?

That’s what I’m after. As much as I love my job, and as much as you (hopefully) love yours, they’re only a small fraction of what we actually do. 

Early in our careers, it’s easy to let our jobs be all-consuming. We want to prove ourselves, and the way to do that is by showing up early and staying late, by always volunteering first to pick up an extra task, by checking email around-the-clock to show we’re reliable.

In Spanish culture, people leave their jobs midday to relax and gather with friends and family. In Scandinavia, people simply work less, filling the remaining time with the things that matter most. The research proves other parts of the world are happier than we are.

My takeaway? This shit isn’t as important as we think. 

So stop letting your job run your life. Don’t let it occupy all of your precious time and headspace. You’re so much more than that. You are a person with real interests, hobbies and priorities.

And when we meet, I’d like to ask you about them.