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Three things I love about what I do
(and not always knowing what I'm doing)
What do you do?
Somewhere this question is being asked right now. It might be networkers in lanyards or parents crossing paths at a soccer game, but someone is asking it. It’s simple small talk, but it haunts me: What do you do?
I’ve shared in talks (and in Becoming Better Grownups) a reframing of this question that changed everything for me. It was at a fancy dinner. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat next to me. Already feeling out of place at a formal meal and realizing it would not be appropriate to begin our conversation with, “So, Supreme Court Justice, what do you do?” I grew anxious.
Growing up, I always assumed my awesome and easily explainable profession would be like — a baker or doctor or guy who delivers the Scholastic book fair to schools. Yet, my career has rarely ever been straightforward. Writer/Illustrator/Sometimes Director/Encourager/ Creator of content for the internet algorithms? I struggled to find the words.
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Thankfully, upon meeting, she proposed the wisest and most wonderful of questions: “What do you love about what you do?”
I answered immediately! Her question unlocked something in me. An avalanche of words — “I love …” “I love …” “I love …”
Over the weekend, I shared this story at an event in Chicago. The Society for Health Care Strategy and Marketing Development (SHSMD for short) gathered for their big annual conference. I was the opening keynote and in the audience were several first-time attendees. Knowing that immediately after my talk there would be a huge networking session, I politely nudged this crew to try out the Supreme Court Justice’s question — and they did!
Afterward, my conversations with these new friends were packed with love. What could have easily just been polite back-and-forths about job titles or responsibilities, transformed into something else entirely. People shared passions. People got personal. With wide eyes and expressive hands, people told me stories of what brings them joy and life.
I was again reminded that if you truly want to know who someone is, don’t ask what they do. Find out what they love.
Three Things I Love About What I Do:
I love people.
My work connects me with friends all over the world. Kids. Former kids. I love the things people say. I love the things people create. I love all the different little ways people laugh. I love that the strange work I do (whatever it might be) happens in the kinds of spaces where we can playfully go beyond small talk and profoundly explore big things.
I love stories.
I love sharing a story and seeing it spark something in someone. I love watching the posture of an entire audience shift when you say, “Once upon a time . . .” I love crafting stories, fishing for stories, breaking stories, and putting them back together again.
I love impact.
My favorite stories are the ones that inspire more stories. Once I created a video about throwing a parade and then lots of people threw parades. Since then I’ve been hooked on sparking imaginations for the best of what’s possible. The stories we tell can create the world we live in. So, let’s make it a great one.
While in Chicago, I got to see my friend Ryan perform with the Chicago Philharmonic. It would be foolish of me to even attempt to put words to the greatness of the experience. Here is a tiny clip:
For years, this guy has been writing rich and layered music as Sleeping at Last. More than a decade ago, I invited him to perform for a small group of high school students. It was just him, a guitar, and a song. Now he’s on a stage with an entire orchestra, a crowd, and a transcendent sound. It was a deeply moving experience.
When we see someone do what they love, it’s contagious. We can’t help but feel it.
I wear many hats. Some days might require chipping away at book illustrations in the morning and responding to emails all afternoon. I might work as a creative consultant with a company one day and a presenter at an elementary school. Some days, it feels like I just make silly content for the internet.
I don’t always remember what I love about what I do. Sometimes I’m doing well just to remember to actually do the stack of responsibilities in front of me.
Whatever we do, there might not be one simple job title for it. Maybe there doesn’t have to be. Khalil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” This is a much different position than our usual ‘work is my identity’. This, instead, takes whatever our roles might be and brings us back to our souls. In the best of what we do, there’s a love at the center of it. Good things happen when we show up with that.
Grateful for all of you. Thank you for being here.
What do you love about what you do?
p.s. Books and art prints have been restocked. Get yourself something.