What do you do…for a living?

Picture this, you meet someone for the first time, or perhaps you meet a colleague with whom you hadn’t connected in years. In the former case, after the initial sharing of names, among the first 5 questions (if it’s not the second), is ‘What do you do (for a living)?’. The colleague might ask the same question in another way, ‘What are you up to these days?’. I’m often tempted to give a provocative response to that question, just for the heck of it, and to amuse myself with the reaction of the one asking. That still soft voice, though, reins me back in and so, I answer responsibly.

Let me challenge you a bit, though: let me nudge you towards re-stating the question. How about if, instead of asking, ‘What do you do for a living?’ you asked ‘What do you do for a life?’ Seems absurd? What does that even mean? Will people even understand what you mean if you ask the question that way? Here’s the thing: the language we speak is a living language, which means it changes to reflect the people using it. Language was created for the people, not the people for language. So, while I’m not drawing you towards senseless expression, I am beckoning you towards a change in your words, which will change your mindset, and ultimately, will change your behaviour.

When asked the question, ‘What do you do for a living?’, whether or not you realise it, for it happens in a split second, there are thoughts which fuel how you respond to the question. Those thoughts hover around you proving to the asker that you are worthy. Essentially, the question, ‘What do you do for a living?’ extends the mind to pursuits that benefit self, primarily. How so? Well, in responding to the question, ‘What do you do for a living?’, you are drawn to the primary activity in which you engage on a daily basis. That primary activity for some earns the money that allows you to meet monthly commitments. These commitments include bills, savings, bills, entertainment, bills and contingent expenses, just to name a few. Oh yes…did I mention bills? (LOL). You catch my drift, don’t you? Responding to the question, ‘What do you do for a living?’ is a question that attracts a self-centric mindset.

If, however, you thought of, ‘What do you do for a life?’, your mind is pulled in another direction: one that resides outside of self. This second question asks, how does my life impact another. How does my life enhance another; how does my life not enhance another life (this latter question requires courage and honesty). The question, ‘What do you do for a life?’ stretches the mind in a direction of

  • How does my life lead another to fulfilment, to purpose?
  • How does what I do sustain life – of my household, of my community, of the planet?
  • How does my life give ease to the vulnerable?
  • How do I provoke a radical change in the mindset and attitude of others so that they become who they were meant to be?

Now, none of these questions suggests that you need to change careers…not necessarily. However, if you’re a teacher, if you’re a lawyer, if you’re an HR practitioner, if you’re an engineer or doctor, if you’re a supermarket attendant…whatever your endeavour, asking the question, ‘What do I do for a living?’ is really about the money you make at the end of the month. If, on the contrary, you ask, ‘What do I do for a life?’ can you picture how your answer changes? You see, for the teacher, you are not just going to school every day to impart knowledge to students. Rather, you are participating in the shaping of a child’s future; you are participating in placing someone in a better position to achieve their full potential. Similarly, if you’re an HR practitioner, you’re not just the one hiring, firing, performance assessing, etc; rather, you’re the one partnering with organisations to lead the human resources at their disposal to perform in a way that redounds to the benefit of the organisation, while those resources achieve their purpose.

When we change the question that is asked, we change the thoughts, we change the words used to formulate the response and we change the behaviour and attitude so that they support the words that are now being spoken! Have I convinced you?

So, here’s a word for the students among you. What do you do for a life? You are equipping yourself to participate in your future and that of the world. When you think of yourself this way, you appreciate and savour every annoying teacher, every mind-blasting assignment, every activity that the school designs for you. When it’s not about ‘How do I make it through this double-period with this teacher?’, but rather is about, ‘How do I challenge myself to appreciate what this teacher is contributing to my development, even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye?’, your behaviour changes. And, you might even find, relying on the premise that behaviour begets behaviour, that that teacher whom you thought to have been your nemesis, is actually the one who might teach you the most about tolerance, compassion, patience and preserving the peace.

Friends, I call you in this direction for your purpose in life, whatever your profession, trade or endeavour, is to leave things better than you found them. So, as a doctor, whether or not that patient who is engaging in risky health practices takes your advice, you will have approached that patient with a mindset that, somewhere along the line, your words to that patient will serve as the seeds that do provoke a turnaround in the life of that patient. As the customer service representative, you just might be the person to convince the customer that understanding and compassionate people still do exist.

Dear ones, rather than seeing the primary activity as the one that earns you the dollars that see you through the month, see it as an opportunity for you to live a hosanna life, a hallelujah life – one that is lived in praise of and thanksgiving to God, and, so, smoothens the road of your purpose journey. Armed with this mindset, your primary activity becomes one that benefits humanity and all of creation (of which you’re a part, BTW).

A hosanna life requires you to confront fear. A hallelujah life requires you to deal with your doubt, to stick your finger in the wounds, as it were, and prove to yourself that what you perceive is no ghost or figment of your imagination, but is real. When you confront fear and efface doubt, you are able to step out of the room in which you are locked and embrace the mission that you have been assigned, a mission that leads to purpose.

As I close, I no longer challenge you, but I invite you to stand up and walk into the hosannah life. I renew my call to change the language. Let the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart no longer be about what you do for a living. Rather, let them be acceptable to the Lord: let them be about what you do for a life. It is then that you will show forth the faith you profess. It is then you will be well-poised to fulfil your purpose.

Until next time,

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