Sunday, September 4, 2016

What do you do?

My friend David Burkus ( does many things. One of them is running a really great podcast. He interviews cool people, and every podcast begins with the question: Who are you and what do you do? And everyone knows this question is coming, so they had time to prepare their answers. These people are some of the smartest people on the planet. And yet, many of them seem to struggle with their answer.

Labor Day in the United States is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend and it is considered the unofficial end of summer. I write this blog on a Sunday, smack in the middle of the “end of summer” celebration.

When we were kids, we would be asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And we would shout out things like: Doctor! Fireman! Teacher! Policeman! Baseball Player! Nurse! Astronaut!

At such a young age, we could not know the difference in earning potential from one profession to another. As kids we answered this question based on pure emotion. What would it "be" like to become a Doctor? What would it “be” like to become a Fireman? What would it “be” like to become a professional athlete? We were too young to know or worry about little things like car payments and mortgages and student loans. Money had nothing to do with it.

Somewhere along the way, the questions went from “What do you want to BE when you grow up” to “What is your college major” and “What do you do for a living”.

The process shifted. It went from “being” something to “doing” something. And the money - exchanging our time on planet earth doing something - for money - entered the conversation.

When I was in High School in Boca Raton Florida, the Quarterback of the football team was - amazing. I knew him since the 7th grade. Every sport he played - baseball, track, basketball, everything - he just excelled. FAST! Oh, such a fast runner. He went on to college, and everyone knew that he was one day going to win the Super Bowl. It was going to happen! The talent, the skill was there - we just need to watch it all unfold! Then, there was an injury. And a few unlucky breaks.

There was no NFL career for my friend.

But he did pursue a career in football. The passion for the game was too strong. The love of the sport, the “fire in the belly” as they say, was too much to ignore.

Labor Day has become a holiday to celebrate and reflect on “what we do for a living” rather than what we do - since what we do is really who we are.

When we retire (if we ever CAN retire… that topic for another blog) we talk about our careers - as if once retired we have transformed into a different person. When we talk about our past work, when we reminisce about our past careers we are describing our identity, our purpose. The “thing” that we did for a living, the actions that we performed in exchange for compensation becomes everything.

As we celebrate the long holiday weekend, try to reflect on this interesting process. We go from “what do you want to be” to “what do you do” to “what did you do” - for a living

Don’t let the compensation (the money) that you exchange for your time on planet earth become your label. Parents: teaching moment for your kids!

What you do - and what you have done - should always match your passion. It should be your special purpose. Financial compensation has nothing to do with it. We all have bills to pay, we all have financial responsibilities. 

Passion needs to equal Profession.

The next time someone asks you “What do you do?” stop and ask yourself - do they want to know about my passion - or are they trying to figure out how much money I make? The secret to a successful life and career is to have “what do you do” and “what do you do for a living” have the same answer. 

Too often, the answer to these two questions are very different. And that is sad.

Mark Richt is the head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes. Prior to Miami, Richt served as head coach at the University of Georgia for 15 years, Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach at Florida State University for 14 years, and as offensive coordinator at East Carolina University.

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