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Why do you do what you do?

We all "do" different things and fulfil many roles, but our vocation is usually how we answer, "what do you do?".

For example, I'm a programmer.

But there is a problem:

We are more than just our vocation, it is but a small aspect of who we are, what we do and why we do it. A vocation also pigeon-holes so there is a danger of prejudice (for instance, the vast majority of programmers are not spotty, socially awkward single men). Furthermore, our vocation defines us in terms of our economic value (it is how we earn money).

Because the notion of vocation is so strong there is a danger that it dominates how we find meaning in our lives. Everything appears to flow from our vocation: money to pay for the things we think we need. Our life is reduced to a struggle to "do a thing to afford another thing".

This wonderful article from 2012 supplies an interesting contrast to such a world view. It lists five common themes the dying focus on when asked, "what would you have done differently?" (the same question I posed at the start but expressed in the past tense)...

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

None of the themes directly reference vocation nor is the resolution of such wishes encumbered by money. For example, I can't buy "staying in touch with my friends". It depends upon my own efforts to remain close to those I hold dear.

It suggests to me that acting without the expectation of debt or obligation to or from others can be a source of happiness and good. Act for intrinsic value rather than financial or material benefit.

So, I'll ask again: why do you do what you do?

As always, comments, constructive critique and ideas most welcome (with the caveat that these are rather raw thoughts that I may revise at some later date).