What You Like to Do and What You Have to Do

“Nice to meet you,” I said — politely shaking her hand as I smiled.

“Likewise,” she said in the same, quick, ‘how-do-you-do’ manner.

I had already been introduced to a few dozen strangers that night, and like all the others before her I had already forgotten her name.  What was different was that this tiny exchange of hellos happened just seconds before those who introduced us disappeared to talk amongst themselves.  I turned to her, expecting some typical ‘strangers meeting for the first time’ idle chit-chat.

“So…” she began.

I immediately knew what she was going to ask, and dreaded the question.  “What do you do?” she’ll say.  I’ll tell her that I’m a computer guy, which will open the flood-gates for a ton of other questions I don’t want to answer.  It’s a lousy existence, working for a living doing work you hate — because whenever you meet someone new you end up talking about shit you don’t care about.

“What do you like to do when you’re not doing what you have to do?” she finished.

The question surprised me.  Not only because it wasn’t what I expected her to ask, but also because the question was quite profound.  It was almost as though this unnamed girl was sharing the perfect ice breaker with me — a question that cuts through all the bullshit “let me impress you with what I do” nonsense by casually asking “Who are you really?”

Depending on when the question was asked, I may have answered that I like working on classic cars and showcasing them in parades.  Or maybe I said that I like reading novels that turn into movies, and then enjoy watching the film to see what’s different.  Or perhaps I said that I like writing about my personal experiences and publishing articles about them online.

Whatever I actually said that night, I know that I was anxious to share what was on my mind.  I talked about what I liked to do passionately, because it was a topic that interested me.  Had she asked about my day job — something I have to do — I would have been quite reluctant to talk about it.

Looking back on this, I recognize that life truly can be simplified into these two categories:

What You Like to Do is the stuff you’d do all the time if you were a billionaire, and

What You Have to Do is the stuff you do because you’re not.

(I know it’s a crude explanation — but I’m certain you know what I mean.)

Right now, I have a bunch of interests that fall under what I like to do:  reading novels, writing memoirs, writing manuscripts, learning piano, learning to surf (something quite impossible in Michigan), watching movies, playing games, solving puzzles, eating delicious food, and spending time with friends.

Unfortunately, most of these things that I like to do have been pushed aside while I’ve been concentrating on what I must do:  I’ve been investing a lot of hard work and long hours at my new job with the hope that my three-month review will yield a raise or promotion.  Lately it seems like the list of things I like to do could be shortened to just: Sleep.

In short, please forgive the recent lack of new content on LifeReboot.  My day job has been stealing my energy, and I realize it’s a lame excuse.  Sacrificing my writing time to work for a living may not be what I like to do, but I believe it’s what I have to do.

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18 Responses to “What You Like to Do and What You Have to Do”

#1 KJH on 19, Oct, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Shaun – you summed up something that I’m so acutely aware of so nicely that I had to leave a comment. Sometimes, I feel that I’ve lost track of the things that I *like* to do due to the overwhelming # of things that I *have* to do.

All I can suggest is that it’s important from time to time to ‘reboot’, to spend some time remembering (and possibly enjoying) what you *like* to do.


#2 Jessica on 20, Oct, 2008 at 12:02 am

Hi Shaun, I hate the question “what do you do?”. I normally reply with “what do you mean?”. So for someone new to ask you “what you like to do when you’re not working?” is a great thing. I wish I could meet more people that don’t define others by their jobs. For most people it is only what they have to do.

I’m a long time reader and I just want to say you are one of the people that inspired me to get into blogging. You were also one of the people that helped me question my life in a positive way. Some of your older articles are very inspiring and thought provoking. I just want to say like others before have, don’t give up on this blog, find that energy and keep posting. I understand your need to go back to full time work but you have a great site and some loyal readers so please keep at it.

#3 GadgetPig on 20, Oct, 2008 at 8:22 am

Shaun I know how hard it is to keep up with the blog in light of your new career. I wish you the best.

I wanted to ask you to consider adding other topics, some controversial, to bring lifereboot into mainstream.

In essence, give Lifereboot a Lifereboot.

Traditionally it has been about career and life changes, but I think as a gifted writer, you can make new changes.

I wanted to share with you all this picture:


I read about it from Powell’s recent discussion:


and also here:


It was about an American Muslim (20yr old) who gave his life to serve our country,at a time where some of Mccain’s supporters are portraying Obama as Muslims and thus terrorists, and that it is wrong and to be feared. What has happened to our country? What happened to “united we stand, divided we fall”? Is it only in some places that there is “America” while in others there is no “America”?
Are some Americans, because of color and political or religious associations less American? Why do we allow racism/fear to fester in this greatest of nations, a nation of different people and faiths? Why do we portray “hockey moms” and “nascar dads I could drink beer with” as heroes? Why is it we can go to other countries and kill terrorists, while it’s ok to have the KKK rally anywhere they want and foster hate and destruction? We have a Muslim that gave his life (among other fallen heroes of Iraq), and there is more coverage of Palin and SNL then there is of people who gave the ultimate sacrifice..his life..for his country.



#4 Lauren on 20, Oct, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Technically I think sleep should be filed under “need” and not “want”. Don’t feel badly though – Some day you will find a job that you love. I kinda liked your idea of working a cruise ship. I think you’d make a good guide and surfing instructor and Cassie could do arts and crafts with the kids and sing in a jazzy night club act.

#5 Dereck Coatney on 21, Oct, 2008 at 12:07 am

The profundity of her question really resonated with me.

That’s the kind of question that truly does split the barrel wide open.

#6 Matt R. @ YFNCG.com on 21, Oct, 2008 at 11:39 am

I LIKE to read this blog, but I HAVE to wait a month for a post. 😉

Great insights here. Even though my day job isn’t something I loathe, I am working hard to get my own business developed so I can concentrate on doing things I love on my own terms. Then when someone asks me what I have to do or what I like to do, the answer can be the same.

#7 Christopher Calvi on 21, Oct, 2008 at 7:08 pm

“What do you like to do when you’re not doing what you have to do?”

I like that … well played, well played.

#8 Kate on 22, Oct, 2008 at 12:34 am

Sorry to hear that Shaun. I’ve been thinking about starting my own blog too but I never get around to it.

@ Gadgetpig, you sound like you have a lot of interesting ideas. You should start your own blog. I’ll be happy to read it.

#9 Cassie on 22, Oct, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Sorry Gadgetpig, i HIGHLY doubt you’re going to get a blog about political views from mr. shaun. he is like, the most a-political person i know.

#10 GadgetPig on 13, Nov, 2008 at 12:45 pm

You’re right Cassie, I think LifeReboot is best at what it does best, talk about career and life changes. Politics certainly should be separate.

BTW, if any of you are in the Chicago area, I HIGHLY recommend this new BBQ place. In fact it was started by some computer consultants who had a successful “lifereboot” of their own. There is a youtube clip about also.


best regards

#11 Timmy on 19, Nov, 2008 at 9:38 am

This post is a wonderful description of my frame of mind right now. For almost a year, I have been completely obsessed with choosing things to do that I enjoy, feel are important, and can support a family. But, with my interests, it is near impossible to fulfill that last requirement. So, I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I will have to do what I have to do in order to finance what I want to do. I wanted to do things that would bring back a balance between humans and our planet. No other species trashes the planet, so why should we. I want for humanity to erase the footprint we have left. But, nothing I could do in order to make that happen would support a family. So, I am going to have to be an actuary when I graduate(I’m 29). It is a career that pays well and is rated very high for job satisfaction. So, I will use that to finance my long-term goal which, if I make it happen, humanity will have an unlimited supply of free and clean energy. So, Shaun, I completely understand what you mean. Have you ever thought about turning some of your writing talent into a book? The topic of your blog and the articles you have written so far would make a wonderful book of positive thinking. The best of luck to you!

#12 Jinno on 07, Dec, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Hey Shaun, just piping in in the nearly two month absence.

I hope your evaluation went okay, and would like to encourage you to make another post. Anything should do, don’t worry about quality so much, more often than not the best things happen by accident.

#13 Suzanne Belair on 14, Dec, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I don’t know how old you are but you should definitely not spend your time doing something “you hate” like you say. Life is short; you must enjoy it as best you can. A long time ago, I lost someone very precious to me and a relative sent me a little painted sign to hang that said: “If you can’t have what you love, you must love what you have”. This always stayed with me and I feel very strongly that this can be applied to anything. You have to find a way to enjoy the way you are spending the largest chunk of your day. If you can’t do what you love, you must love what you do.
I think the conversation you are recalling happened when you were in a vulnerable state. Personally, when I ask someone what they do, I never thought they would look at it as a bullshit question. I am quite interested in people’s lives and “What do you do” does not necessarily mean “What do you do for a living”.
If it is true that life can be split into the 2 categories of “like” or “don’t like”, it is not true that the reason for an activity falling in one category or another is solely based on money. And if you hate your work so much, why do you want a promotion that will bring you more of the same with the added bonus of more hours and responsibility?
I think you have to realize that there are all kinds of things that we have to do even if we have a lot of money. Ultimately, we want to do things we like because we think it will bring us happiness but it is not necessarily so once we get the opportunity. For instance, you might want to write manuscripts or read all day, but after a while, you would probably get bored with it and seek something else. It is the phenomenon of it being greener in the neighbor’s yard. Some people have a lot of time on their hands but do not know what to do with it and get depressed.
There are not enough hours in anyone’s day to do everything we like to do. We can only choose one day at the time and you are making the choice right now to invest your time in furthering your career. I know some people who have a lot of money and they are still doing all kinds of things they do not enjoy because then, they try to keep up the fortune and want more still: more toys, more money, more fame. It is human nature to want more and look ahead which is why it is so important to learn to enjoy what we have.
Please keep in mind you don’t “have” to do anything. There is always a choice, and we must assume our choices and decisions. I hope you find a way to be happy in what you do everyday because after all, this is the only life we have. Live everyday to the fullest, change your focus and be at peace with your choices. After all, they are your decisions.

#14 metty on 16, Dec, 2008 at 7:13 am

Perhaps in doing what you have to do, you have helped alter someone else’s life. At least that has always been one of my motivations to get me to go to work everyday.

Anyway, greetings from Indonesia.

#15 Steve on 22, Dec, 2008 at 10:50 am

Hi Shawn,

I just wanted to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year…

All the best in 2009…!!!


P.S. I look forward to your next blog…

#16 Second Thoughts…. « Incision - Blog of a Surgeon Would-Be! on 29, Dec, 2008 at 1:01 pm

[…] were the thoughts that entered my mind after read this post from this wonderful site called Lifereboot. Surprisingly the same thought has been going thru my […]

#17 Sarah on 06, Jan, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Hey Shaun! It’s been a while since I checked out your site, but am enjoying it. So neat that you have “loyal readers!”

I have mixed feelings about being asked “what do you do.” I spent years as part of a movement I was excited about and now am office lackey in the financial sector, something about which I don’t really like to talk and nobody really wants to hear. At least I can also mention my wacky weekend gig. I’m working on a website for it…

So, write on! It’s a little scary to put your thoughts out into recorded history, but you’re coming from a very thoughtful angle and I don’t think you’ll regret it.

@ Lauren: That would be so fun for a couple years maximum, but it would be hella’ fun.
@ Suzanne Belair: Quite a comment! You make some excellent points about enjoying the present moment of your life and recognizing that your choices shape your world all the time. Kudos.

#18 Mneiae on 15, Jun, 2010 at 10:12 pm

This is the Saturday morning question. So, what do you do on Saturday mornings?

I read. I read so much that some people think it’s unhealthy. Oh, I work out and I go to class. I eat food in the cafeteria. I attend group meetings in the library. I also volunteer.

Those things are mostly extrinsically motivated. [Volunteering is a good example. It’s a mix. I like helping people, but it’s also on my resume.]

Reading’s not. Reading is about learning things. The fact that I read so much is part of the reason that I’m still in college, even with my rebellious, entrepreneurial spirit. I like reading and learning; college is the perfect place for me right now.

I like learning so much that by the time I graduate from college, I will probably have at least 1.5x the required amount of credit for a diploma. I decided to take at least one class that wasn’t related to my diploma requirements every semester after one of my friends told me that she is doing the same.

This isn’t the same answer to what I’d do if I were a billionaire. If I was suddenly gifted with a billion dollars, I’d put some of it into a family trust fund and take care of my parents. With the rest, I’d achieve my life objective of making clean water available to the world’s children. Two million deaths a year due to contaminated water is not right.

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