Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

If You Could Do Anything for a Living, What Would You Do?

They say that the answer to the “If you could do anything…” question tells you what you’re meant to do.

It says something about your passions and interests and what you’d be doing if you didn’t have to worry about paying the bills and such. But most people struggle with the two — I call it the issue of vocation versus occupation.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, which means “calling.” It suggests some grand purpose in your life. Occupation has the same root as “occupy” and that’s just what it does — occupies your time and brings home a paycheck.

A few years ago, I was struggling with this tension between passion and provision.

I sensed my heart was directing me to live with reckless abandon in pursuit of my dreams, while my mind was telling me to be more responsible and stable in preparation for marriage.

Worried about the crossroads in life I was facing, I was anxious about “selling out” and living a mediocre existence. In a panic, I called my mentor.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for young people to have mentors in their lives that they trust to give candid feedback. I’m not just talking about a parent, professor, or pastor, but someone who speaks into your life even when you don’t ask. This takes a high degree of trust and grace to build, but once you have the relationship, it’s invaluable.

So I went to my mentor and told him my dilemma.

Candidly, he responded, “Join the crowd.”

“What?!” I was incredulous.

“Actually,” he said. “I think you’re in a good place — struggling with what you could do and what you should do. It says a lot about your character, that you’re concerned about fulfilling your life’s calling and providing for your family. I feel bad for those don’t struggle with the two.”

I ruminated on that for awhile, and it really struck me as profound. Join the crowd.

That phrase changed the way I thought of what I had to do and what I loved doing. I had always believed that if those two didn’t completely synchronize with one another that something was seriously wrong in my life.

But maybe that’s just how real life is — messy.

Maybe there is nothing wrong with struggling with the tension between occupation and vocation. Maybe the real tragedy is in not struggling at all — in flaking out on your responsibilities for the sake of your “calling” or compromising your dream for the sake of security.

Maybe those of us who don’t lose sleep over the idea of calling and living responsibly are indeed missing out.

Maybe you should join the crowd.

What would you do… if you could do anything? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Russu Lucia

    Thank you for beeing a lighthouse in the dark. It’s not such a big crowd afterall. Most people are resignedly going along with their lifes. I think is a matter of courage to follow your dream unconditionally, even if some will call it irresponsible. I’ve been missing from my own life for 23 years, caged most of the time in an aluminium tube, taking care of some other people lifes. I’ve seen people desperate not to lose their job and at moments i shared the feeling with them. But, all this time, something has been burning inside me. Pain and desire in this flame struggling to get out. Now after waisting half of my life i realized that at least i have to try to let it out. Maybe it will bring my peace, my rest at night. Real life is not messy, is what we choose to make out of it. All the sacrifices we are willingly doing for our loved ones. With apologies for any misprint, english not beeing my first language.

  • Birds.
    Rodents.
    Jet Engines.
    Bagram airfield, Afghanistan.
    I’d like to seal that tarmac.
    “Jihad!”

  • Love these thoughts on the tension of “balance.” I find myself bouncing between “write” and “be mom.” The tension of doing both absolutely is the joy in it as well.

  • Samuel John

    Sometimes, I think God creates the tensions in us so we lean on Him and others for answers.

    And like Bill Johnson says, “A lot of what you need in life comes to you, but what you want in life, you have to go after.”

  • You’re right on with the mentor thing. They are so important.

  • Jeff, this is the same question asked by Dr. Charles Stanley in a message to high school seniors three years ago! I was in a desperate situation. I was not sure if I was in the right place or not. For six months in 2010 I sought God daily asking him what He wanted me to do. I was in a straight commission job, and not making the money I needed too.

    Memorial Day Weekend the revelation came while watching Dr. Stanley’s sermon. He asked the kids to ask the very question “If you could do anything int the world, and money was not an issue, what would you do?” What are you passionate about. I sat up for three hours that night praying, and researching the idea he brought to my heart. I wanted to teach and write Bible studies and devotionals! Those have been my gifts and passion for years!

    I had started on the path to writing when my son was young and got sidetracked with looking for a way to make money and stay home with my son! God never gave up on the dream He had for me, I walked away from it for a long time. FINALLY! I had peace and that weekend birthed a passion deep within me to live out my calling!

    I am not full-time yet, but I am on my way! This cool guy Jeff Goins has helped me tremendously find my way towards being a writer and speaker who makes money!

  • Kathy Brunner

    Maybe it is the “climb” that wears us down but truthfully, I believe my clarity comes when I am forced to make a choice. I get better at doing what matters to me instead of talking about doing what matters to me.

    • I get clarity that way, too. Thanks for sharing, Kathy.

  • Like most who have written on this page, writing would be the thing that I would do. I had been writing for different blogs for some time and started my own a couple of years ago, but actually stopped after finding a new job (not writing related) that I threw my heart into. Now I’m pushing myself to get back into the routine and to start practicing my craft again.

  • Blog Tips and Trick

    Naturally if I could do anything for a living it would be blogging, and I think many people would agree with me on that. I envy you so much it is unbelievable! Anyways, thanks for the great post and keep it up!

    Blog Tutorials

  • Jenna

    I was directed to your blog by a friend right after I asked this question on my blog…I am going through the same thing! I am in a great situation right now, my husband’s salary just increased and he will be the sole breadwinner, which is giving me an opportunity I’ve never had, to actually pursue my dreams and dream career. Lots of thinking going on over here!

    https://sharingmyjennarocity.blogspot.com/2013/06/are-you-in-your-dream-job.html

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  • I’ve been unemployed (after a layoff) for 7 months now. In that time, I wrote my first novel, and I continue to write and perform songs. I realize I am actually now doing what I want to do, being a singer-songwriter and author. But I’m not making an income from either of these things, and I do have a family to provide for. So I know I need to either find a job, or find a way to make money with music and writing…not an easy task. Hopefully one or the other will happen in the new year.

  • Swati Hegde

    Well, if I could do anything for a living (thus assuming I could do these things well), I think I’d be a number of things. Writer, blogger, homicide detective, singer, actor, therapist, fashion designer, restaurant owner… I’d love to be any of these things. Of course, skill-wise, I’m currently only the first two. (Although I’ve never been anywhere near a homicide, so you never know about my detective skills.)

    But I’m still doing a business degree, because it’ll guarantee me a good job. Also, I think knowledge of the business world and the economy can’t really hurt in any field. Business is a part of everything, isn’t it?

  • Fox

    If I could do anything for a living, I’d be a gardener on some rich person’s estate somewhere in a tropical or mediterranean country. There is nothing that gives me more joy than walking around barefoot in my parents’ garden on a warm summer evening watering the plants.

  • If I could do anything, I’d do what I’m doing now. Writing science fiction ebooks, making artwork and working part-time in a charity shop talking to the general public and cracking jokes. I live as a minimalist and I see how happy and fulfilled I am in my life that I can’t ever imagine myself ‘retiring’ or giving up this lifestyle.

  • Crisel Sparklem

    i will be a writer and a traveler! i will travel anywhere and everywhere and absorb the gravity of each place and i will write in words!