'I Want to Do What You Do': What it Means

There’s nothing like hearing this from someone to give me a furrowed brow:

“I want to do what you do.”


Does that mean you want to write? Write for a living? Have two columns a week published on a major network website? Come up with a constant stream of ideas to lend some inspiration and meaning to people’s lives?

Or, put more simply and generally, to be absolutely exhilarated by what you do?

Let’s go with the latter, but I’ll use examples from my own experiences along the way.

Almost all of my clients and even those just inquiring about coaching are primarily intent on zeroing in on what their life’s work is supposed to be. It’s an honor to be in a position to shepherd them through such a vital phase of their lives. This is a discussion that so often features words like “passion” and “purpose” that they’ve become cliché and people begin to glaze over at their mention.

I turn instead to the “10,000-Hour Rule” put forth by Malcolm Gladwell in his wonderful 2008 book Outliers. His premise is that to become an expert in anything a person must spend 10,000 hours at it and he cites examples like the Beatles and Bill Gates. You get the idea. Tireless work ethic. Getting better and better at something. Completely logical.

So let’s do some math. I know it’s a leap to go right to expert, but perhaps tallying the hours you spend doing various things can lead you down a new path by shifting some focus or intention. What are you devoting hours and hours to in your life? Create a few categories – work, parenting, creative pursuits, hobbies, etc. – and crunch some rough numbers.

You know how calculating your monthly spending to create a budget sometimes reveals that you lay out a shocking amount of cash on lattes at Starbucks? We’re looking for the equivalent to that in your time, learning what you’re doing vs. what you might be doing. Maybe you’re stunned at how much time you spend playing video games or reading gossip sites. Don’t discount those as possibilities on your path. Someone has to create those games, you know?

When I read Gladwell’s book I jotted down some numbers, figuring out I had 30,000 hours of journalism work under my belt by the year 2000. That’s before I was even published on the Internet. Yes, I’m dating myself, but for a good cause.

That’s the real story of doing what I do (and by “I” I mean lots of people who have kept at whatever their ‘thing’ is). Working hard. Showing up. But also being open to what one chosen path might morph into. I had no idea there would be an Internet when I set out to study journalism, nor when I was writing stories at age 12 or poems at age 16 or essays in college. I didn’t become a voracious reader so that one day I’d have a byline. And I certainly never in a million years saw that becoming a strong interviewer would eventually translate beautifully into being a life coach.

But that all happened because I was open to it.

It’s about logging the hours in places that make my soul expand. Trust me, I have a bunch of flaws, but one of them is not being fuzzy about my gifts. Sometimes people want my opinion on their writing and I tell them immediately what is true – I am not an expert in fiction writing, screen writing, poetry or public relations. Send me some journalism or an essay and I’ll confidently render an opinion. That’s because I know it. It’s not rocket science. It’s dedication.

“The most common question people ask me about business is, ‘How did you get started?’” Brandon Steiner writes in his new book, You Gotta Have Balls. “I’m never sure where to begin, because I can’t trace my success back to a particular place or moment. There wasn’t one massive event, or one giant deal; it was more like landing on one island, and later another, and so on – with a lot of treading water in between. The one common thread, the underlying impetus, is commitment.”

Steiner, the founder and chairman of Steiner Sports Marketing, also makes it clear that not everything he tried worked out. Most who have found their niche can relate to this in some way. When people have a perception of my success because they relate to my writing, what they don’t see is the failed story pitches to magazines, the proposal I sent Mattel to be the blogging voice of Barbie many years ago that fell on deaf ears, or my not-so-hot stint at television producing.

If you want to do what I do, try, fail, try again, succeed, fail again, try again. Repeat. And repeat again.

It’s pretty darned joyful. I swear.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.