I was standing in line to board a flight to Doha, Qatar when asked this question. I had struck up a conversation with the person in front of me who told me he was heading for Bali to attend a conference. I asked what was his occupation and he replied he was a venture capitalist.
Then he asked what did I do. I'm always careful with this question. I try not to ask others this question if I'm interested in their occupation because they're not the same, although we tend to mean that when posing the query.
I replied I'm doing what I do, in part. I'm a traveler and explorer. I didn't elaborate further as I knew that's not what he meant with his question. He probed further by clarifying his question, asking what I did for work before retiring to this life. I knew what he meant the first time, but now I felt no need to play further. I told him I worked as a Chemical Engineer.
I'm an explorer, not an engineer!
I'm not a fan of being defined by an occupation. Who we are and what we do are not the same. At least for me it's not. I know some will disagree. Some draw their entire identity from their occupation. That is who they are!
I'm not sure if I should envy or pity them. In some ways your life becomes much simpler if reduced to an occupation. But is simplicity the key to happiness? I don't think so, but I could be wrong.
During my working years I worked with a contractor who stopped by my office frequently for chats. We chatted about life more than work stuff. When he turned 70 I asked him when he was going to retire. He replied, "Why would I retire from something I enjoy doing?"
That's not an uncommon response but it deserved a follow up question. I asked him if he would continue to work if his company stopped paying him. He told me of course not, he's not a fool. So I stated the
obvious, as much as he enjoyed work, if not paid, there is something else he would rather do. For him it was fishing and being at his camp.
To me, that's who he was. Not a contractor, but a country boy who enjoys the outdoors. A man of nature.
This man died recently. He never did retire to permanently enjoy his fishing camp. Whatever he accumulated in wealth and social security benefits were forfeited. To me it's a sad story.
On another occasion I ran into a man I worked with for many years. I had forgotten the circumstances in which he left the company but he refreshed my memory to tell me he was let go. He continued to tell me much more than I asked and informed me of the deep depression he went into for a long period of time after the event. He said he woke up every morning and didn't know what to do with himself. He felt like he had less worth. He eventually immersed himself in his church work and emerged from his depression.
I knew from his story he was like many people who draw their entire identity from their job. The problem with that is when your job ends, so dies your identity.
An important overlooked life aspect is what it is that truly makes us happy. Who are we? What do we really like to do? After figuring that one out, use your occupation and other means to reach your goal.
I'll give you my example. When I began to travel internationally for work, I realized I like the adventure of new places. But I never had the time to enjoy them while performing my job at the sites. That changed some when I was given an assignment in France to work for a year. I flew over for two weeks to work, then back to the USA for two weeks. That gave me free weekends each month for personal exploration. And I did.
I visited the castles in the Loire valley, the grape fields of Boudreaux, the country drives through the sunflower fields, and the weekend train rides to Paris. All solo travel experiences. I found out how much I loved it. So now I needed a plan to get there. To travel independently without the burden of work.
I began to read book after book on how to invest money. I settled on an investment strategy and worked toward financial freedom to achieve it. My occupation was a means to that end. I wanted to retire at least by the age of 55 so I could enjoy my health during travel years.
But I knew if I were to travel independently on international trips, the cost would erode my savings and force me to work longer. I had to supplement my plan. So I read about travel hacking. How I can travel for free or nearly free as I outlined in the 10 part series starting in this post:
I implemented that plan in conjunction with my investment strategy. Now I'm enjoying the fruits of that earlier labor. I now do what I enjoy doing. This is what I do, along with being a grandfather to my grandkids.
If we can find what makes us happy early in life then implement the plan to achieve it, we are on our way to a successful retirement. Then when asked, "what do you do?", the answer is more than our occupation.
This is a philosophical post, of course. My philosophy is different from yours. You may or may not agree. But I've learned philosophy is the key to learning. I hated it when I was young as I had no use for it in an engineering world. But philosophy is simply the search and discovery of the underlying meaning of things. The search for truths. Your philosophy will differ from mine because your truths are different. We all should find our truths, then hold true to them.