4 Questions That Changed How I View Work and Life


Note: This is a post from Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt.

I love Danielle LaPorte.

In a sea of experts talking about careers, entrepreneurship, passion, and life… she’s different.

She taught me to be genuine, unique, and passionate – no matter how difficult the process would be. And I owe her big time for that.

Once upon a time, Danielle charged hundreds of dollars (and then thousands of dollars) for one-on-one, in-your-face, no-holds-barred consulting conversations that rocked the worlds of people who had no idea what they had signed up for.

I had one of those conversations with Danielle once – and I walked away with a totally different view of my life and business.

Good news, though. She’s now boiled down all the wisdom from her website, speeches, poems, and one-on-one sessions into a single book.

The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte is now available for preorder.

I rarely suggest you buy a book. But this is the exception. You will love this one.

It’s different, unique, and in a style that both entertains and shocks the system with dozens of a-ha moments. (I think I averaged one a-ha moment per page of the book!)

If you took a highlighter to this book – the entire thing would be yellow! 😉

One of my favorite things about The Fire Starter Sessions is what Danielle calls the “Burning Questions” in Chapter 4 (around page 80).

As I read the questions in the book, I remembered Danielle’s voice asking me them on the phone. Even now, it’s fun to see how my answers and perspective have changed over the years. 🙂

Question #1:  When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say?  And how do you feel when you say it?

Wowzers, did this one hit me hard at different points in my life. I’ve always hated the “What Do You Do” question – even if I fall back on it myself in awkward situations at times.

I never had a good answer, because I always lacked confidence. And when I say “good” answer, I mean good to me. I never had an answer my own self was proud of.

When I admitted how I really felt when I answered – and how I always talked in circles explaining what I did – it clicked that something was wrong. I started not only changing how I answered, but what I actually did.

Question #2:  When do you feel powerful, passionate, free, incredibly useful, excited, inspired?

This was another tough, tough question for me to answer honestly at first. But the more I ask myself, the better I get at honing in on those times.

This is now the first piece of advice I give to anyone who comes to me and is “dead inside” from years and years of work that suffocates and traps them. Many have been out of tune with their positive, powerful, or free feelings for so long they can’t even remember them!

However, if you can be honest and up-front when you feel at your utmost best in life – you’ll have a big, blinking light guiding you toward your passion.

Question #3:  What’s chronic, repetitive, or inflamed in your inner or outer life?

Yikes, now we are getting deep.

Every major hurdle I’ve had in my business or life has been directly related to honestly identifying an inflamed or chronic habit, person, or ideal that has plagued my progress. Seriously, every instance I can remember.

I don’t like dwelling on the negative, but this question is about more than just complaining on the symptoms. This bites down to the problem itself.

When I’m honest about what’s really out-of-whack (specifically, not generally) and take action to break away from it – well, it’s painful up front – but oh so freeing after that.

Question #4:  What’s always in the back of your mind?

The back of my mind is a scary, scary place.

Like really scary.

But it’s also where my true passions, dreams, and ability to impact to others nestles most of the time.

As a society, we are taught to conform. To push our outside-the-box, scary, and uncomfortable ideas and values to the back of our minds.

Danielle helped give me permission to examine what’s been back there (sometimes for years). And I owe her big time for that!


These are just 4 of almost a dozen burning questions in just one chapter of The Fire Starter Sessions.

It’s slammed with life-changing tidbits. It’s well worth the small investment and well worth your time reading it.

Oh, and for a final shot of inspiration, here’s Danielle’s “Credo for Making it Happen” video (brilliant):


This thing will make you want to kick ass and take names – in whatever project you want to tackle next. 🙂

Pick one of the questions in this post and answer it in the comments:

  • When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say?
  • When do you feel powerful, passionate, free, incredibly useful, excited, inspired?
  • What’s chronic, repetitive, or inflamed in your inner or outer life?
  • What’s always in the back of your mind?

Go ahead, pick one. Let me know your answer!

29 thoughts on “4 Questions That Changed How I View Work and Life”

  1. When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say?

    I build tribes. I help people who have felt that spark inside themselves… that idea, that dream… to act on it, and use it to build a tribe that can change the world.

    Thanks Baker and Danielle! I am looking forward to reading The Fire Starter Sessions!

      1. Yes, that place has amazingly healthy and gluten free food… 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you around town. My thoughts are with your family as you welcome a new member soon!

  2. I, too, had a fire starter session with this lovely woman. She is a friend. Even shared a hot tub.
    Her work is powerful and passionate.
    I’ll answer #1 – I wake women up to their wild and feral nature, their raw creativity, a feminine leadership and a deep love for themselves.
    Thanks for your post!

    1. I see how you are – ignore my question and flip it around on me! 😉

      Honestly, it depends slightly on when I’m asked and the context. However, most of the time I say “I run an online community that teaches people how to deal with debt, clutter, and finding work they love.”

      Now, that’s the watered down version – but one that most people can understand easily. (And one that doesn’t scare me). If I’m more brave in the moment, I’ll insert more fun words like CRUSH their debt, or quit their soul-sucking jobs and find work they love… 🙂

      But most of the time, in an environment with people who don’t follow online communities, I play it a little safer in order to maximize the chance they have ANY idea what I’m talking about!

      Honest enough? 🙂

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  4. This might sound a bit crazy to some but when someone at a party asks me “What Do You Do,” I often just tell them what I aspire to be or am working towards.

    It’s that universal law. If I say that I am a supervisor at a recreational facility then the Universe recognizes that and attracts it. But if keep saying I am a health and wellness coach and keep re-affirming it over and over again I am attracting that.

    There’s definitely something powerful in that. I suggest giving it a try. It makes for a fun evening. Plus, pay attention to how excited and passionate you are when talking about it. It’s amazing!

    1. Good point, Justin. Many times I tell them what project I’m working on “I’m producing a documentary” or “I’m writing a book” or “I teach an online course on…” etc… 🙂

  5. Even better here are all 4:

    Question #1: When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say? And how do you feel when you say it?
    I usually give my day job ‘I work for XYZ Company.’ I don’t feel badly when I say what I do because I’m proud to work there, but I don’t think it fully encompasses ‘what I do.’

    Question #2: When do you feel powerful, passionate, free, incredibly useful, excited, inspired?
    At my library volunteers meetings, teaching computer classes, speaking publicly, giving a presentation at work

    Question #3: What’s chronic, repetitive, or inflamed in your inner or outer life?
    Right now, I have a friend/business partner that comes to mind. Another chronic problem would be spurts of action surrounded by miles of ‘planning’ and feet dragging.

    Question #4: What’s always in the back of your mind?
    How awesome I could be. I wouldn’t say I let myself down, but I could certainly do more. A big struggle is finding support to keep moving forward. My wife is great that she has found her passion and works at a job she loves. But this came naturally for her(since she was 14 years old she knew) so it’s a bit hard to explain the struggle and get feedback.

  6. Question #1: When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say? And how do you feel when you say it?

    I really like this question. Just the other day, I asked myself how I’d like to IDEALLY answer it. I think that’s just as important of a question.

    My answer: I build things. I build communities, companies, houses, motorcycles, experiences, relationships. Everything I have and am, I’ve built.

    Thanks for the book rec. I love Danielle as well so I’ll definitely have to check this out.

  7. Danielle surely has the magical words to teach you what to do. I’ve read her many times online where she headlines shows and many high priced tickets.

    These four questions are thought provoking and everytime, i try as much as possible to be able to summarize what i do within 20 seconds (before the person asking me leaves the lift) and to do it well as such.

    Hope to read much more from you and thanks for sharing that book link too.


  8. When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say?
    I’ve had that moment and felt awful about it. It’s heading in the right direction. not focused, not concise yet, but getting there.

  9. When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say?
    That I work for a financial service company doing social media and community management. And that I spend my free time skiing, brewing beer and am currently working on creating an awesome space for all my loved ones (restoring my first home).

  10. (1) When someone at a party asks you “What Do You Do,” what do you say? And how do you feel when you say it?
    I am a master of many: I re-introduce people to their heart and soul and take them on the journey of a lifetime, I am a corporate magician bringing the heart back into the professional arena, I am a personal coach, a healtharian, a mum, a friend and a wife….plus a darn good kisser.

    Question #2: When do you feel powerful, passionate, free, incredibly useful, excited, inspired?
    In most moments, i love everything i do…even if it washing the dishes i just put my heart into it knowing it is for me, my family and i am creating what i love. Most powerful?… when i am vulnerable…what a great place to be.

    Question #3: What’s chronic, repetitive, or inflamed in your inner or outer life?
    None…not interested in putting energy into what i don’t love. Additionally i am comfortable dealing with anything that is inflammatory, and when i do it from my heart it usually turns around and is one of the ‘oh wow’ moments. And if things don’t turn around i eat chocolate!!

    Question #4: What’s always in the back of your mind?
    A smorgasbord of my passions of life. I have a great time luxuriating in what i love, especially on my train ride to the city and back…delicious! My imagination is a big part of my work and my life… it is playful, silly, genius and pretty much crazy!

  11. I’m always embarrassed to ask myself these questions because I KNOW I’m not doing what I want to…or should do, right now. All I can talk about is what I PLAN to do, which comes across as a bit weak. And I can’t stand telling people what I plan to do, in case I don’t end up doing it.
    (I have a debilitating pleasing-people complex, see).

  12. Susanna Bonner

    Haha! I’ve always thought it was funny when people ask “what do you do?” at parties, and expect it to be about what I do for money… so I used to tell them, “I spend my time becoming a better person,” at which point they’d quickly clarify that they meant what do I get paid to do. 🙂

    Nowadays, I would tell them, “I am a writer, and I help people expand their relationships via a unique framework I’ve developed.”

    I feel most alive and in creative flow (and all of those other yummy words Danielle uses in that question) when I am in my “realizer” mode, a la Carol Lloyd’s book “Creating a Life Worth Living,” from page 70. A realizer is someone who wears many hats, pulls together many aspects, and uses many different skills to weave a project together.

    I find I repetitively strive for perfection, even though I know (emotionally, intellectually, from past experience, etc.) that I feel so much more amazing when I am just being present, aware, and allowing, without needing to try to control.

    The back of my mind is populated with acceptance of myself. Whenever something difficult comes up in my life, I know I can fall back on my own self-acceptance as support. That feels good.

    Thanks for sharing your answers, MVD folks! Interesting to read…

    And yeah, speaking of reading, the Firestarter Sessions looks compelling.

  13. Hi Baker, just wanted to thank you again for replying to my tweet on Saturday, I really appreciated that!

    In Whit Stilman’s film “Metropolitan” there’s a character who says at one point; ‘The acid test is whether you take any pleasure in responding to the question “What do you do?”‘

    I can honestly say I have never answered the first question with any pleasure since I left university over ten years ago. When I answer that question I feel like I am endorsing the more mediocre aspects of my character, the one that sticks out doing a job he dislikes because he isn’t brave enough to do something worthwhile.

    1. Apologies, I haven’t really answered the first question have I?

      I’ll dodge that by answer the second; When do you feel powerful, passionate, free, incredibly useful, excited, inspired?

      I feel these things when I am doing what I want to do, on holiday, travelling, being with my wife and daughter, playing with my daughter, taking photos, listening to my favourite music, watching “City Slickers” (don’t laugh!). When I’m riding my bike either on my own or with friends. When I see great art, when I think about all the things I want to do, and actually do some of them.

  14. Whenever somebody asks me “what do you do?” I always seem to reply by saying very briefly what my job is and then rapidly move on to what I always think I should have done with my life!!

  15. I love this post! So inspiring. Questions are so powerful…when we really listen to our own answers we learn so much about ourselves.

    P.S. I looooove that you are posting more often, Baker! Makes me feel like we are getting to hang out…and catch up…and makes me feel like I’m a part of your daily life! Sooooo fun! Thanks for sharing!

  16. The back of mind contains my inspiration and passion…..it visits the forefront of my mind but not too often. I need a hard blow to the head to get organised!

  17. I’ll answer Q2: “When do you feel powerful, passionate, free, incredibly useful, excited, inspired?”

    I feel my most powerful, passionate, excited and useful when I am helping other people sort our their financial situation. Mostly I’ve just helped my immediate family come to better terms with their money, but if I had my ‘druthers, it’s something that I would do all day, every day.

    More generally, if I can help someone come up to a solution to a problem their facing, my world lights up.

    I’m working toward a Masters Degree in Accounting, and my dream is to work one-on-one with small businesses (possibly with start-ups), making all their financial situations make sense.

  18. “What do I do?”

    I usually respond by saying that I am a receptionist, but I had higher hopes than this boring job. But…it pays the bills. Sometimes, you can’t start a new job if you have bills to pay; it just doesn’t pay enough to start…and the bill collectors won’t wait. Life gets in the way of our dreams sometimes.

    I am a creative person. I love crafts, and have a jewelry business on the side that has gone downhill the past few years because the world is saturated with them now. I love to bake, read, and listen to music. Perhaps some day I will be able to retire and do those things more.

    I am also 65 years of age and a cancer survivor.

    Keep on inspiring…I’ve enjoyed reading this post!

  19. This is a very inspirational article. Sometimes its very difficult to ask ourselves difficult questions about what we are doing with our lives. I think deep down, most of us know when we aren’t being true to ourselves or our intentions.

    It’s good to challenge ourselves and our sensibilities.


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