What a Burrito Man Can Teach You About Finding the Work You Love

on February 6, 2012 | in What the F Should You Do With Your Life?, Work | by

So the other day I was driving in my car, iPhone in hand, Kesha on full-blast, deliciously cheesy burrito in mouth. (Thankfully I don’t drive a stick-shift so I’m able to handle things like this. Sort of. Maybe. I think.) Anyhow, as remnants of rice and beans began to drop all over my lap (mmkay, so maybe I’m wrong), I was reminded of the story of  a dude who I’ve fondly come to call “Carlos the Burrito Man.”

I first stumbled upon Carlos’ story a few years ago in this Washington Post article, which I quickly bookmarked and saved to my secret stash of “stories I might mention in that weird blog I might start next year.”

In a city of millions, how did a lone man with a burrito cart manage to make the news?

Simple — he failed to show up for work one day.

And when Carlos wasn’t there, people noticed. Hell, people more than noticed, and not just because they were hungry. It turned out that Carlos the Burrito Man would never show up to work again — he’d suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 48.

And in the midst of a bustling city, people stopped.

“I was hugging people that I didn’t even know, faces I recognized from Carlos’s cart,” said one customer. “We cried together. This tore a real hole in our office.”

“When he told you he hoped you would have a good day, he really meant it,” explained another. “I don’t think he had any idea the impact he had on people.”

For nearly 20 years, Carlos the Burrito Man had served up far more than just burritos. He’d served up friendship and connection and humanity. Every day, Carlos made peoples’ days. When he left this world, he left so much more than a cart — he left a legacy.

What can Carlos the Burrito Man teach us about finding our “passion,” our “purpose,” our “calling?” What can he teach us about finding the work we love?

As it turns out, a whole hell of a lot.


Most of us believe that we can’t possibly be happy or passionate or on purpose until we find that perfectly-fitting job that will FINALLY bring us what we’re looking for.

“If ONLY I could find that one thing I’m really passionate about,” we like to say. “If ONLY I were doing that one perfect thing, if ONLY I could find that magical-freaking-unicorn-job, then I’d be happy! BUTTERFLIES AND SUNSHINE!!”

But wait a second, people.

Are you sure about that?

Aww sheeeet, you’re gonna make me do it again, aren’t you?

Don’t make me do it again…

I feel it coming on…


Yep, Question Time — here goes:

Do you imagine that Carlos was desperately unhappy until he finally found the magical-unicorn burrito man job of his dreams?

Well, whadya think?

Guys, did Carlos rely on the making-of-burritos to bring him passion and purpose and joy?

Or did Carlos bring his OWN passion and purpose and joy INTO the making-of-the-burritos?

Take a quick minute to think about that one.


Could it be…

Could it possibly be that what you BRING into what you’re doing — purpose, passion, presence, initiative — matters just as much as (if not more than) what it is you’re actually doing in the first place?

Could it be that the question might not be “What am I meant to do” as much as it just might be “Who am I meant to be in this moment, regardless of whatever it is that I’m doing?”

Could it be that right here, right now, magical-unicorn-job or not, you’ve got an indispensable gift to give to the world, and you can start giving it right now??


Could it be true??


“But I’m not a burrito man,” you interject.

“I can’t go around spreading butterflies and sunshine. I sit in an office and file TPS reports all day.”

F that shit, guys.

I don’t give a flying finfish what your job description is. Your job may be “what you do,” but your gift — your gift is what you bring to the world.

The way I see it, you’ve got two choices:

Option #1. You can follow instructions and do just enough to get by, reciting silent and repetitive “if onlys” to yourself as the seconds of your life pass you by. You can live day after day in a cubicle of quiet, soul-sucking desperation.

Option #2. You can find a way to be indispensable and to give your gift to the world — regardless of your job description. There is no “map.” Figure it out. Take initiative. Conjure up that passion and that purpose and that drive that already exist inside of you.

Oh, and there’s a third option, too:

Option #3. If it’s really that bad (and sometimes it is), then you can get the heck outta there and do something different. You can take your passion and your awesomeness and you can bring it into an environment or to an activity that’s more suitable for you.

That’s it, guys. It’s really that simple. Take your pick of the three and then shut your freaking mouth. But for gosh sake, whatever you do, stop waiting for that thing to come to you.


So if you’re feeling what I’m saying, there’s one book that you probably need to read: Linchpin by none other than Mr. Seth Godin himself (I guess he’s some pretty smart bald guy).

By Godin’s definition, Linchpins are people who “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.”

Guys, just about anyone can fulfill the job description — just about anyone can make a cheesy delicious burrito.

But only Carlos can do it like Carlos, and that’s what made him indispensable. He showed up with his whole self every day, bringing passion and compassion and purpose into everything he did. Carlos was a Linchpin.

Ask yourself this question: Would people cry if you didn’t show up at work one day?

If not, you’re probably doing something wrong.

To become indispensable involves doing difficult work. Labor in the best sense of the word. The act of bringing your whole self to work, of engaging in tasks that require maturity and soul and personal strength, and doing it for the right reason. Linchpins are geniuses, artists, and givers of gifts. They bring humanity to work, they don’t leave it at home. The hard work isn’t lifting or shoving or [burrito making]. The hard work is being brave enough to make a difference.

– Seth Godin

Why isn’t this required reading in our schools, guys? Why isn’t there a class that teaches us to be freaking awesome? How much different could the world be if we were taught to take initiative, to give our gifts, instead of to sit around and follow instructions and regurgitate memorized facts? (Because that’s mostly what school teaches us to do, doesn’t it? But I digress.)


Guys, you’re already it.

You don’t have to find the perfect job in order to make a difference. You don’t have to rely on finding that magical-unicorn-job to fulfill you. Passion, purpose, drive — it’s already right here inside of you.

Carlos’ gift was a genuine humanity, a connection, a sense of belonging.

What’s yours, and how can you bring it into your work and into your life today? Not tomorrow, not when you find the magical-unicorn-job, but right here, right now?

Get your ass off the computer and go. Go do that now. Go make a difference. And if you can’t do it where you’re at, then go find a place where you can. But for gosh sake, go do something. Go be something. The world needs you, and it needs you more than anything.

Whatever you do, don’t let your gift die within you.

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[Image by Dave77459]

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  • I vote for both at the same time! While I understand the zen thing of non-attachment and it’s all how we view our situation, blah blah blah… we are, for better or worse, individuals with varying needs.

    Some people can be really freakin’ happy working at BK for 40 hours a week, brightening people’s days with smiles and having the rest of the time to themselves with a roof over their heads, etc. etc.

    And then some of us freaks need meaningful work and would rather work 100 hours if it means we have the freedom to go out for a walk in the middle of the day or to hop on a plane to another country on a whim. I don’t think ignoring those needs is helpful either.

    This is also mostly how I’ve managed to make myself feel not-guilty about wanting to leave what would probably be a very awesome job for a lot of people-who-are-not-me. So I appreciate your inclusion of option #3, but also agree with your figure-it-out-and-stop-whining stance. :-D

    • I’m all for leaving jobs and doing things that are awesome… as long as we aren’t stuck on the illusion that “the perfect work” will bring us that one thing we’re looking for. Chasing, chasing, chasing… it’s an illusion. Absolutely strive for the best and most most meaningful and most fitting work that you can, but at the same time realize that it can’t bring you anything that you don’t already have.


      • Yeah, absolutely. I can get on board with that. What I’m not totally on board (which I don’t think is what you’re saying) is that situations shouldn’t affect how we feel. I’m a generally happy person, but I’m happier when I’m in control, when I have more freedom/independence, etc. When I feel disrespected, taken advantage of or insignificant, it diminishes my ability to be happy. Sometimes these things can come from a job, in which case that job actually is a problem. Heh, not that I’m talking about me. :-D

        • Completely agreed. Never let yourself be the victim — if you have the control to change things or to pursue a better opportunity, DO IT. Absolutely.

  • That makes so much sense, and it’s true. Joy is something that goes deeper than the job, the position, the salary. I need to put this into action because I’m definitely not a Carlos yet.

  • *most* of the jobs out there are not inherently meaningful, purpose-fulfilling positions…and hell, anyone lucky enough to have ANY job should be grateful (but we’re spoiled americans who believe we’re all destined to save the world or some bs like that).

    the “make someone’s day” lesson is what we can take away from carlos…there’s nothing stopping you from being good to people: your coworkers, the public, your family. not only is that far more worthwhile, it’s a lot less responsibility than finding THE job we’re meant to have. (if we all did, who would pick up the garbage or flip the burgers or sack the groceries?)

    • Yep. And also, even if we do get THE job we were meant to have, who says it will bring us happiness or purpose? Purpose is something that must (at least to some extent) pre-exist within us. Our job alone, whether sucky or not-sucky, can never bring us a purpose or happiness that we don’t already have in some way.

  • Carlos is a fixture of what it means to be a good human being, and the way you related your story to BRINGING passion into whatever it is that you do, is a very refreshing perspective. Even if you don’t like what you do, you can still have passion for it. It helps you realize that every day in business/life/work is not always a happy one. You can still feel fulfilled, even if you’re not incredibly happy all the time. I’m sure Carlos wasn’t too happy waking up at 4 AM, but by the time he came home from work, he was beaming with excitement.

    Just like life, there are good parts of your day and there are bad parts of your day. Rarely are there completely good and completely bad days. It’s always a mixed bag.

    • True, true. You can definitely still be fulfilled even if you aren’t happy all the time. This isn’t to say that you should settle, though, if there are better options. In the end, it’s just that fulfillment can never completely come to you from anywhere outside of yourself.

  • It’s worthwhile to pursue your dream job, but its just important to be happy and give your all today. Every job gives us an opportunity to make a difference in some way. Serving burgers, cleaning toilets, sorting mail, answering phones. You can either do your job while feeling good about the people you’re benefiting or you can gripe about your boss. It’s all about choosing how you want to direct your energy and live your life.

  • This reminds me of something Marie Forleo or the Kanes (ariel and shya) would say. I totally agree. The problem sometimes arises when you are putting your whole self into something and it exhausts you. Sometimes, I am so emotionally drained, I cannot do other things. What’s worse is when your best is not appreciated. Very hard to be consistent…

    I think what you bring to your current work will allow you to be even better when you have the chance to do the work you want to do.

    • “I think what you bring to your current work will allow you to be even better when you have the chance to do the work you want to do.”

      Spot-on, Doka!

  • As I was reading this post it was reminding me of Linchpin! It is a great book.

    I like Seth’s teachings in general. If you do love what you do and it positively impacts others then great. If you don’t, then get up and do something about it. Humans have the ability to wallow in self-pity about how their work is so meaningless, and at the same time have the ability to make major changes in their lives, so their work is rewarding and adds value. The latter can be harder but the effort is well worth it.

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