Why Do You Do What You Do?

September 3rd, 2007 by Larry Smith

wdydwyd.jpgI’m just back from Burning Man*, an experience that’s not unlike web browsing—you walk and run and get lost and found and stumble upon the most amazing people, places and uncategorizable things. That’s why I returned to the Black Rock Desert after a few years skipping the event. And I’m so glad I did. Burning Man is at once an intensely individual experience and a massive experiment in a shared experience—and stories very much connect the the personal and collective experience. It’s a place for bringing stories, sharing stories, and making up new ones along the way. There’s plenty of places to feast on words, photos and videos about Burning Man, so I’ll just share one project that blew me away, especially as it’s so appropriate on Labor Day weekend.

wdyd_deskjob.jpgStrolling through the desert, I came upon a collage of photos in which each person held up a sign with a few words scrawled on it Bob Dylan Don’t Look Back-style. A note within the collage explained that I was staring at WDYDWYD?, aka Why Do You Do What You Do?, a project in which people where asked that simple question and photographed holding up their answer. In the backstory on how WDYDWYD? came to be, Tony Deifell explains that a 12 year old randomly asked him that very question, also wanting to know “and why is what you do important,” Deifell writes in the story of the project section of the site:

I found myself at work way too late trying to figure out a way to explain to a 12 year old why I worked for a community-media organization that fought racism and other “isms,” and why it was important. Meanwhile, I was trying to remember if it was, in fact, important and what else might I be doing instead. Why was I doing this? I came up with something that sounded convincing to me, but I’m a bit embarrassed to say that it was harder than I expected.

I’ve thought about that call many times, and that question chases me around still. It’s a really simple question, yet so much depends on it. Starting in the summer of 2004, Mardie Oakes and I started asking other people this question. People often say they don’t have time or don’t know what to answer. Many times people avoid it altogether. Other times, people’s answers inspire us or just make us laugh.

The photo and answers are addicting and inspiring, in the same spirit as our six-word memoir project. And what better time of year to take a stroll, clear you head, and ask yourself: Why do you do what you do?

* It’s true! You can be married, deep into your thirties, and still have an amazing time at the most inspirational festival on earth. Try it next year if you haven’t. Nothing compares.

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