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

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?


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 sh##, 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 only”s 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 f$#@ 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 f***ing 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.)

If you’re passionate about making a difference in the world, if you’re nerdy like me, and if the thought of shaking things up causes you to emit squeals of delight, then you should read Linchpin now. You can check it out right here.


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.


If what you BRING to your works matters more than anything, does this mean that what you DO doesn’t matter at all? Does it mean you should stay at your shitty Burger King job forever or that what you do has no bearing on your level of happiness or passion? Discuss freely. (Hint: Could both answers be true at the same time?)

Therese Schwenkler is passionate about bringing more and better direction to today’s generation. Get more from Therese at her blog, The Unlost.


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