Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Don't Do What You Love

photo credit

This article about the "Do What You Love, Love What You Do" mantra has been making the rounds, and I have some thoughts about it. First, a quote: 
Do What You Love (DWYL) is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace. 
And also this one:
Instead of crafting a nation of self-fulfilled, happy workers, our DWYL era has seen the rise of the adjunct professor and the unpaid intern: people persuaded to work for cheap or free, or even for a net loss of wealth... It should be no surprise that unpaid interns abound in fields that are highly socially desirable, including fashion, media, and the arts. These industries have long been accustomed to masses of employees willing to work for social currency instead of actual wages, all in the name of love. Excluded from these opportunities, of course, is the overwhelming majority of the population: those who need to work for wages. This exclusion not only calcifies economic and professional immobility, but it also insulates these industries from the full diversity of voices society has to offer.
And now, some thoughts (mostly paraphrased from an FB discussion with Rose-Anne.) (Also, these are all thoughts-in-progress. They will probably evolve, grow, change, as time and experience allow.)

In theory, I support the idea of doing what you love, of finding a way to turn your passion into your job. As many people have pointed out, we spend so much of our life "at work," so naturally we should want that work to be fulfilling and interesting.There are, however, two things (at least) wrong with that idea. The first is the reality that many, many, many jobs are necessary, but unlovable. Does anyone really love, really feel passionate about, for example, collecting trash? Or folding shirts at the Gap? Or carrying a plate of food to a table in a restaurant? Maybe. It's entirely possible that some of those people love their jobs, but it's more likely that their job is a means to an end - a way to get money that is not entirely unpleasant, is not without it's good days, but ultimately allows them to live the life they desire outside of work. And that's okay! That's great! Those people shouldn't feel ashamed about their jobs, or as if they're falling short. Sometimes your job is just that - a job. 

There's a trend, especially on the Internet, especially among creatives in their 20s and 30s, that really pushes the idea of "doing what you love." I see articles all the time about how to start a small business making tiny scarves for kittens, or quitting your job to be a full time fashion blogger. Or, for example, taking a job as an adjunct at a community college teaching five sections of English comp for poverty level wages and no long-term stability because you love academia and can't bare to leave. While I would love to teach full time, I'm tired of being broke. I have bills, and student loans, and credit card debt. I would like to buy a house one day. I would like to travel once in a while. And doing those things as an adjunct professor would be, while not impossible, very difficult.

In ideal world, I would write and teach and that would pay the bills, allow me to live a comfortable life, and finance a few modest adventures. And it's possible my life might unfold exactly like that, but right now, that day is still a long way off. In the meantime, I need to make a living, and I shouldn't feel ashamed by that reality, shouldn't feel that wanting a steady paycheck is somehow settling. 

As I near graduation and look, once again, toward the job market, I want to say to employers, "Listen. I know I'm probably overqualified for this job, but honestly I'm not looking for a career that's especially difficult or demanding. I don't want prestige, I don't want to supervise anyone, I don't need a corner office. I want to work hard and do well and then, at 5PM, I want to go home and not think about my job until the next time I show up to work. I'm a hard worker with no ambition. Hire me!" Actually, maybe I should put that in my cover letter. Who knows - potential employers might be tired of the "love what you do" mantra, too.  

Right now, while I still have a job and a safety net, I'm starting the job hunt. I'm hoping for a mix of freelance work and education. I want to keep my options open, and not be blinded by the idea of "doing what I love." What I love is my life, and my life is more than my job - something I will probably need to keep telling myself in the coming months, until it becomes my new mantra and/or I sell my book and Oprah puts it on her must-read list. (A girl can dream.)

Do you love what you do? Or do you draw a line between work and play? Does this post make any sense? I hope so. I'm sure there's a part two somewhere inside me (and maybe parts three, and four, and five...) At any rate, I'm eager, as always, to hear what others think. 


  1. I love this!! When I was in college I definitely had the mindset of "do what you love" and was determined to get a super awesome job that sounded cool. And I sort of did! My first job sounded awesome, and sometimes it was, but it was really draining and left little time for a life outside of work. After dealing with that I shifted my mindset to find a job that I enjoy, but that is really just a job to pay the bills. It took a while but I finally feel like I am in that place. I don't love my job, but I enjoy it, I like my company and coworkers. I rarely have to work late, and even if so I can bank the hours for future vacation. And I now have a huge life outside of work and I am a thousand times happier.

    Good luck with this semester and the future job search!

    1. Yes! A job you enjoy is better, in a lot of ways, from a job you love. It definitely helps with the whole work-life balance thing!

      And thanks for the well wishes as far as school and jobs go. I'm trying to stay positive, but pending unemployment makes me nervous. :/

  2. I feel like people have been coercing our generation into getting this mentality twisted into "if you're not doing a job directly related to one of your artistic talents, then you are not doing what you love." Because that's really what's at the core of that criticism: not doing a job using your ARTISTIC talents, not using your other talents.

    I've been working the same job for the last ten years (yes, it was my first real job after graduating undergrad) and while it isn't artistically fulfilling, it is fulfilling in other ways--I get to work a flex schedule that lets me stay home with my kids, I get to make my own hours, I get excellent health/vacation benefits.

    And I'm doing a job that totally covers my left-brain needs and keeps my right-brain free to work on my own creative projects during the off-hours.

    I AM doing what I love: getting paid to do a job that covers the necessities of life, which lets me be a creative individual during the other 128hrs in the week. I don't know why our society has become obsessed with trying to force all work to be "creatively fulfilling" and completely ignoring the fact that, for a LOT of people, your artistic expression won't pay the bills. That it's OKAY for it to be your avocation, not your vocation.

    1. Great point! Our artistic talents aren't the only ones that matter. I'm a decent writer, but I'm also really organized, great at spreadsheets and calendars, and enjoy filling out forms and writing policies. Those skills are just as valuable, especially in the workplace!

    2. I really like this point too. Getting paid to be creative is a tough gig to find--it's inherently risky, really, to be investing in something that has yet to be created. It makes perfect sense to me that you are much more likely to be paid well for utilizing skills you already have.

  3. Yep, not everyone can be a trendy stay at home blogger so the whole DWYL thing is of an underprivileged spoon-fed mindset. Garbage men probably don't love what they do but they DO love the paychecks!

    As for me, being in an office I don't hate is priority #1 now. Being with nice coworkers and having an office with stable HVAC is good enough. And I think that's a perfectly healthy attitude to have, otherwise much of the population would be chasing an impossible to catch butterfly of a dream for their entire lives.

  4. YES!

    Though I found it **maddening** in the job market, post-MFA trying to score a job and I kept being told that I was too smart/qualified/I'd be too bored quickly etc. And I was like, yo, I have student loans. And rent. And food to buy. Can you just let me work? It did eventually work out, but it was crazy-stressful. And now I'm in a completely unrelated field of work and pretty happy. So there's always that!

  5. I think it's an awesome privilege to be able to do what you love, but in all reality most people can't make that happen and still live a comfortable life. David and I joke that we work in our jobs that we don't love so we can come home at night and on the weekends to do what we love. Workin' for the weekend ;)

  6. I've decided that I'll wait until retirement to do what I love. :)

  7. On Pinterest, I recently saw a quote from Steve Jobs that read, "Love what you do." It did NOT say, "Do what you love." And for me, I think that's an important distinction. Many things I love to do are not of the income-generating type: cuddling with my boyfriend and kitty, having meandering conversations with friends, browsing Pinterest(!), reading my friends' blogs and offering a comment or two...but when I am getting paid to do something, especially something with a lengthy time commitment, I do try to find things about the job that I enjoy. I don't love every minute I spend working, but I know I am privileged to have choices, to be paid a decent wage, to have my opinions heard and considered, to work with people who care about getting the job done well. These things make it easier for me to "love what I do." I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on the unlovable parts of my work.

    Perhaps for me, it is a matter of attention and gratitude. Love what you do, even if it's cleaning the cat poop your kitty left on the kitchen floor ;-) (Oh, Lucy...)