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.