should you do what you love?

Do What You Love – No, Wait…

do-what-you-loveYa gotta love the lemmings. Steve Jobs, in a now-famous keynote, set down a challenge for the up-and-coming workers (aka college grads) that has been quoted over and over:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

It became a mantra: ”Do what you love. Love what you do.” Or, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” Or the idea that “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  Many books were written on it. I also coached many people towards it (you know who you are) and it could be said that my current career path has been something of a “path of love”, or at least of passion. The last time I worked for someone as an actual employee my job was to create web pages making really bad time-shares look really good. “Turd-polishing” was the unofficial job description I gave it, and I walked out one Sunday and never looked back.

Many books have been written on the idea: Gary Vaynerchuk, for example, gives a dire warning:

“If you go and become a lawyer or go to school and do all the things that everybody wants you do to, and don’t do the thing you really love, the real question isn’t what’s going to happen when you’re 23, 27, 31, 36. The question really becomes what’s going to happen when you’re 70 years old and you look back at your life and you’re like, why didn’t I try?”

Barbara Sher and Tim Ferriss also have bestsellers about doing what you love that are slightly more pragmatic, where they suggest that you first find some job that pays the bills and subsidizes your dream. Still, their message is clear: What you love is important.

The Angry Opposition

Of course, it didn’t take long for the pendulum to swing back. With positively nasty titles like “Do What You Love? Screw That article after article talks about just how silly it is to think that what you love can actually support you. In fact, they argue that the idea itself is to blame for things like underpaid workers:

Instead of crafting a nation of self-fulfilled, happy workers, our DWYL (Do What You Love) 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. – Miya Tokimitsu

I have to point out that many people who did what they didn’t love and what they were told would pay are also being overworked, underpaid, and let go at a moment’s notice. It brings to mind a bit from the movie The Commitments, when two band members are standing in the dole (the U.K. welfare line). “How yeh doin’?” the band manager asks.

I’m great!” the erstwhile saxophonist replies. “It’s much better being an unemployed musician than being an unemployed pipefitter!

Just as people quoted Steve Jobs as a mantra, a writer named Cal Newport has become the cause celebre for the “Don’t Do What You Love” movement. His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, is a rebuttal to the entire idea. He argues that craftspeople and similar workers learn to love what they do because they do it with care and attention – and that you should learn that, too. Moreover, he sees the whole “love” thing as a wibbly-wobbly lovey-dovey mishmash:

“Who am I?’ and ‘What do I truly love?’—are essentially impossible to confirm. ‘Is this  who I really am?’ and ‘Do I love this?’ rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused. . .

Amazed & Effused

I’ve read his book, and I confess I was pretty disappointed. The idea that you should find work that makes money and just keep doing it until you love it seems to me just as silly as the idea that your passion for baseball cards will make you a million. It’s similar to an arranged marriage…then again, statistically, arranged marriages actually tend to stay together longer.

I think there’s more to the whole idea than some Yoda-esque “do. or do not.” There is more, if you’ll pardon the term, gray area to the subject. It depends on how you look at it. I choose to think of the first “Do what you love” as a call to remember that your passions have value. They deserve attention. Make time for them, because as Gary Vaynerchuk said, at the end of your life you probably won’t wish you’d spent more time not doing them.

And “love what you do”? That can be a call to mindfulness, to finding the value of your work (more on that Monday).

Should you do what you love? I don’t know. The answer is almost certainly “It depends.” One thing I’m sure of, though:

You absolutely should not do what you hate.

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