In the U.S., it’s the season for students to hear graduation speeches pushing them to make a difference and live life to the fullest. In the last decade, there’s also been a motto-type saying spreading throughout society, especially among recent graduates: “Do what you love; love what you do.”
Many point to Steve Jobs’s 2005 graduation speech at Stanford University as the genesis of this concept:
“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.”
I doubt he was the first to express this idea, but he was probably the first to say it with such an impact. And while I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not sure that’s actually good career advice.
The only way to do great work is to love what you do? I hope not.
Life is filled with work that needs to be done whether someone loves to do it or not. The gunk that drips and collects at the bottom of my refrigerator needs to be cleaned even though it gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I certainly hope I can do a great job cleaning it without needing to love the work.
Ditto for the millions of toilets and sewers that need to be cleaned—or any of the jobs covered by Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs. As another saying goes (I believe this one’s from Caddyshack), “the world needs ditch diggers too.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I write because I love it. But the problem with thinking that we should do what we love and love what we do—as a career—is many layered.
“Doing What You Love” Could Lead to Feelings of Failure
Directly following the above quote, Steve Jobs said:
“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
Don’t “settle” for less than a job we’d love? That’s a destructive message, especially for new graduates who aren’t qualified for much, yet need to pay student loans.
When we first enter the workforce or switch careers, we don’t even know what all we don’t know. We tend to overestimate our abilities compared to what we need to know, and we’re not nearly as ready for the “big time” as we think we are.
That’s life. Until we have Matrix-style learning downloads available to us, it takes time to learn everything.
Throughout history, people in most positions started off as apprentices. In medieval times, apprenticeships lasted 5 to 9 years.
We don’t call internships and the crap jobs we now start off with “apprenticeships,” but the concept remains the same. Dues need to be paid in order to learn job skills, teamwork skills, business skills, negotiation skills, office politics skills, etc.
Dues-paying is about earning respect and proving we’re capable. We’re not so special that we’ll just have respect handed to us.
Those dues-paying jobs can feel like failure if we’ve bought into this idea of “not settling.” If we hate our crap job, is that a sign we’re heading down the wrong path? No. Even after we leave school, we need to remain open to learning.
We’re Not a Writing Failure If…:
- we have to “pay dues” by learning the rules of grammar, show vs. tell, story structure, etc.
- we don’t love all aspects of writing equally—drafting, editing, query writing, synopsis writing, marketing, etc.
- we, in fact, dislike or even hate some aspects of writing or the business.
- we have to “pay dues” by building up respect from readers slowly, earning fans one story at a time.
Often the steps we have to take
to get to what we love
are just plain not-fun work.
That’s normal and not a sign
that we’re on the wrong path
or not cut out for this.
“Doing What You Love” Could Lead to Shortcuts
Going along with the above point, some people want to take shortcuts. They don’t want to pay their dues. They blame “the man” or corporate culture (or in publishing, “the gatekeepers”) for keeping them down. They think they’re special and should be awarded a job they love now, dues-paying be damned.
Ambition can be a great thing, but if it’s not backed up by ability, we’re simply arrogant, and the universe will be only too happy to smack us down. I know some recent graduates who think those crap jobs are for other people. They’re “above” those petty requirements.
In the writing world, we see writers who don’t want to learn writing rules. (“Learning how to avoid head-hopping? Ha! That’s for other people. My stories are special.”)
We see writers who don’t believe in editing before publishing because that’s too much like work, not something they love to do. (“My readers will tell me if there are errors. Readers will love me and my stories even if they’re filled with errors because I’m special.”)
Most of us won’t love query writing or rejections or editing or reading bad reviews or “killing our darlings” or learning how to use commas. We need to be prepared for those anyway.
Some aspect of everything we do
will feel like work.
That’s not a reason to skip it.
“Doing What You Love” Is a Privilege
Also going along with the first point, we shouldn’t feel like a failure if we can’t support ourselves by doing what we love. Across the globe, the vast majority of people work to make money, to survive.
Surely not all of those people are failures. Not even close. Being a contributing member of society is a success in its own right, even if we hate the job or the work itself.
Most writers have a day job to support themselves and their family. It’s the rare author who makes enough from their writing to quit their day job. It’s the near non-existent author who makes enough to afford publicists and assistants to do all the non-writing stuff, leaving them to do just the writing they love.
The inability to make a living as an author doesn’t make us failures. I recognize that I am privileged and lucky that my day job is flexible enough to allow me time to write at all.
Loving what we do doesn’t make a job more noble. Especially on this day after Memorial Day in the U.S. (the holiday for recognizing members of the military who died in service), I can think of heck of a lot of jobs I’d consider more noble than being an author who writes entertaining fiction.
We shouldn’t elevate the “do what you love; love what you do” mantra to the point of making jobs we wouldn’t love less respected. We can love to create art without consideration of whether we can turn it into a career.
(Some would even say that those who write for love and aren’t dependent on the money are more likely to continue to love their art over time. Ask authors under the deadline gun how much they love writing when stressed out. *smile*)
We can be successful
even if what we love
isn’t paying the bills.
Whether we love our job
doesn’t determine the nobility of our work.
“Doing What You Love” Could Lead to Devaluing the Work
The other side of that coin is that just because we love the work doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paid fairly for it. I know many writers who say they’d write whether anyone read their work or not.
Great! It’s wonderful to love something so much.
But writing is still work, and work deserves to be paid if others receive value (entertainment counts as value) from that work. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be exploited simply because we tell ourselves “I love it so much that it’s hardly like real work.”
Writing requires us to learn new skills, a new industry, several new technologies. Writing often steals our free time, our evenings, our weekends. No matter how much we don’t mind all that because we love it, writing is work.
Too many out there—from commercial blogs that don’t pay to pirates who steal—already don’t value the work we do. We shouldn’t add to that perception by encouraging others’ devaluation or exploitation.
It’s okay to want to be paid fairly
for work we love.
Being paid doesn’t make
our writing less noble.
“Doing What You Love” Doesn’t Have to Mean “Career”
Too many college graduates followed this “do what you love” idea as career advice when deciding on their degree path. Now they’re stuck with student loans that any career tied to their degree won’t be able to repay. Many degrees aren’t a good career investment if we look strictly at the related jobs available post-graduation.
Do students make a mistake by obtaining a degree without job prospects? Maybe, maybe not. This once again comes back to privilege and the circumstances that allow some people to pursue what they love regardless of the cost.
But for those without that privilege, who are now struggling to repay loans on degrees that don’t lead to well-paying careers, this “do what you love” movement certainly looks like bad career advice. They’ll have to pursue non-degree-related careers to pay the bills, and it’d be a shame if that fact makes them feel like failures.
We can do what we love by making as much time as we can for our writing or whatever else matters to us. However, we do not have to feel like what we love has to be our career. We can pursue a career that pays the bills just because the bills need to be paid, and that doesn’t make us a failure or “less than” in any way.
Contrary to Steve Jobs’s quote, I say we can find satisfaction and even be great at a career we don’t love. Hello, work ethic—that’s essentially what the phrase means. We can take pride in doing a good job, no matter what that job is. That pride can provide satisfaction.
My point is that “do what you love; love what you do” can be a great goal for us, but whether we can make that goal our career shouldn’t be the main measurement of our satisfaction with our lives. As long as we’re able to make some time for doing things we love—whether that’s as a career, a side job, a hobby, or a lark—we can count ourselves lucky. *smile*
Have you heard of the “do what you love” idea? If so, what do you think of it? Do you agree that it might not be good career advice? If you disagree, which of my points do you disagree with? Do you think it’s good advice for other aspects of our life, and if so, how?Pin It