A few days ago, Slate.com ran an essay by Miya Tokumitsu that claims the advice, “Do what you love. Love what you do,” is devaluing “actual work.”
It’s total horseshit.
Don’t Do What You Love
The article leads off by making the case that Doing What You Love (DWYL) – trying to line up your profession with your passion – is a bad idea:
Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit?
Because why not?
Your pleasure doesn’t have to be for profit. For a lot of folks, it won’t be; some of the things we love don’t line up with paying jobs. That’s okay.
But if it’s possible, why the hell would you turn down the opportunity?
And furthermore, even if what you’re doing isn’t THE thing you love in life, what’s damaged or lost by finding joy in it?
Only Certain Careers Attract Passionate Workers
The author goes on to issue a blanket statement about what kinds of work people could conceivably be passionate about:
If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.
This assertion is shockingly derisive.
The idea that DWYL is limited to the “glamorous” professions is forced throughout this article. The author’s obvious distaste for “the elite” – not to mention the casual assertion that neither housekeeping nor retail can be emotionally rewarding careers – is misguided at best, and dangerous at worst.
Standing on a large soapbox and declaring that someone who makes a living cleaning hotel rooms is A) not being true to himself, and B) not valued by those who work in “elite” professions, is exactly the kind of polarizing, inflammatory crap that enforces the very class distinctions that this article is claiming to rail against.1
I pay to have my house cleaned every two weeks by a local company, The Green Clean Queen. Joanna, the owner, loves her work. She has a huge amount of knowledge about natural cleaning solutions, and shows a lot of passion for doing a good job and growing her business. That passion spills over to her employees, who also take a lot of pride in what they do, and – in all outward appearances – are very happy people.
Yet, according to Tokumitsu, these ladies couldn’t possibly be doing what they love, because she doesn’t consider their work to be desirable.
Iladio is the groundskeeper in my building. He’s responsible for cleaning gum off the sidewalks, sweeping leaves out of the stairwells, and emptying trash cans.
By the author’s reckoning, Iladio is miserable, undervalued, and unrewarded by his work.
In fact, Iladio is one of the happiest guys I know. He’s a bright spot for many of the tenants in my building as they come and go during the day; even when he’s on his hands and knees scraping something sticky off the lobby tiles, he’s got a big smile on his face and wants to hear how your day has gone.
Maybe Joanna and Iladio aren’t intensely passionate about what they do for a living, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that there’s no joy or pride in their work.
You Have to Be Privileged to Do What You Love
Tokumitsu goes on to complain that Doing What You Love is just not possible for normal folk:
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.
The undertone here is that only “the elite” can afford to put in the hours as an unpaid intern to make it in “socially desirable” careers. And to be fair, I have zero experience in fashion and television, so the claim may be true in those cases.
But in the arts – at least if we’re talking about arts like web design – that claim is utter bullshit.
Before I started working as a full-time web developer, I worked as a night audit clerk in a hotel. As a cook at a local pizza chain. As a project coordinator at A FedEx Office. These were full-time jobs.
My passion, though, was web design. I’d caught the bug. I knew I loved it.
And you know what I did?
I fucking made it happen.
I would get off work and put in four or five moonlight hours on a project. I’d spend my days off experimenting with new front-end techniques and back-end programming patterns.
I put in my unpaid hours whenever I could. Because it was important to me.
If you see a path to do what you love, and that path is overgrown and littered with obstacles, you have two options:
- You can take Tokumitsu’s advice and resign yourself to the fact that work is work and you should just grind it out and live for the weekend until you die.
- Or you can tear down that path with a bulldozer named Determination until get where you want to go.
You’re Being Brainwashed to Love Your Work
The article wraps up by plainly stating that DWYL is an elaborate ruse designed by elite capitalists to sucker the Noble Worker into working longer hours for lower pay and lesser benefits:
In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.
This is tinfoil hat paranoid, not to mention completely misguided. Encouraging people to distrust the enjoyment of their work because it benefits their company is just bonkers-level poisonous.
Of course having employees who love what they do is beneficial to a company, and of course bosses want their employees to love their work.
But, here’s the thing: if a boss is exploiting her employees, they’re not going to love their work. The idea that using love as a way to drive class separation and abuse is fatally flawed. No one loves a job that bullies. I’ve worked in toxic environments where the expectations are for long hours and little reward; the morale is abysmal, and resentment is high. I doubt many people who are actually being exploited would describe any love for their jobs.2
My employees love their jobs. But if I cross the line and ask more of them than they’re comfortable giving, my team’s happiness will suffer and they’ll start looking elsewhere for love and passion.
Elitists Are Out to Ruin Your Life
I think – or at least I hope – that Tokumitsu’s aim was to raise a cautionary flag: “Bosses, don’t take advantage of your employees’ passion, because it’ll fade quickly if you do. Employees, don’t let yourself believe you love a job you don’t actually love.”
Those sentiments are good ones, and worth bearing in mind.
However, this sensationalized idea of an elitist upper class seeking work they love, and encouraging everyone else to do the same, is somehow oppressive and belittling to the folks in the stock room at Best Buy is ridiculous, inflammatory, and just plain wrong.
Take pride in what you do. Make your work part of your happy life – alongside your family, your leisure time, and your friends – instead of an unpleasant necessity that stands in the way of your happiness.
And if you want something different than what you’re doing now, don’t ever let anything – especially not the shitty idea that loving your work is an elitist privilege – keep you from pushing toward your goals. Because you’re awesome.
So let’s all find the love in our work, because it certainly beats the shit out of the alternative.
- If everyone tells the girl stocking shelves that her job isn’t glamorous, she’ll have a hard time shaking that external valuation of what she does for a living.↩
- Keep in mind, though, that even if our bosses aren’t consciously exploiting us, there is definitely evidence that our working culture is dangerously out of control.↩
What to do next.
As adults, we’re supposed to build careers, build relationships, build futures, build happiness… It’s all pretty overwhelming. It’s easy to feel stuck — like we’re on autopilot, punching a clock, and buried in tasks we don’t really care about.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get some balance back? To have extra time every day to dedicate to the things that actually matter to you?
I want to help: I’ve compiled 5 Habits of the Unfuckwithably Productive, and I want to give it to you for free. These are time-tested habits that helped me break the cycle of overwork and exhaustion; this is how I spend less than 40 hours a week on the computer — while making a living and traveling the world.