Earlier this week, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook questioning the conventional wisdom that when it comes to careers you should “do what you love”. And that if you do, the money will follow.
This is an idea that you see expressed in lots of places. For example, in a commencement address to Stanford graduates, Steve Jobs said the following:
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
There’s also the famous quote:
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
The quote has been attributed to a wide range of people, from Confucius to Mark Antony (this may be the first time those two have ever been mentioned in the same sentence together!).
And finally, the most famous do what you love quote of all time, probably come from Marsha Sinetar:
“Do what you love and the money will follow.”
Now, based on the title of this blog post, you can probably guess where I stand on the idea of using do what you love to guide your career choice.
So let’s jump in and look at…
Seven Reasons Why Do What You Love Is Bad Advice
1. Chances are you love lots of activities.
If you’re like most people, there are a wide range of activities that you enjoy doing. I know for myself, that I could easily name 20 or more activities that I really, really enjoy. My guess is that you could do the same.
And yet, the do what you love mantra is completely silent on how you might go about choosing between your various passions or how you might combine multiple passions into a single path.
What I’ve seen with my clients is that focusing on do what you love leads to lots of stress, strain and frustration. They keep trying to identify their one overriding passion and they’re unable to do it. Because it simply doesn’t exist for them.
2. The money may or may not follow.
Look, there’s absolutely no guarantee that if you do what you love, the money will follow. None whatsoever.
The world is 100% indifferent to your passion.
Even if you’re able to identify one single thing that you love doing, it still has to be something that people want and need. And are willing pay money for.
If not, then sooner or later you’re going to go broke or be unemployed.
3. Success involves more than doing what you love
In order to be successful in the thing that you love to do, you’ll need at least some minimal level of talent. And if you don’t have that, then good luck!
For example, if tomorrow I woke up and decided that what I love to do is play basketball, I’ve got several problems. For one thing I’m 46 years old. Also, I’m only 5`7 and like most guys I may even be lying about that. And I’m a terrible basketball player. Absolutely horrible. So this is a complete dead end for me.
And sure many things can be learned but to learn something to the level of turning it into a career takes lots of time, energy and commitment.
There’s also this. If doing what you love leads you down the path of starting your own business, then no amount of talent will substitute for being able to market your business. In fact, being good at marketing will be much more important than your talent level.
So before going down the do what you love path, you may want to take a look at whether you have the necessary talent (or are willing to put in the offer to acquire it). And if you can successfully market what you love.
4. No one does what they love all the time.
I’m a coach. I help people stop living the life that others expect of them and create a life that’s true to their deepest desires.
I love that part of my work. But it’s just a part. Of the 40+ hours a week that I work, less than 10 are devoted to actual client work.
The rest of the hours are taken up by things like working on my website, writing blog posts, promoting my business etc. I don’t mind doing those things and sometimes I actually enjoy them. But none of them fall into the “love” category.
And that’s true of most careers. The do what you love mantra makes it sound like if you do what you love, that’s all you’ll ever do. And that you’ll fall into some sort of career bliss.
It’s absolutely not true. You’ll be lucky if you spend even 50% of your time doing the thing you love. The rest of the time will be taken up by other tasks that don’t fit into the love category. So you better make sure you can at least tolerate doing them.
5. Work is about more than money.
We all need money to survive. No doubt about it.
But most of us care about more than money. We want to feel challenged and engaged at our work. We want to feel that we’re doing something meaningful, that we’re making a useful contribution to society. We want to learn and grow and have the respect of our co-workers.
Yet the idea that you should do what you love and the money will follow makes it sound like money is the primary – perhaps the only – reason for working.
I think for most of us that’s simply not true. We need money and we want our work to be about a lot more than just money.
6. Your passion can turn into a nightmare once it becomes your work.
I remember reading once that Rod Serling loved writing the Twilight Zone. Until he started getting paid lots of money to do it. Then it started to become a burden, a chore, an obligation. What he used to love doing, turned into a nightmare.
And money became his primary reason for continuing to do it. Not love.
Now, of course, there are plenty of examples of people who were able to avoid Rod Serling’s fate. Who were able to do what they loved, make good money, and continue loving their passion.
But there’s simply no way to know which category you’ll fall into beforehand. If you turn your passion into a career you could end up like Rod Serling, dreading the thing that you used to love.
7. Work isn’t just about finding your own personal bliss.
There’s an inherent selfishness in the do what you love mantra. As if the point of work (and life) is about focusing on yourself and your own needs to the exclusion of all else. As if “finding your bliss” is the only thing that matters.
Certainly your own needs ARE important. There’s no doubt about that. Yet we also have a shared responsibility to work together to create a better world, one that benefits all living creatures. The idea of do what you love completely ignores our shared responsibility to one another and our planet. And for that reason alone, I consider it bad career advice.
Now, you may be wondering…if do what you love is bad career advice, then what is good or better career advice? I’m glad you asked!
Except (teaser alert!) you’ll have to stay tuned for future blog posts to find out what I consider to be better options….