Seven Reasons Why Do What You Love Is Bad Advice

Seven Reasons Why Do What You Love Is Bad Advice

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.

Conclusion

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….

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. I think I prefer to think of it as “Love what you do!”

    Passion is necessary but not sufficient, because *that’s* what will carry you through those less-than-lovely-parts of running a business.

  2. A good read thank you. I agree with all the phrases and everyone should have something that they love somewhere in their lives. It doesn’t have to be their job or career…..but it could be for some lucky few. I would think you don’t have to love your job or career but at least “enjoy” all or some aspects of it. If you don’t enjoy it and you are miserable….get out if you can and find something that doesn’t negatively impact all the things you love doing when you are not working!

    1. Thanks for commenting Mike and I definitely agree! We should strive to at least enjoy our jobs since most of us spend 40+ hours working. But sometimes we don’t know what we’ll enjoy until we’re actually doing it! And sometimes we think we’ll enjoy something, but it turns out we don’t. Either way, it’s worth looking until you find something that fits for you.

  3. Provocative post, Ed! Thank you. There’s one other issue with the Do What You Love mantra: How to translate what you love into a viable career. In some cases that would be fairly easy (a geeky kid who loves computer programming will not have a problem building a career on the passion). But what about the millions of people who love singing, acting, writing, photography, etc. Even with a huge amount of talent, and a great ability to market, making a successful career as a musician or an author is going to be very, very hard. For these people “Do What You Love” will only work if they’re both patient and resilient (and, ideally, beneficiaries of a trust fund!). Most people simply aren’t.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jim! And I agree completely. Making a decent living as an artist is very, very hard and not always tied to ability (see Spears, Britney). I wish that we as a society did more to support artists because there’s a LOT of amazing talent going to waste.

  4. Although you might stand firm with your belief, I would like to bring forth some points you mentioned that did not fit in with your argument. 1. When someone does what they love they are in fact serving the world to the best of their abilities. Chances are, doing something you are absolutely passionate about will bring about your true desire to do it on a daily basis, even if the money is not coming in. This will allow the person to devote their time to their dreams/passion which in turn would help society. For example, someone who is passionate about helping the homeless. “Jobs” for this type of work is close to none. If the person didn’t have a passion for it and if they didn’t love it before starting, the desire to continue for no compensation would also be close to none. Loving a career before starting it, allows the person to focus not on the money, but how they can make the world better, which brings forth my second point. Money is not the reason behind “do what you love and the money will come”. It’s actually the complete opposite. When you leave money out of the equation, people find a freedom to follow their dreams and believe they can accomplish all they have dreamed for themselves. By saying the “money will follow” simply means, if you focus on your true passion, and you love what you do, you don’t need to worry about the money because “it will follow”. I believe it’s supposed to be more of an incentive as to why one should disregard their financial situation to pursue their dreams. Great read though, I enjoy reading opposing view points! :)

    1. Thanks Mayara, I appreciate your comment. I do agree that passions can serve the world. However, I don’t believe this is necessarily the case. There are plenty of passions that don’t serve the world and are in fact destructive.

      As for “the money will follow”, yes in some cases it will. But there are plenty of people for whom that isn’t true. For example, I know a fellow coach who pursued her passion of coaching. Except the money didn’t follow. She burnt through all her savings and ended up having to move back home with parents. Not exactly the outcome she was expecting.

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