Should you really do what you love?

I like contrarian advice — not that I always agree with the devil’s advocate view, but I think it’s useful to challenge conventional wisdom and reconsider whether you still believe it’s true.

For example:

It’s with that appreciation for against-the-grain opinions that I was attracted to a Penelope Trunk post headlined Bad Career Advice: Do what you love.

Trunk writes:

Often, the thing we should do for our career is something we would only do if we were getting a reward. If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid, you’ll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money.

The pressure we feel to find a perfect career is insane. And, given that people are trying to find it before they are thirty, in order to avoid both a quarterlife crisis and a biological-clock crisis, the pressure is enough to push people over the edge. Which is why one of the highest risk times for depression in life is in one’s early twenties when people realize how totally impossible it is to simply “do what you love.”

I recently blogged about a new documentary on Joseph Campbell, who advocated that we follow our bliss. And I believe it’s so important to making life meaningful that we find the things that bring us joy and make them a priority in our lives.

But I think Trunk’s argument is worth contemplating — maybe we drive ourselves crazy by trying to make a living at the thing we love, when it could be enough to do that thing for free.

I love to cook. However, I know enough people in the restaurant business to know doing it professionally is a high-stress gig that would likely turn me off to cooking. So I love doing it just for fun, and that’s enough.

Meanwhile, I get paid to put together marketing plans, design surveys and set pricing plans, among other things. Would I do any of those if I wasn’t getting paid? No, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them. I’m happy with my career path.

Trunk further writes:

if you are overwhelmed with the task of “doing what you love” you should recognize that you are totally normal, and maybe you should just forget it. Just do something that caters to your strengths. Do anything.

What do you think — about doing what you love, or about water, sleep, wine or monogamy?


Categories: career, food and drink, lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. I am often in the unfortunate position of suggesting to BA students that they enjoy what they love (history) in a non-professional way, because the odds are so highly stacked against them.

    One problem is that your relationship with what you love changes over time, and the thing that you love also becomes transformed. Historical research as an undergrad is not the same as the work you have to do as a professional. One may find that the love that they expected doesn’t quite look the same as they had hoped.

    Perhaps there are more parallels between romantic love and work love than we would presume–there are times when love remains the sweetest if it is unrequited.

  2. I was just talking about this with a friend. Very interesting.

    I agree with Penelope. “Following your bliss” strikes me as upper-middle-class decadence. Not all jobs are so fulfilling.

    Most people work because they need money to pay for stuff, and that’s a good and important reason to do a job.

  3. Last year, I took a giant leap….onto a cow waterbed…and landed on a job that I didn’t fully realize I would love. I was drawn to the “job” for the opportunity to join a growing company and take the responsibility of helping propel my father’s dream into the next stage. I have had experiences, developed skills and tackled challenges that I could not have imaged would come my way just a year ago.

    I wrote more about my leap to waterbeds on Simply Leap’s blog here:

    • Such a good point, Amy — sometimes you can’t know what you’ll love or what you won’t until you do it. If you judge only by your expectations ahead of time, you might miss out on something great.


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