Why “Do What You Love” might be the Worst Career Advice Ever
By Dena Workman
Do what you love! It sounds like a solid bit of wisdom, doesn’t it? And what person in their right mind wouldn’t want to exchange that 8-5 daily drudgery for endless days filled with thrilling passion? It would be so much more rewarding, so much more enjoyable, to just follow your heart and work at something you love to do anyway…maybe open a tiki hut on the beach to sell seashell jewelry, or teach skiing lessons on some powdery white mountain in the Rockies.
If you love doing it, why shouldn’t you do it every day…and get paid for it, too?
There is so much career advice out there. It’s up to you to decide which bits are worth buying into. But be careful. Just because someone spouts it out as wisdom, that doesn’t mean it’s truly a smart thing to do.
As for the recommendation to do what you love – well, that may be one of the worst bits of career advice out there. Here’s why.
- You turn your passion into work. When you turn your passion into a job, that thing you did for pleasure becomes your daily work. And all the stresses that come with a job will, sooner or later, have an effect on this thing you love. For example, say you love making pottery. Throwing bowls is your bliss, so you find a job that lets you do it every day. Everything is peachy for several months, until a nationwide strike of clay manufacturers leaves you without raw materials, indefinitely. Production comes to a halt. Orders get backlogged. Overdue bills pile up. There’s talk of a layoff. And so you feel stress. Work worries gnaw at you incessantly. You toss and turn in bed, until in a fit one night you throw off the covers and skulk to the garage, hoping some late-night pottery therapy will soothe your soul. But one look at the pottery wheel and you know…the romance is over. Everything you used to enjoy about pottery has become consumed by the everyday stresses of business. You know the saying, never mix business with pleasure? This is one of the reasons.
- Passion doesn’t pay the bills; money does. Career decisions shouldn’t be about “what do I love to do?” They should be based on “what kind of life do I want to have for myself and my family?” There’s nothing wrong with choosing a career based in large part (although not solely) on money. In fact, considering money is a really smart thing to do. Money pays the bills. And money makes freedom of choice possible; it gives you the ability to choose the quality of lifestyle you want. So instead of choosing a career based on doing what you love, choose one that pays you well enough that you can live the lifestyle you love. Then, you can pursue your passions without any sort of financial stress whatsoever.
If you think about it, choosing a passion for a career – with no regard to other factors, like income – is quite a selfish choice. For example, pretend you’re an attorney who quits a lucrative job to pursue your passion of teaching kindergarten. Suddenly, your income is one-sixth what it used to be. And while your family may be financially able to struggle through the day-to-day, gone are any hopes of yearly vacations, a college fund for the kids, and early retirement to travel with your spouse. Sure, you’re happier…but at what expense to your family and future?
- It’s better to choose work that matches your skills and strengths. Discover what you’re good at, then find a job that pays you well to do it. If you’re unsure what your skills and strengths are, one of the best career tools out there is CareerFitter. It’s an online assessment specifically designed by psychologists to identify your list of perfect jobs and work personality. That includes your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, tendencies…all related to how you work. The assessment is 60 multiple choice questions with no wrong answer that will produce a comprehensive report detailing your strengths and the job categories that match best, plus a ton of other valuable information that you can use to build a career on what you’re already good at. The good news is, if you’re good at it – really, really good at it – companies will be fighting over you. Job security, financial success – they’ll be yours for the taking. And if you spend your days being handsomely rewarded for work you’re good at, you can probably bet you’re going to enjoy your job. (Who knows? You may even develop a passion for it.)
- Other things are more important. No, this isn’t about money again. This is about the seasons of life…those situations that come upon us and dictate our priorities. For example, let’s say you’re a new mom. It might be very rewarding to follow your passion and open an organic baby food company. But as a startup, will you be able to afford healthcare right out of the gate? And can you handle the time demands of both a new baby and a new business? Personal fulfillment is rarely the most important thing to look for in a job, because…well, life is happening. And as a result, your most pressing needs may be related to healthcare and benefits, or your commute time, or flexible work hours.
- It’s a trap. The majority of people on this planet don’t have one overriding passion. And so what do they do? They spend their lives searching, trying one thing after another, always lacking that elusive “do what you love” passion. Every job eventually ends in disappointment. Soon, they start to feel like a failure, as though something is intrinsically wrong with them because they haven’t emphatically known since the age of two that they wanted to be a vet. Those kinds of people are rare; those stories are rare. And when you hear them, it’s easy to be a little envious of their certainty, their sureness. But if that’s not who you are, then let it go. Be happy to be you. Instead of spending your life trying to find a passion, make it a passion to have a healthy and balanced life. Work shouldn’t be the main focus of your life; your life should be the main focus of your life. So identify your strengths, build a healthy career around them, and then get busy enjoying everything else that isn’t related to work.
Steve Jobs, an undeniably valuable figure in world history, is credited with saying this: “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.” Poppycock. The way to do great work is to be skilled at what you do. Case in point: anyone who stinks at cooking, gardening, sports, sewing, video games, writing, kayaking, drumming, cutting hair, dancing, speaking Spanish, dog grooming, flying kites, biking, travel, gambling, et cetera et cetera to infinity…but continues to do it over and over at every available opportunity because they LOVE IT. In other words: just because you love to do something, that doesn’t mean you’ll ever, ever be great at it. So don’t fall into the trap of endless searching. It’s okay to “settle” for a job that lets you apply your skills and strengths, that pays you well, and that gives you the freedom and financial stability to live a fulfilling life.
Don’t misunderstand. Nobody is belittling passion. Passion in life is a good thing. But passion is not the most important factor – or even a requirement for – a rewarding career. And if you just can’t let go of this idea of doing work that you love, then perhaps consider doing work that is meaningful. Discover what you’re good at, then use those skills to solve a problem. Make your work mean something positive for the world. Doing work that’s valuable will fill the same void as doing work that’s fulfilling (in other words, doing what you love), plus it will provide you with a competitive salary and secure job field. Instead of trying to fulfill yourself, do something that’s meaningful for others (which, ironically, just may turn out to be very fulfilling).
There’s a ton of career advice out there, all wrapped up into pithy little phrases designed to motivate, inspire, and guide you. Don’t take them at face value. There’s too much at stake. Instead, dig deeper to find out if those little bits of wisdom are the right answer for you. Your future is worth it.