A few weeks ago, a Slate article popped up in my Facebook feed entitled “In the Name of Love,” written by Miya Tokumitsu. It featured the provocative teaser line:
Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.
I’m sorry…what?! I had to click through and read.
If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to check it out before you continue – while I’ll recap the author’s main points (and rebut every last one), I suggest you get the full scope of the article first so you can really appreciate just how crazy it is.
In a nutshell, the author completely decries the “Do what you love” (DWYL) credo that I and
thousands millions of other people embrace in the search for work that is both fulfilling and profitable. It’s a lengthy article with quite a lot of assumptions and presumptions, but I’ll try to distill it down to a few key points, and explain why I disagree with just about everything the author had to say.
Let’s get right to it.
Point #1: Pleasure and profit shouldn’t go together.
Right at the start of the piece, the author asks, “why should our pleasure be for profit?”
Which begs the question, why SHOULDN’T it? Isn’t it better to make an income from something we enjoy vs. something we hate? If we spend the majority of our waking hours on work, doesn’t it make more sense that we do enjoyable work vs. deplorable work?
She goes on to say that, according to DWYL, “labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love,” but why can’t labor be both? They’re not mutually exclusive – on the contrary, the whole point of DWYL is that they should go hand-in-hand. Because again, why not make a living doing something you enjoy and have a passion for?
Then she twists things further by asserting that “[i]f profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.” This is such a far stretch that I think I pulled a muscle trying to wrap my mind around it. How on earth does “Do what you love” lead to “if you don’t make enough money, it’s because you don’t love your work enough”?
DWYL says NOTHING about financial compensation, nor does it come close to implying anything, either. The credo, in its simplest form, is simply “Do what you love.”
There are a couple variations I’ve seen – one is “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” and the other is “Do what you love and the money will follow” – but the author never mentions the second one, and the first one is only found in her concluding paragraph. She focuses merely on what she terms the mantra of Do what you love.
So to draw implications redefining the meaning of labor and to jump to conclusions about the role of someone’s passion for their work in securing a solid income – neither of these holds any water with me.
Point #2: DWYL is only for the elite.
The author argues that the concept of choosing a profession based on doing what you love is a privilege only enjoyed by those who can afford to be picky. In essence, she’s saying that some people can afford to choose work they love, while others are forced to take whatever minimum-wage job they can get, whether they love it or not.
I have a few responses to this.
First, yes, it’s true – life isn’t fair. That’s just a fact. Some people are born into families with financial wealth, and some aren’t. Some are born in peaceful, stable countries and others aren’t. Some are born healthy and others are born with illness, some are born with great intelligence and others are born with cognitive impairments.
It simply doesn’t make sense that, because not every person in the world can afford to “do what they love,” we should denigrate this as a choice for those who can.
Second, the author’s stance is part of the problem. The idea that you can only pursue work you love if you’re well off is exactly the kind of thinking that keeps some people from reaching beyond the minimum-wage, mindless, or back-breaking work that they feel is their lot in life.
The author is actually helping to perpetuate this myth, which is what keeps so many people from pursuing their dreams or making something more out of their lives. People born into challenging circumstances can easily fall into the trap of thinking that they can’t possibly achieve more, that there’s no hope for a life of fulfillment and financial blessing, so why bother trying?
Denigrating DWYL as elitist only furthers that kind of negative thinking.
What’s more, I’ve read story after story of successful artists, entrepreneurs, and business people who started their beloved work only when their financial situations hit rock-bottom – after losing a job, declaring bankruptcy, being widowed, getting divorced, or racking up astronomical levels of debt.
These people were the opposite of financially privileged – and yet they pursued a new profession, doing what they loved, and found both personal fulfillment and financial success. It’s a hell of a lot of work, and it involves a great deal of learning, courage, sacrifice, overcoming frustration, and more – but it can be done, and not just by the financially well-off.
Furthermore, I believe that it SHOULD be done, by anyone and everyone possible. As Howard Thurman put it:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Like Thurman, I believe the world is a better place when we pursue the things we love, exactly for this reason – we come alive, we are happier, we are kinder, we are more fulfilled, and that, on a massive scale, can truly change the world.
Point #3: DWYL ignores the contributions of people in unlovable jobs.
The author claims that, under DWYL, “labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love—which is, in fact, most labor—is erased.”
This is another logical leap that I just can’t understand. How exactly does “Do what you love” or even its inverse, ”Love what you do,” negate unlovable labor? It’s just unenjoyable labor, but it’s still work nonetheless. DWYL doesn’t say anything about what it means if you DON’T love what you do. It doesn’t say “your work has no value unless you love it.” And again, DWYL does not redefine the very nature of labor, as the author seems intent on believing.
By way of example, she mentions Steve Jobs, particularly his now-famous speech to the graduating class of the Stanford University in 2005, in which he advised them to “find what you love…Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And…to love what you do.”
She then goes on to claim that, “by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, hidden from sight on the other side of the planet—the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.”
At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is a major stretch. Did Jobs claim that he was building every iPad with his own two hands? No. Most people are intelligent enough to grasp that a company that ships millions of units a year has a huge labor force putting those units together. I’m just not sure how she managed to jump to the conclusion that, by someone doing what they love, they negate the contributions of people around them who may not love what they do.
If it weren’t so confusing, it would be funny. Does she even realize how many people DON’T love their work? Studies (such as the Deloitte’s Shift Index) have put the figure around 80%. Eighty!! So no, I’m not buying that following DWYL means that you ignore the work of the 80%. That would be both ridiculous and impossible.
She goes on to question, “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 one really got my blood boiling. How dare the author attribute to masses of people (me included!) these pejorative thoughts and opinions that she’s just pulled out of thin air?
I’m a proud DWYL’er, and you know what I think about the types of workers she mentioned?
I think that they probably have something else they’d love to do, but they’re scared to try, or not sure how to get started, or haven’t figured out how to make money from it, or don’t have the education they need, or don’t have the time to invest in learning and getting started.
I believe these kinds of workers have passions and dreams and yes, talents and gifts to share with the world.
And I think the world is poorer for them NOT sharing them with us.
I don’t hold it against them or blame them. We all have practical considerations and challenges to deal with. If I’m a single mom holding down two minimum-wage jobs to help support my kids, and I have an amazing talent for photography, it’s going to be extremely difficult to pursue that love until something changes. How can I afford equipment, advertising, or even the time to take photos?
And lastly, I believe (unlike the author, I suspect) that yes, some people may actually love their supposedly unlovable jobs. We all have different talents, strengths, passions, ideas of what is fun – humans are wildly diverse creatures. While I would personally hate being a door-to-door salesman, there have been hundreds of thousands of people over the years who lived for and loved that role. And while many people may not think it would be fun to, say, work in construction, I know people who do, in fact, love it themselves.
The author asserts that “Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning,” but that is fallacious reasoning at best.
There is nothing in the DWYL credo that specifies WHAT you should love to do. While the author talks freely about lovable vs. unlovable work and brings up examples of each, where is she coming up with these?
Her own mind – and her own preconceptions and prejudices.
Not to mention that there is nothing that says ALL work must be loved by the people who do it, just as there is nothing denigrating about trying to pursue work that you enjoy. Not everyone is blessed with the right timing, talents, and opportunities to pursue their passions – as I said before, life isn’t fair.
Suggesting that people who embrace the DWYL philosophy are somehow cutting down people who do not or cannot is both inaccurate and insulting.
Point #4: DWYL causes work that you enjoy to cease to be seen as work.
I think this is the author’s main point. In short, she feels that work that people love is somehow no longer seen as work – by whom, I’m not sure. Their employers? Their customers? Society at large? (And again, she is arguing that DWYL redefines the very meaning of work.)
While sometimes, the DWYL credo in stated more specifically as, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” I believe the author is taking this idea a bit too literally.
To clear things up, let’s start with the definition of work. In fact, it’s got a few. First, work can be a verb, meaning to put effort into something, whether mental or physical, to attain a desired outcome.
And then there’s work as a noun, with two different definitions:
1. the labor or effort that is put into something in order to achieve a desired outcome, or
2. the output of one’s labors, the end result of their efforts.
I think the author has misinterpreted the DWYL credo by taking it to mean that, when you love what you do, neither your labor, nor your output, is considered work.
A more accurate interpretation is that, when you love what you do, your work won’t FEEL like “working.” To simplify, most people don’t enjoy the idea of “working,” equating it with drudgery or labor. Work means expending diligent effort, whether mental or physical, and to many people, this isn’t fun. So if you’re having fun in your profession, voila, it doesn’t feel like this ominous, dreaded idea of “working.”
But that doesn’t mean you’re not actually laboring – anyone who loves what they do will tell you they work hard at it. Does the author think dancers don’t know that they work hard? Or football players? How about writers, CEOs, social workers, firefighters or engineers?
No matter what kind of work someone loves – whether they’re the director of a homeless shelter or a Wall Street trader or a day care worker or a sculptor or a window washer or a lawyer or a stock room clerk or a landscaper – I think they, and most other people with any modicum of intelligence, are pretty clear that it’s still WORK.
And DWYL also doesn’t mean that your efforts don’t result in an output of work. Think about it – artists have WORKS of art, writers have a “body of work.” DWYL doesn’t mean you won’t generate valuable work (end result) – it just means that it won’t necessarily feel like work (drudgery) as you’re doing it.
She points to the world of academia, saying that DWYL has been “devastating” to its adherents in that profession, citing the fact that 41% of American faculty are adjust professors, contractors who often receive “low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.”
But DWYL doesn’t say or imply, “If you love what you do, then that should be payment enough.”
If the world of academia expects PhDs to do their research for little or no pay, that doesn’t make DWYL wrong. It means that the leaders in academia are twisting it into something it was never meant to be – if, in fact, DWYL comes into play at all.
The author mentions other industries as well, such as fashion, media, and the arts, saying that they have a long history of having “masses of employees willing to work for social currency instead of actual wages, all in the name of love.”
My response to that is two-fold. First, briefly, if these industries have long been accustomed to this, then why is the fairly recent adoption of the DWYL mantra being blamed? (She mentions that it’s “the unofficial work mantra of our time.”)
Second, this phenomenon is not due to DWYL, but rather the simple concept of supply and demand. Those desirable industries have a large number of people who want to work in them – a high demand for a relatively low supply of positions. So this drives up the “price” of working in those industries. The price in this case is the sacrifice you need to make to work in that position, whether it’s pay, free time, autonomy, or something else.
These highly desirable fields are filled with unpaid and under-paid workers, not because DWYL dictates that enjoyment or emotional fulfillment is payment enough, but rather because of the high demand for those jobs, allowing those industries to pay less.
So what IS the right interpretation of DWYL?
To be honest, there is more – SO much more – that I could mention from this article, in order to argue against it, but I think by now, I’ve shown how greatly the author has misunderstood DWYL, and made my own points quite clear.
Point #1: Pleasure and profit shouldn’t SHOULD go together – because earning money doing something you love trumps earning money doing something you merely accept, or hate. Also, doing what you love makes you come alive, and that’s what the world needs most.
Point #2: DWYL is only for the elite for anyone willing to try. Pursuing your passion can often be difficult, time-consuming, financially constraining, frustrating, and exhausting. It’s not for the faint of heart, to be sure. But people shouldn’t fall (or be pushed) into the trap of thinking that, because they face time constraints or limited finances, they shouldn’t even bother trying. Too many people have overcome the odds and found great success doing what they love for a profit to make this kind of thinking acceptable.
Point #3: DWYL ignores the contributions of people in unlovable jobs celebrates the contributions of those who love their work, but doesn’t negate, denigrate, or eliminate the work of people who don’t.
Point #4: DWYL causes work that you enjoy to cease to be seen as work invites people to seek the opportunity to do work that is emotionally satisfying and profitable at the same time.
Again, there’s much more I could say about this article – how of course I believe that many “lovable” jobs have much lower salaries than they should (the term “starving artist” ain’t a cliché for nothing); about how employers and even entire industries take their workers for granted, often when they’re doing work they love; and how most DWYL’ers I know are actually not self-focused and narcissistic (as the author claims many times), but rather focused on the value that they can personally give to the world.
The resounding mantra among the many bloggers, solopreneurs, and DWYL’ers I follow is to share with the world your unique talents and gifts, because there has never been, and will never be, another you. As thought leader and multi-passionate entrepreneur Marie Forleo says at the end of her award-winning Marie TV videos:
The world needs that special gift that only you have.
So if this means DWYLers are “self-focused,” so be it – we focus on what we, ourselves, have to offer the rest of the world.
And frankly, if we ALL did that, the world would be a much better place to live, indeed.
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Did you read the original article when it first came out? What were your thoughts then, and what do you think about the points I’ve made above? I would LOVE to hear your position – scroll down and share your comments below!
Photo credit: © Marek Uliasz | Dreamstime.com