The phrase “do what you love, love what you do” (DWYL) has taken a bit of a battering lately. I can sort of see why. Where it was once intended as an encouraging slogan for those in need of reassurance that they are allowed to enjoy their working lives and have dreams beyond the mundane, many have come to see it as a bit of a cliché.
Worse still, some have begun to view it as the mindless mantra of the over-privileged; the “it’s OK for you to do what you love, but I have mouths to feed” crowd, the sneering so-called pragmatists who think that anyone who wants more than the ordinary is a sad idealist. These are people who pooh-pooh the one driving force that everyone on the planet deserves – dreams.
Some of you may have already read this piece on Slate.com arguing that DWYL is not only the “secret handshake of the privileged and a world view that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment,” worse still that it “devalues actual work” – it goes so far to say that it dehumanises those who do not, or cannot, work for their passions.
I won’t go into a point-by-point rebuttal of this argument, but I will put forward my own perspective on why there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to be happy in the way that you earn your living.
Work doesn’t need to be a day of clock watching and wishing you were elsewhere
DWYL doesn’t have to look a certain way
We’re not all frustrated actors, writers and musicians. My husband loves computers. Every day, he goes to work and fixes things that go wrong with them, builds and maintains systems for his company. His company finds people jobs, which (and I’m not an economist – I’d hate that – but I’m pretty sure this is true) helps to keep the economy going. Without functioning technology, they would not be able to do their work. By doing what he loves and fulfilling himself personally, my husband is also contributing to society.
People assume that DWYL is the mantra of the self-important pleasure seeker, the writer, like me, perhaps, who made a business of their work, whose self-indulgent pursuit helps who, precisely? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.
The point is that, while advocates of DWYL are accused of devaluing “actual work”, that belief itself devalues work that also happens to make you happy. It’s usually followed by this erroneous statement:
If you love what you do, it’s not really work
Why not? When I sit down to spend eight hours a day writing copy for my blog, magazines, businesses and for other people’s pleasure, is it any less difficult or time-consuming because I enjoyed the process? Is there less skill involved because pleasure was derived from it? Less thought or time because I didn’t hate every moment and wish I was elsewhere?
If I were to go to a job I hated every day to do what someone else loved, martyring myself on the altar of self-righteousness, would that be real work in the court of other people’s opinions?
Be the bird that flies
DWYL is only for the privileged
I’ve already addressed the incorrect assumption that doing what you love is a pointless, self-obsessed venture. I’ve already pointed out that doing what you love doesn’t have to look a certain way, that you might love building things, or fixing cars (I know my mechanic loves his work), or caring for people who are unwell. We’re not all dramatic artists, musicians and writers trying to justify our useless and narcissistic choices (although, thank you very much, let’s try living in a world without art or literature or music and see how fun it is).
Let’s assume that none of the above paragraph is true. Let’s also say that doing what you love is available to people in certain countries or situations in life with access to better education and opportunities. The anti-DWYL crowd would have us believe that, because there are people in the world who, tragically indeed, do not have the same opportunities as us, we should again martyr ourselves in some sort of misguided act of solidarity.
This argument makes as much sense as starving ourselves because there is famine in the world. It’s a noble enough ideal, but it’s counterproductive and unhelpful – for everybody involved. Starving our souls because others have no choice helps precisely nobody. We are not improving anyone else’s situation, only decreasing our own happiness because we are shamed into doing so.
Carve your lovely little life any way you want – and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty
Who is DWYL helping?
The proponents of DWYL argue that doing what you love helps nobody but yourself. By trying to command a wage from your own pleasure, you are simply demanding an audience for your own self-indulgence. That you are just making others, who are doing something for money, and not love, feel like worthless failures who haven’t managed to monetise their own passions.
To them, I say, what load of baloney! The anti-DWYL folk hold up Steve Jobs as the ultimate example of selfish DWYLism at the expense of his poor employees who had to do the actual grunt work while he swanned around demanding art and accepting honorary degrees. Sure, Steve Jobs got his empire, his dream, his turtleneck sweaters, but what about the ordinary Joes who designed his products? Worked in his factories? Manned his stores? What about them, Steve Jobs?
It’s always entertaining to watch their argument crumble, when you point out that by doing exactly what he loved and never compromising that ideal, Steve Jobs changed the world. Most of you are reading this article on technology that would not exist without him. These product designers, factory workers and Apple geniuses all had jobs in the first place because he created them. I mean, hello, the man’s name was Steve Jobs.
Everything you have to contribute has value, whether it’s a pie-in-the-sky idea that ends up changing the way humanity communicates, or just an article that makes people think. Nobody has the right to tell you there’s no real audience or justification for your passion.
Moreover, if you love what you do, you’re far more likely to put your heart and soul into it and therefore to do it well! DWYL creates higher quality, more dedicated workers – a happy worker is a productive one.
And for those that are stuck in jobs that make them miserable, I say that’s terrible. The same way I wouldn’t wish a difficult situation on anyone. But for those who have the opportunity to do what they love every day and make money from it, grab it. It’s not selfishness, it’s not devaluing the less enjoyable work of others, it’s contributing to society in a way that allows you to enjoy your life even more. Contrary to popular belief, choosing to be miserable because others don’t have the luxury of choice doesn’t make your work any worthier.
I’ll leave you with one final thought, in case the message got lost somehow, with one small caveat:
“If you can find a way, do what you love, and love what you do.”