(Originally posted a MuseHack.)
And so here we are, at the end of a multicolumn, multiweek rant on why the idea of “Do What You Love” ends up confusing us, distracting us, and screwing us over. Special thanks to Rowan Atkinson, Dave Barry, and Dennis Leary for your inspirations in being sarcastic.
So at the end of it all, let’s face it “Do What You Love” has become a trite, distracting, and in many cases elitist phrase. Yet, despite my criticisms, why haven’t I suggested abandoning it? Why do I use it, albeit cautiously? Why don’t I just say “screw it?”
Because there is something to it.
The problem is the value of saying “Do What You Love” has been lost. Maybe we never knew what it was very well, so I’m going to spell it out.
This is the part where I talk about what matters in “Do What You Love.” Here’s why, sometimes, it is good advice – because if we know when it’s useful, we can make it work without turning it into a problem.
It Makes You Think
First of all, advising people to “do what they love” can and should make people ask what they value and they love. What are they good at, what do they care about, what matters?
If someone gets the answer right away, the answer is probably (but not always) wrong. The value in this statement “Do What You Love” is to make people think.
My personal story here is that I never realized until I became a Project Manager of what my loves meant. Oh I had some ideas, inklings, half-baked ideas. But really I’m a person who Makes Things Happen. Arranger, fixer, coder, manager. I just never had good words for it.
So use this question to make you think.
It Makes You Consider What’s Important
Here’s the tricky thing – doing what you love also involves figuring out what’s important.
Maybe what you love is getting out of a bad situation and working your way up – so you have to take jobs and even do a profession you hate. Maybe you do that for two, three, five, or ten years.
Maybe what you love involves changing the world. So you have to consider what you’ll give up to work for charity, join the ministry, get a difficult degree. Maybe do do some things you love you have to give up others.
It makes you ask what you really love.
It Should Encourage The Next Stage
So when you say “Do What You Love” the next question when people find what they care about is to ask “What’s The Next Stage?”
So, fine, you want to find what to do with your life. You want a career beneficial financially and psychologically. Then you have to figure how to make it pay the bills.
See if this is so important, you have to figure how you’re going to make a living at it. This is where a lot of dreams fall apart.
When your dream doesn’t fall apart when you ask what’s going to put your bank account together, then you’re getting there.
It’s A Beacon
And here’s the big one. The real big one.
When you “Do What You Love” you have a goal. There’s things you care about and want to achieve. Really thinking about this, really considering it helps you set an idea of an end goal.
And that operates as your beacon, your guiding star, to getting there.
Just having a dream of a dream job can be nothing more than mental masturbation. It’s that creative visualization B.S. we hear about – well you can visualize it, but that’s at best imagining an end state. It’s when you navigate towards it that you succeed.
Thinking about doing what you love means finding the place to go.
Me, as I go into my late 40’s my goal is to have a great career so I can teach people, and to help do more for the geek community. That boils down into assorted goals and actions – and this essay is one of those actions.
It Tells You What To Give Up
And here’s the hard part – sometimes you have to give things up. Doing what you love also means asking what doesn’t fit in that picture. Once you know what belongs – you know what doesn’t.
Maybe you have to move. Maybe you can’t get that degree. Maybe you give up dating for a year while you work at a startup. Maybe some things aren’t in the picture.
When you can look at doing what you love and know what you have to give up, then you’ve really got it going.
Finally, it can be a driver.
This is also powerful. When we care, really care, we’re motivated. When we are really motivated we work hard. Sometimes we work hard even though we’re awful at things, and then get better at it.
Knowing what you love lets you know why you’re motivated. Indeed it lets you be motivated.
“Do What You Love” is valuable – as long as we get beyond the B.S. and use it as a call to understand ourselves and our goals and our situations. It’s best when it helps us get real.
So, I’m not ready to give up on it.
But as noted, I am ready to call out how it’s misused. Let’s forget namby-pamby fluffy advice. Let’s use “Do What you Love” to take a hard look at what’s important, to get deep, get motivated, and get real.
Dreams are best, at times, when they become reality. Reality has hard, but oh-so-real edges.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.