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Do What You’re Good At. And Learn To Love It.

The letters D, W and Y and a heart spray painted onto a wall

Do What You Love

A little comment last Friday afternoon about Doing What You Love spurred our office into a sizeable debate on the whole topic, fuelled mainly by this lil’ here article. Aside from creating web sites, it turns out what we love to do is argue.

It’s in an interesting – and if you’re me – somewhat infuriating article theorising how Doing What You Love (DWYL to the cool kids) is a mantra solely reserved for the privileged, one that devalues the work of those that can’t, or don’t want to, achieve that particular aspiration. It also happens to be a personal philosophy that I believe quite strongly in (hence my earlier infuriation).

Whilst the article does make some interesting observations, particularly the one about how folk like Steve Jobs only achieved their ability to do what they loved on the backs of hundreds and thousands of others doing what they didn’t (read factory workers in China), it does mainly revolve around the notion that loving work has become an excuse for bad pay and poor conditions. The author seems to pick on internships and academia as example villains.

Whilst I agree that unpaid internships, particularly in the hard hitting landscape of fashion-houses (I’ve seen Running in Heels), immediately erect a financial barrier that only a a certain percentage of potential applicants can overcome, I don’t think it’s indicative of every industry out there. As with other superstar careers (such as acting), it’s quite possible that fashion is merely awash with so many applicants that it drives the imbalance of supply and demand to preposterous levels. Likewise, whilst I sympathise with the author’s plight of having earned a PhD in Art History and now, as the article hints at, struggling to find a secure and well-paid job in academia, I don’t think it’s DWYL that spurs the issue but rather a simple economic structure that can’t accommodate the spread of professions in perhaps the way we would perfectly desire. Again, supply and demand in my eyes as opposed to DWYL being ‘the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism’.

You aren’t always going to be able to have a successful, financially rewarding, secure career doing what you love, no matter how much try, no matter how much the stars align in your favour.

But that’s maybe the author’s point: you aren’t always going to be able to have a successful, financially rewarding, secure career doing what you love, no matter how much try, no matter how much the stars align in your favour. But does that mean that we shouldn’t try? Does that mean that we would all be better off entering more mundane, less crowded industries as opposed to chasing our dreams because it’s all more likely to offer an easier road? I don’t think so.

I suppose it depends on what you value in life though. After all, every choice we make ultimately means sacrificing something else and the choice between being potentially financially sound and unfulfilled versus being potentially poor and having attempted your dreams is always going to be a tough one. Some of us prize our jobs more than anything, others their family, others their hobbies and so forth and who am I to say what’s the most important thing in life for everyone out there?

Equally, not everyone even has something they love or wants to bother pursuing. The message of “Do What You Love”, after all, is grounded in the notion that we all have aspirations of the perfect dream job planted somewhere deep in the recesses of our minds. I’m not so sure about this and I’ve often wondered that if we lived in a Star Trek-esque utopia, how many of us would even actually want to work at all? Aside from a select percentage who go full on Captain Kirk, wouldn’t the rest of us just turn into obese blobs living in sexed up holodecks, beaming the feces in and out of intestines because we’re too lazy to go the bathroom? The human condition is maybe not as self-motivating as we might like to think.

Still, call me an optimist but I think the message behind DWYL is an important one. Everyone (more or less) has to work, work consumes a huge amount of our lives, so we’re better off trying to pursue careers in what we love in order to maximise our pleasurable time on this green earth. It’s a mantra that I try to live by and would love my future children to follow too (and for me to be able to facilitate). Of course, it may not be possible, but gosh-darn-it shouldn’t we at least try?

The pragmatist in me hasn’t died yet though so I would still tell anyone to temper their DWYL fire with a touch of realism. We have to recognise that social mobility, opportunity, support (financial and emotional), and luck are all huge contributing factors in actually climbing that ladder of shitty jobs and hardship to achieving a modicum of success in any ‘dream’ profession. Equally, there’s no guarantee that anyone is actually any good at the things they love (if the X Factor has taught me anything, it is this) – failure is a very real prospect and we have to weigh up those consequences against our desire to achieve more with our careers.

So, instead of rejecting the DWYL mantra as a whole, maybe we should just embrace a little more pragmatism in our approach. Instead of spending our lives trying to blindly find jobs we love (if we’re fortune enough to have that option), why not assess the skills we’re good at in the first place and then learn to love them in turn? Perhaps if it wasn’t “Do What You Love” but rather “Do What You’re Good At And Love It” we might see more general success, less failure, and a more balanced spread of interest in certain professions.

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.




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  1. Oli Smart January 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I think that’s a pretty balanced take on the matter. I do a lot of lettering & calligraphy (which I LOVE), and I’ve got good enough that people are beginning to tell me I should do it for money.

    However, doing so would be a lot of work, and I know that working for clients is a lot less fun than working for myself. I’m happy to stay doing a well paid job that I enjoy, and keeping what I love for a hobby.

    After all, if my work was what I most loved doing, when would I ever stop?!

    • Gordon January 31, 2014 at 11:11 am

      “I’m happy to stay doing a well paid job that I enjoy, and keeping what I love for a hobby.”

      I’ve often had the same thoughts. I mean, I have a few hobbies I’m pretty passionate about but would I really want to do them 8 hours a day, every day? I don’t think have a job that you love necessarily means having to turn a hobby into work.

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