In 1987, Marsha Sinetar published Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, a popular book about choosing a job based on your passions. She urged readers to “follow their own hearts to the work of their dreams”.
Sinetar is a proponent of what she calls Right Livelihood: Doing your best at what you do best.
“Each of us, no matter how ordinary we consider our talents, wants and needs to use them. Right Livelihood is the natural expression of this need,” she wrote. “When we consciously choose to do work we enjoy, not only can we get things done, we can get them done well and be intrinsically rewarded for the effort. Money and security cease to be our only payments.”
“Do what you love” sounds like a great idea — who wouldn’t want work that was both fun and paid the bills? — but as many people have pointed out over the past thirty years, it’s generally poor career advice. When folks cling to the belief that they’ll have no trouble if they do what they love, they run the risk of not being able to make ends meet.
One obvious problem is that not everything you enjoy doing can generate a reliable source of income. I like videogames, for instance, but I’ll never make big bucks playing Hearthstone. It’d be foolish to try.
A few years ago, career columnist Penelope Trunk put it this way: “I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing…I don’t sit up at night thinking, should I do writing or sex? Because career decisions are not decisions about ‘what do I love most?'”
There’s another problem that’s seldom mentioned. When people do manage to make a career out of what they love, they frequently lose enthusiasm for the very thing they once valued. I’ve experienced this first-hand.
When I started Get Rich Slowly in 2006 — ten years ago this Friday! — I was working as a salesman for the family box factory. I didn’t like my day job, so blogging was a fun escape. Eventually, I made enough from blogging that I could quit my job selling boxes to write full time. I was going to do what I loved! Awesome, right? In many ways, it was awesome — but it also quickly became a curse. Writing went from a fun escape to a tedious chore, a slog instead of a joy. (That’s one reason I sold the site in 2009.)
Having said all that, I don’t think it’s bad to seek work that you love. In fact, I believe it’s a worthwhile goal — as long as you have realistic expectations. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding the work you were meant to do. [Read more…]