The Myth of Doing What You Love

Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.

The title of that 1987 book by Dr. Marsha Sinetar has become mantra among a certain segment of creative people. Follow your bliss, the thought goes, and you can’t help but become successful and happy.

The best of the anecdotes espousing this theory come with a healthy dose of humblebragging, describing just how busy the authors are and how, nevertheless, they found the time and energy to be amazing. Take Jason Halstead, writer friend of a writer friend on Twitter:

So how have I managed it all and continue to do so? I work a full time job that often runs 50 – 60 hours a week, including time working from home. I have two young kids and a great wife that I enjoy spending time with. I’m mildly obsessed with power lifting and staying in shape by picking up the kind of heavy weights that makes Planet Fitness employees run screaming in terror. And up until late last year I was completing my MBA in Strategic Management.

Or how about Leo Babauta of ZenHabits, in a post forwarded to me by my own wife?

It is possible — I did it, all while working a full-time job, doing free-lance writing on the side, and having a wife and six kids.

You know how I feel after working a full-time job? Exhausted. Drained. Relaxing in front of the telly with the wife and pets – much lower maintenance than kids – is a true pleasure. But apparently even that I’m not doing passionately enough, because I could be listening to podcasts and going to conventions. Or, cripes, producing podcasts based on the books that I write about watching TV.

If, you know, that’s what I love.

That’s really the hard part, isn’t it? There’s a difference between doing stuff you enjoy and and something you truly love. A lot of advice assumes that we all know what we really want to do, we just need to be convinced to follow our bliss. Then, since we love it so much, we’re motivated to put in the work to make it successful.

At least the first step is acknowledged to be not always so elementary by writer Laura Vanderkam in a newsletter piece called “Your passion project“:

Graduation speakers often tell earnest young people to “find your passion” but here’s a different question: how, exactly, do you find your passion?

This is, of course, part of the broader struggle of knowing oneself. It doesn’t lend itself to quick fixes. Some of us are blessed to figure out our callings early on, but for others it’s a long march.

Vanderkam goes on to suggest ways to discover what you really love, and assures us that she can think of some way to make any sincere passion into a career. I’m sure she can, but just because a theoretical job exists doesn’t mean that a) someone will be good at it and b) there’s room in the economy for however many people might want to do the same job. One example she uses is video game blogger. A variety of voices on any topic is welcome, but there are a lot of people who love video games. There are already a lot of video game bloggers, and a lot of them don’t make any money doing it.

None of this means that you shouldn’t try to be happy or carve out a niche for yourself. Heck, maybe you’re doing someone else’s dream job and they’re doing yours. But neither can everyone expect to be wonderfully self-actualized. There isn’t enough demand for every passion out there; many jobs are pure drudge; and entire professions go obsolete all the time.

If you’re not in the perfect career, explore other options. Not finding perfection doesn’t mean failure.

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