This post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
Oh man, this one kills me. It’s so frequently repeated that hardly anyone questions its truth anymore. And the sad fact is this: If you do what you love for a living, you’ll probably end up loving it a little bit less.
Let me back up for a second: Yes, it’s a wonderful goal to strive for finding work that you enjoy. In fact, it should be a goal for everyone. But this absurd axiom suggests that you can simply take what you already love, turn it into something for which you get paid (meaning, you have clients and bosses and deadlines and obligations…) and it won’t ever feel like anything other than that thing you love. This is a blatant, hurtful lie that far too many people fall for. And they end up feeling like something is wrong with them, when really something is wrong with the idea they’ve been sold.
When something you love becomes work, it fundamentally—and unavoidably—changes the way in which you interact with it.
Work IS NOT Play
In his book, Hardcore Zen, author and Zen Buddhist Brad Werner says the following:
“…even the best job in the world [is] still just a job. Even Johnny Ramone said that being a rock and roll guitar player was a pretty good job, but that, in the end, it also sucked just like any other job.”
Yep. Ain’t that the truth?
Work is called work because it’s not play. Once you depend on something to put food on your table, it becomes something different. It’s no longer “that thing you do for fun”; it’s “that thing you have to do for survival”.
That doesn’t mean you won’t end up enjoying or maybe even loving the work you do. But it will also be work. You probably won’t mistake it for anything else.
Once you take an activity you love (for me, writing) and start doing it for pay, you involve the opinions and needs of others. Writing for a living means I often have to set aside my personal artistic vision, and simply follow the instructions of my client. I sometimes call myself a “writer monkey” because I feel so caged in. I still write for myself, to explore my own ideas and personal style, and, on most days, I’d say I love the work I do…but these are two different things. The writing I do for work is not the writing I do for play.
Work is MORE than the Work
Instead of focusing on doing what you love so work won’t feel like “work”, take some time to figure out what work means to you. What do you want to get out of it mentally, physically, socially and spiritually? (Get my free e-workbook “How Nourishing is Your Career?” if you need help with this.) Then, see how your talents match up with that. For example, if I happened to be the type of person who wanted a lot of social interaction at work, my career in writing (no matter how much I love the activity) would be quite a letdown.
Work is about more than the thing you’re doing. It offers nourishment in a number of different ways. So, when you think about finding work you’ll enjoy (work that, hopefully, can be truly nourishing) think about the entire experience.
It’s dangerous to suggest that work can be anything other than work. Doing what you love can certainly make it a more enjoyable experience. But you’ll also experience a new side of that activity, and it won’t be comfortable. You’ll have to face the inescapable truth that there’s no fooling yourself. Work isn’t the same as play, no matter how similar they might appear on the surface.
I’m very lucky to do what I love for a living. But sometimes, I’m like the gourmet chef who lives off takeout and frozen meals. When you do an activity all day long and depend on it for survival, the playfulness can disappear quickly. Just like in a marriage, it sometimes takes effort to stay in love. At the end of the workday, I have to force myself to write for pleasure after I’ve been writing for eight hours already.
Do I sound cynical? Perhaps a little. But too many people sit around convinced that if only they could turn their NASCAR obsession into a fulltime job, they’d finally be happy. I encourage you to take a deeper look at the things you love and what work means to you. There might be a happy intersection of the two, but don’t force it.