The truth I’ve learned about “doing what you love”

I watched a YouTube video a few days ago, where the creator stated the famous platitude that drives so many people like me to want to make a living out of our hobbies.

“When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

It sounds encouraging, as platitudes often do. But it misses the nature of work, and the fact that other things may end up being a part of our hobbies that we did not imagine.

I admit as someone trying to develop discipline and a routine which allows me to focus on creative work, I sometimes click on these articles without thinking critically about what I’m trying to accomplish. Then I fill my head with ideas about what I should be doing and trying out, when I should streamline my life so I can be more productive. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case for a lot of people hoping to pay the bills through their creativity.

The quote “when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” provides misconceptions about work and productivity that ultimately end up frustrating and discouraging those of us who want to create.

We think of work as drudgery. Office Space resonated with so many people for a reason — as a culture we state we must work to make a living, but we often hate the jobs we have and wish we had more free time to pursue our actual interest. It seems the perfect marriage of making money and actually not loathing your job is to “do what you love.”

But a lot of work comes with doing what you love. Particularly if you have to work up to it.

I know I’m speaking from a place of privilege, as my husband makes enough money so I don’t have to have a job. But if that were not the case, my developing interest in sharing my words via the internet would not make enough to pay the bills, and it probably wouldn’t be for a while.

Sometimes doing what you love means also doing things you don’t really like so you can like…eat, and have a place to live. Whether you’re following your bliss or not, anything that relies on you selling either a product or idea requires some kind of “drudgery,” even if you really love what you do overall.
Forbes contributor Chrissy Scivicque said this in her 2010 Forbes article on why that quote is bad career advice:

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.

My favorite journalism instructor told me that she loves teaching and that it’s the part of the job that comes naturally to her. But the other parts — that I honestly can’t remember but know they dealt more with administrative tasks rather than teaching — she didn’t quite enjoy. This was a little old kick ass lady who threw no punches and wasn’t at all afraid to tell you when you wrote something that sucked, or when you wrote something amazing. She was good at assessing strengths and weakness of her students and teaching overall, but even she had to deal with less than favorable aspects of her chosen profession.

Work is work. Work can be a lot more enjoyable if you find something you’re truly interested in, but there will still be less-than-savory parts to deal with. And there isn’t a one-size fits all process to being productive. In addition, if you haven’t found your passion, or aren’t a super ambitious person and are content just working to sustain your life, that doesn’t mean you are a failure.

What I hope to see in future discussion of work, creativity, and what it means to make a living, is the doing away with hollow platitudes about the nature of work. In its place, we can have honest discussions about what work is, what it means to be productive, and how there’s often more to doing what you love besides just doing what you love.