Do What You Love? Here Are Five Good Reasons Not To.
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls. ―Joseph Campbell
The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. ― Steve Jobs
You live in a society that reveres the perspectives of Joseph Campbell and Steve Jobs. You’ve been told that, if you do what you love, the money will follow. You’ve been told that, if you find your bliss, world-changing success will magically come. You’ve been told that, if you’re not changing the world in dramatic ways, it’s because you’re too afraid to find your passion and follow it.
There are five reasons to end your personal guilt trip.
1. Most gifted people don’t have one overriding passion.
Dave Evans, who co-teaches a popular course on “Designing Your Life” at Stanford University, told me a few years ago, “We don’t start by asking ‘what’s your passion?’ The overwhelming majority of people don’t have a passion, or have multiple. What are all we to do?”
He also made a distinction between finding work that can engage you and finding one lifelong pathway of bliss. “It’s much better to have an accurate awareness that you don’t know your passion than to have an erroneous confidence in a false passion,” he said, “which is a common result of people trying too hard to concoct one in order to be okay. The day a false passion is unmasked can be a pretty difficult one.”
2. The money just might not follow.
“I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing,” author Penelope Trunk once observed. And I am not getting paid for sex…. But 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?’ Career decisions are about what kind of life do I want to set up for myself.”
Seth Godin told the story of a gifted friend who took on a draining, grunt role at a record company because music was his bliss. Godin wondered, rightly, if this friend could have served himself and society better if he worked as a schoolteacher during the day and spent his spare time pursuing his passion.
3. The search for one’s passion can be a distraction from living in the present.
Fifty years before Steve Jobs told college graduates to ceaselessly search for their true passion, the great Trappist monk Thomas Merton observed, “The world is full of unsuccessful businessmen who still secretly believe they were meant to be artists or writers or actors in the movies.” Merton exhorted others instead to find meaning in an imperfect present moment.
“Who is willing to be satisfied with a job that expresses all his limitations?” Merton asked. “He will accept such work only as a ‘means of livelihood’ while he waits to discover his ‘true vocation.’” In that way, he anticipated an entire generation of career advisers and bestselling job search books.
4. Your bliss can become hell once it becomes a job.
Many a person has loved movies but hated making movies. Living in Los Angeles, this applies to half my friends. Even relatively successful writers and actors end up dreading the deadlines and burdens imposed by a career that looks less glamorous in close-up than it did in long-shot.
5. Steve Jobs didn’t follow his own advice.
Author Cal Newport has been as one of the more vocal critics of the do-what-you-love movement. In the case of Jobs, Newport pointed out that the tech legend did not follow his own advice. If he followed his overriding lifelong passion, Jobs would have become a great Zen teacher. Instead he meandered barefooted as a dilettante through early-adulthood, lacked follow-through, and only serendipitously stumbled into technology, management and marketing.
In Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he wrote that following one’s passions can be a dead end. He argued that it’s better to identify which skills you have that could be rare and valuable in the workplace — and then to hone those skills till you have career capital that you can spend in the way you choose.
Conclusion: Give yourself a break from guilt
Leave for another day many other good reasons to not do what you love — including the realities of providing for a family, getting healthcare, or saving for old age. Stressing and straining to discern some enchanted pathway of bliss is a futile exercise for most of us. If you haven’t yet found that one overriding passion, you have permission to call off the search.
This article is an update of a blog post previously published by Forbes.