Do What You Have To, Not What You LovePosted: May 8, 2013
Some of the worst advice I have ever heard is “do what you love for a living”, or alternatively “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it.” This advice is generally given either by people who are miserable in their own life choices and wish they had found a way to make this fantasy come true, or else it is the sort of illusory advice given by type-A personality entrepreneurs who would find success in anything they do because they are so driven they WILL succeed, even if they have to grab success by the throat and chokehold it into submission.
There are two inherent flaws with this advice as I see it, and I’ll break them down one at a time. The first is the fallacy of “do what you would even if you weren’t getting paid”. I honestly don’t know many people who have a passion for something that extends far enough to cover a career. Sure, plenty of people think they do, but that’s because they don’t have the time to really see it through, or else they don’t really make an honest effort at it. I’ll give you a couple examples: My Dad loved golf; I love video games. If he had the time, I think Dad could have played golf for a good four days a week, at least for a month or so. Then he would have started cutting back, because golf is tiring. As for video games, at my peak I was playing World of Warcraft like it was a second job – a part-time job. I played, I kid you not, at least twenty hours a week (after I quit I found time to start blogging. Not a coincidence.) When I would take a staycation from time to time, I would play upwards of forty hours a week in a single binge… and then lay off for a few days, because I needed a break. I then went back to my original routine.
The problem wasn’t that either Dad or I stopped loving what we did, it’s just that at some point most people can’t sustain the passion for something sufficiently to make a career of it. Those who can often do, or else they dedicate their lives to finding ways to incorporate that something into their lives in other ways, either though volunteer work or hobbies. Notice how at no point in that entire set of examples did I mention skill or demand; those would be elements of problem numero dos.
My biggest aggravation with the breezy advice “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it” is the “then find a way to get paid doing it” part. As if it was that simple. In many cases, the things people love to do people are already getting paid to do. Let’s go back to my previous examples. There are already people getting paid to play golf. They’re called professional golfers. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them (Tiger Woods, anyone?). There are even, to the best of my knowledge, golf pros at pretty much every country club in the nation, and every one of them is a much better golfer than my father was on his best day. Believe it or not, there are even professional video game players. Any one of them could romp me without paying attention. In the face of this, how does a simple person come along and just “find a way to get paid doing it”, especially when so many others want to?
Here’s my take on work: work is what you do to make the money you need to enable you to do the things you love. That doesn’t mean you have to hate your job; in fact, if you do hate your job (not just had a bad day, but actively hate your job and dread going in each day), seriously, quit. Find another job first if you must, but you might actually find being unemployed better for your mental and physical health. I did. But if your job is tolerable often that’s as good as it gets, and there’s nothing wrong with that; chasing the rainbows that someone else is offering will only make you miserable when you have no need to be.
If you can make money doing the things you love, hey, bonus. If you are one of the lucky few who gets paid doing what you love, do yourself and the rest of us a favor, keep your mouth shut about it, because nobody wants to hear it.