Is it responsible to tell people to do something they love instead of guiding them toward something that actually pays?
I can’t quantify how much I dislike this question, but it’s a lot.
It often comes up in reference to first generation college students, low- or middle-income individuals, or people strapped with debt. I don’t fault you for asking it, but it’s heavy laden with assumptions, all of which drive me nuts.
Let me unpack why:
1. Are doing what you love and getting paid to do it mutually exclusive? Is there a chance these can coexist? The answer is yes, they can coexist. Let me remind you of the swim whisperer making six figures a year or the pig farmer in Nevada who received a $70 million buyout offer. Need more? Read Po Bronson’s “What Should I Do With My Life?” It’s got 200 stories of people getting paid to do what they love, and it’s not mainstream stuff like consulting, law, or medicine. Oh, and I do what I love every day and get paid to do it, so I can be a proof point as well.
2. It presumes that the “what” in “loving what you do” is a job. Jobs don’t bring us satisfaction. Jobs are merely the places where we choose to deploy who we are: our values, our strengths, and our ideal environments. One could transfer who they are to any number of jobs and reap satisfaction. I could get energy doing what I do best in education, law, the corporate world, or training my son’s basketball team on how to box out for a rebound (just happened last night). We’ve got to teach people that “doing what you love” isn’t a job, it’s bringing who you are and what you do best to the job you acquire. And what you do best isn’t writing a memo, playing basketball or teaching a class. Those are manifestations of talents, not talents themselves. What you really do best might be articulating thoughts in a coherent manner, working with a team to achieve an immediate outcome under pressure, or empathizing with an audience real-time to facilitate dialogue around a topic. Is it responsible to teach people to do what they love? YES. It’s the best way to love what you are doing for work.
3. Is it responsible to tell people not to do something they love but just to find a job out of duty? This is terrifying. As Dave Ramsey often comments, I don’t want a doctor who only became a doctor because his dad was one, or a pastor who’s friend thought he would be good at that, or a dentist who really loves something else but does this job out of a sense of duty. Imagine the impact on the products and services we consume if every service provider was doing their work out of obligation instead of passion! Oh wait, that’s most service providers (see McDonald’s).
4. Oh, and by the way, creativity, resourcefulness and efficiency are all tied to desire and passion. When you love what you do, you take risks, try harder, and…this is key…PERSIST. You get where you want to go more quickly and efficiently. And your satisfaction is higher. That’s right,persistence through difficulty is tied to desire and passion. Again, is it responsible to teach anything other than “do something you love?” Not if we want people to persist, whether that’s persisting through college or persisting through debt.
5. What is the impact of driving people toward work they don’t love but that pays well? Well, let me ask you this: have you ever lived with someone who hates their job? I have. Me. And the emotional impact on my wife and kids wasn’t worth it. If we encourage getting a job without regard to passion we risk setting people up to expend all of their energy in a job that drains them only to come home to a family that gets the leftovers. There’s a better way, and it starts with encouraging people at a younger age to focus on what they do well and do more of it.
Is it responsible to tell people to do something they love instead of guiding them toward something that actually pays? Yes. Yes it is.
In fact, in my opinion, anything else is irresponsible.
This post is already long, which I prefer not to do, but I need to say something more on the topic for those who decide to stick around.
I think this question is an excuse to not have to do the hard work and take the risks to figure out what you love to do and do it. Wouldn’t it be easier to accept your fate at a decent paying job you hate than to actually have to do some reflection, take some risks, and potentially fail, but at least fail gloriously in pursuit of something you love?!
“But I have a family and can’t afford to fail.” False. Because you have a family you can’t afford to continue to toil away in something you hate, draining your energy throughout the day and bringing home what’s left of you for your family.
This question is the easy way out. You want to hear, “Yes, it is irresponsible. Just go do something you don’t like but get paid well to do.” You’re never going to hear that from me, because it doesn’t have to be that way.
Don’t take the easy way out. Take the hard way. It’s harder. And more rewarding.
And for career professionals — those people whose job it is to help others figure out their career — I think this question is a subtle and subconscious attempt to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to help people figure out their best-fit career and go and do it. “What if I help them figure it out but don’t have the contacts or network or skills to help them land there? What would that say about the service we provide?” That’s your job. And mine. And if we can’t do it, then why do we do this work?
No more excuses.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
I post here once a week on Tuesdays, every week, at 4:59am. You can also sign up below to have these posts magically air-dropped straight to your inbox.