If you’ve ever had the misfortune to push the philosophy of “do what you love” while I’m within earshot, you’ve heard me enter into a tirade. You hear it all the time – people promoting the notion that if you pursue a career in something you are passionate for, you will be successful. As a realist, I have to disagree with this philosophy. There are two main points to my argument:
Point 1: If everyone did what they loved, we’d have a shortage of poopsmiths
All kidding aside, there are some awful jobs out there that are both necessary and undesirable. Remember Russ’ story about his dad? We should always show respect for the folks who do the jobs nobody wants to do. They are the everymen and women who keep the world spinning while putting food on the table. I’m sure every one of them has a passion in life that they’d rather be pursuing, but reality has dealt them a hand they have to play and they’ve found a way to make it work. In many of those cases, I doubt their hopes and dreams included their two full time, back-breaking, thankless jobs.
Point 2: Just because you have a passion for something does not mean you do it well
I’ve pursued my fair share of passions that I never mastered enough to be a pro in: cooking, glass blowing, and writing, to name a few. All I love, all I find exceedingly gratifying, but that doesn’t make me good enough at any of them to eke out even a meager living.
I realize there ARE people who have pursued “do what you love” and were able to either make a living out of it or became wildly successful. There are many in the former category, but to be in the latter is rare. If you’re putting all your eggs in that basket, you are very likely to be disappointed.
Love what you do and do it well
I’m not as cynical as this makes me sound. Nothing is quite as infectious as watching someone who loves what they do while they do it well. Now, there’s a philosophy I can get behind. See what I did there? I turned it around. It’s not “Do what you love” it’s “Love what you do.” We are all good at several things. Your job as a contributing member of society is to find something you can be good at and have a passion for and pursue that. Passion is infectious.
I’m not talking about primal desire, I’m talking about a deep love and respect for your craft. It’s the difference between that couple that makes out on the couch at your party all night (but breaks up a month later) and the old man who gently pats his wife’s hand with a tear in his eye. The first type of passion is what gives us flavor-of-the-month professions, such as “Pumpkin Ice Cream Scooping Specialist” or “Social Media Marketer.” The second type of passion you see every day in the most successful folks in their profession. Here are some examples:
I’ve made a pact with myself to avoid shows just because “I have to see them before they break up or one of them dies.” I prefer to go to shows where I can sense the passion of the musicians on stage. If I have to choose between seeing The Who and Bon Iver again, I’ll pick Bon Iver. Not because Roger Daltrey is getting crusty, but because I don’t sense his passion anymore. Justin Vernon’s passion is palpable on stage. To top it off, he’s surrounded himself with an ensemble that has not only made his work better, but watching them work together is amazing. If you like indy/alt music and haven’t seen them on stage, you should seek them out.
A recent episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations has him revisiting the renowned Spanish restaurant El Bulli before they permanently closed their doors. If you are into food, check out this episode. Bourdain sits down with the chef/owner Ferran Adrià to enjoy one of their 30-some course meals. As each course is brought out, Adrià gives gentle guidance on the dish, then quietly giggles, coos, and moans as he enjoys his own creations. This is a man who loves what he does, is exceptionally good at it, and has made a career out of teaching and sharing his craft with others.
I love dining out and I particularly love eating at places where the entire staff shares the passion of the restaurant. They’re not just rattling off a script about the farm-raised, cage-free peppercorns in your salad. They want you to love it. I have a friend who never orders his own meal. Instead, he says, “Bring me what you would order.” Some servers find this frustrating; some just bring you the most expensive items on the menu; but when you encounter someone who crafts a meal they honestly love, you’ll know it and you’ll appreciate it.
The Daily Grind
Most of the people I know work because they have to. Many of them have chosen a profession that they are exceptionally good at and have a passion for. They get that glimmer in their eye when you ask them about their job, but you still know that if they chose to “do what they love” rather than “love what they do,” they’d be playing guitar on the sidewalk, or reading romance novels all day, or sitting in a meadow counting the clouds.
I am known to talk a lot, but one of the things I like to do at Think Brownstone is to sit back and listen to a Brownstoner or a client when they are jazzed about something they’re working on. If they’re truly passionate, the vibe of the entire room changes. Voices get louder with excitement; people start talking with their hands; someone starts sketching on a whiteboard, someone else jumps up to grab the marker, and whatever we’re working on gets better.
Sure, when I’m filling out my timesheets or working on page 53 of a 70-page requirements document, I might think to myself, “I’d rather be in the glass studio.” I can still do that, but in the meantime, I’m grateful that I chose a craft that I love and, IMHO, I do it pretty darn well.