Who Really Gets to Do What They Love?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Is the key to success following your dreams? (Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

It's become popular to insist that the key to a successful career is to simply "follow your bliss" straight into a profession that you're truly passionate about.

It's the same advice Steve Jobs gave fresh-faced Stanford grads in a commencement address nearly a decade ago.

"You've got to find what you love," said Jobs. "And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And 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."

It sounds simple: Follow your passion, and fame, success, and gobs of money will follow.

But is that how it really works? For most people, is it really practical to do what you love? And if it's not, why are we giving this advice to our young people?

Miya Tokumitsu, holds a Ph.D in art history. Her recent essay in Jacobin magazine, entitled “In the Name of Love,” breaks down why being told to "do what you love" isn't necessarily sound advice.

"The popular mythology certainly is that anyone can do what they love," says Tokumitsu. "To reinforce this myth, we look to exceptional, class-transcending icons like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton. The idea is that all it takes is enough hard work and passion, and anyone can succeed in a career that they find emotionally rewarding—and succeed fantastically."

While many are told from a young age to turn their passion into a bankable job, Tokumitsu says that just isn't the case for all.

"The reality remains that the people who get to do what they love are mostly those with the financial capital to acquire the credentials required by many of these prestigious and personally rewarding jobs," she says. "It's not just degrees, but also things like unpaid internships, rent in expensive cities where many of these jobs are located, etcetera. The superficial uplift of 'do what you love' is really effective at masking the social mechanisms of who gets to do what kind of work."

Tokumitsu says over-identifying with work can also produce existential anxiety after a bad day on the job, at times making the "do what you love" mentality burdensome.

"It makes it seems like work is a very important if not primary source of love, and if you aren't deriving pleasure from your work that there's something wrong with you or something wrong with the choices you've made in your life—I absolutely reject that," she says. "There are so many people right now, especially in this tough job market, who are doing work that they never planned on doing—and certainly never dreamed of doing—but they're doing what they need to do to get by. That is just as valuable as any work could possibly be."

Are there risks associated with the "do what you love" mentality for those that are already in their ideal careers? Tokumitsu says yes. Listen to the full interview to hear why.


Miya Tokumitsu

Produced by:

Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [18]

Jac from Sydney, Australia

"Are there risks associated with the "do what you love" mentality for those that are already in their ideal careers? Tokumitsu says yes."

So, what are we supposed to do? Quit our jobs because we like them???

Feb. 14 2014 12:07 AM
Linda Gnat-Mullin from Brooklyn (where else?)

Toward the end of 27+ years in advertising, I was writing about delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction and the F-22. Finally got brave, got trained, and developed my energy healing practice, now in its 13th year. I love it! Along with many individual clients, I have worked on World Trade Center workers at the NYOCME after 9/11, on Hurricane Sandy medical teams, old doo-woppers, and more. Even wrote a little tiny book about it--another heart's desire--including how I worked out the finances. It's called Kisses Out of the Blue.(On Amazon)

Jan. 28 2014 09:01 AM
Izabela Wojcik from Dallas, Tx

I do what I love. And I always end up doing what I love. I didn't have the internships, I didn't have the money, and I certainly didn't go to the best schools. I sculpt, I draw, I design ornamental ironwork and lightning. I recently decided that I wanted to design in 3D, so I went on Lynda.com and figured out how to use the software... it's going well:)
I don't think that you have to do a job you don't like... you should always do what you love, unless you have to temporarily do what you have to.

Jan. 24 2014 10:32 PM
Frank De Canio from Union City, NJ

To follow up on my previous post, I find so many inconsistencies in Miya's argument. From the premise that we should not put all our marbles in what we love to do at work, she slips in the fact that many are not doing what they plan to do, which is a totally different argument altogether. Then she says, that there's a danger that "you forget that what you do is work". Well, if it's what you love, then it's not work! Then she becomes didactic postulating "where we get satisfaction from life and where we should get satisfaction from life." This reminds me me of Karen Horney's "tyranny of thee should". I.e., "I should not be writing symphonies; I should get married; I should move out of the house; I should stay single." The only "should" should be what your heart dictates to you (providing it's legal of course!) Why can't work be a primary source of love? I'm sure the Met's Maestro doesn't ask himself: "Do I have to go to work today?" If he didn't want to he wouldn't be there. Once again, I'm debating the premise that one ought not love and identify with one's work. I hope to high heaven that the choreographer of the ballet I'm going to next week has thoroughly identified with his work; I pray that the composer of next month's symphony at Carnegie Hall had thoroughly identified with his work,and that the architect of the building I'm working in has identified with his work. If the late maestro of the NBC Symphony orchestra Toscanini made waht he thought was a mistake conducing a perfect performance, he would bang his head against the wall. That's a man who loved what he did. Was it work? But if Miya means by work, what you have to do in spite of contrary passions, in order to live and support a household, well, then I do in fact advise that you try to love and find rewards in what you do, but disengage yourself from your work at the end of the day.

Jan. 24 2014 05:29 PM
Frank De Canio from Union City, NJ

Miya's argument sounds specious. I think she got sidetracked from her original position whether it's possible to do what you love. That's a totally different argument. then she segues into the notion that it's not psychologically remunerative to love what you love doing. But the idea that we should not love what we love doing sounds like a contradiction. The musical comedy giant, Richard Rodgers when asked about his work insisted he doesn't work, he loves what he does. There's a saying that reads: "Do what you love and you'll never have to wok again. The idea that one should segregate his/her work from familial love, subordinate it to something else at the dictate of abstract logic sounds silly. There's no greater happiness than working at what you love; and if it doesn't dominate your interest then you don't love it. Leonard Bernstein referred to the joyful labor a Beethoven who otherwise would be lonely, found in writing movement after movement for his sonatas, quartets, concerti, and symphonies. The idea that he should reason himself out of his passion doesn't sound, well, reasonable. If Ms. Tokumitsu finds "being with my family, my husband and my son" the highpoint of her day, then she puts the love of the latter over her work. Most artists find at least equal bliss in both. Doing what you love does not mean loving what you do, which is why so many people might be irritable at work. Perhaps the argument should be to learn to love in the sense of finding rewards in what we need to do, rather than questioning the value of doing what we love. Other than that I really don't know what the problem is. Had Michelangelo not have the passion to do what he loved until it consumed him, we'd have flowers on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel instead of the monumental artwork that's there now. My dictum is: Follow your bliss like Gauguin did. If you can't do that, at least love what you have to do, but don't let it distract you from what you really love.

Jan. 24 2014 04:51 PM
Teal from tarrytown

40 years of love of my work. I am a designer/space planner with an Architectural firm.Almost never boring Yes... like any art or design, it is %99 persperation and 1% inspiration, but it it all very satisfying, designing workspaces that are humane and functional, making peoples lives a little bit more comfortable.

Jan. 24 2014 03:56 PM
Shara from Seattle WA

I love my job. I help families stay together. I am an immigration attorney (solo practitioner). This is what I have wanted to do since I was a high schooler, but I took a few detours before going to law school and finally opening my own office. I have no staff and do everything myself, but learned to put limits down. No weekends and no evening work, except in serious emergencies. I love what I do. But it is also an attitude thing - before this I was a postal carrier, and I also (mostly) loved that too, because I chose to enjoy the positive parts of the job.

Jan. 24 2014 02:24 PM
Scott from Philadelphia from Philadelphia, PA

For the last 25 years, I have served as the executive director of a land conservancy. The work is interesting and very satisfying. However, though I'm married, I sometimes feel like I'm more "married" to my job. Even worse, my wife and I don't have children, so I can devote as much time to my job as needed, and we live on the conservancy's property, so it's a 30-second walk from my house to my office. The biggest problem stemming from this relationship with my job, though, is that disappointments in my job translate instantly into disappointments in my "life," as Ms. Tokumitsu mentioned during the interview. If I weren't on the verge of retirement and were going to consider another job, I would never live so close to work again.

Jan. 24 2014 02:03 PM

My dad once told me that a good job is one where you enjoy 50% of your work, and a great job is one where you enjoy more than 50% of what you do. I am fortunate that I am currently employed at a job where I enjoy the majority of what I do. That has not always been the case, but I have worked very hard to get into this field and to take advantage of all free continuing education and skills I can develop to continue this career trajectory. At the same time, I know that I am extremely fortunate to have a college education and parents who supported my desire to enter into this particular career. I completely agree that not everyone has the same opportunity to custom tailor their job path (for financial reasons, mainly), although there are a lot of things that a person can do to enhance and/or change their situation with dedication and commitment. I try to maintain a grateful attitude for my work, as there have been times in my life when I was underemployed or unemployed, and I appreciate the positions I've held, as I've learned something from each of them.

Jan. 24 2014 01:17 PM
Wendy - Community College Biology Teacher from Portland, OR

I love what I do and I love this topic but I found the discussion very annoying. The guest was over-thinking the subject and one of the comments read by the host denigrated doing what you love as a first world problem. I am sure that this "first world problem" is something that most of the world's people would aspire to.

It is really very simple. We spend much of our time at work. If you can find work that fulfills and inspires you, you will be a happier person. Don't be obsessive about it and things will be fine.

Jan. 24 2014 01:05 PM
Aaron Bagley from Seattle

"Do what you love" is a watered down phrase. The problems in question attached to the phrase are evidence. Doing what you love doesn't mean that you never are 'working' or always loving what you do. I am a freelance illustrator and it's the hardest job I've ever had. Sometimes I have no work, other times too much. Some clients I love, other clients I loathe. Garden variety work stuff, but I'm doing what I love.

Jan. 24 2014 01:02 PM
sharon pearce from Dallas, TX

I am 64 years old and have had about 25 jobs since 18. I am still searching for what I really love. I have a Master's in Social Work since 2000 and just don't enjoy that work either. Always wanted to have my own shop for my crafts and refinishing furniture but financially can not do it. I get burned out easily but that dream has always been present for me.
Maybe when I retire I will do what I love.

Jan. 24 2014 12:59 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

We need to follow our dreams and live our nightmares simultaneously!

If everybody just followed their dreams, who would clean the Porto potties?

Jan. 24 2014 12:47 PM
Gerry from Seattle, WA

I have been an R&D scientist for most of the past 37 years (in government, industry, and academic labs) but during part of the 2008 recession I worked in the office supply section of Staples. It was great work. I helped people find colored pens and blank journals to record their thoughts and express themselves, blank forms and equipment for their small businesses, calendars and planners to use their time well, tools and materials for their design or art projects, card stock to create invitations or announcements of of the special milestones of their lives. There is something to be said for finding the value in and loving what you do.

Jan. 24 2014 11:55 AM
J from Portland, ME

This is the naive nonsense that Baby Boomers sold their children, and may have presented many opportunities for themselves during a time of unbridled growth, though now their Millenial kids are saddled with debt from the academic industrial complex, no jobs, and lives put on hold until their mid-thirties.

Jan. 24 2014 11:14 AM
AnnIe Burlock Lawver from New York City

I entered the computer field in the mid 70's, a field with few women at that time and in which I always felt uncertain. After 25+ years in Information Systems doing difficult work, meeting impossible deadlines and being too stressed for too long, I decided I would rather clean toilets than continue in the field. After a year of trying to figure out what to do that wouldn't cost $100K startup, I hung out my shingle a photographer, doing work I had done for family and friends. Even though I was uncertain whether anyone would hire me, from the moment I did my first session until now, I've never had a moment's doubt about the rightness of my work and the happiness it brings me and those I photograph. And now I'm about to have my first New York gallery exhibition!

Jan. 24 2014 10:24 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

"Love what you do" is not the same as "Do what you love." Steve Jobs might've conveyed we should find a passion and make a living out of it but his words actually say find something you can live with and "love" it. It's advice that points more to compromise than to anything romantic or poetic.

I guess a job I'd love would be what Elon Musk or Richard Branson have. Though in the world I grew up in I would've needed a Musk or Branson to be the front man for my endeavors.

Jan. 24 2014 10:06 AM
Claire Lyons from Harrisonburg

The exhortation to 'do what you love' creates the unrealistic expectation that there is such a thing as a job you will love all the time. I love my job but there are parts of it I find tedious and have to work through. If you expect your job to be amazing all the time you are more likely to give up.

Jan. 24 2014 10:01 AM

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