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Do What You Love

Recently, Slate published an article on the topic of “Do What You Love”, specifically how the phrase “Devalues work and hurts others”. As someone that truly does love what they do, I wanted to share some thoughts on the article as a whole as well as some specific points regarding choosing a career path you love even if it’s well outside of your current wheelhouse.

The phrase “Do What You Love” has become increasingly popular over the past few years as workers long for a career path that motivates them to get out of the bed in the morning rather than living for the weekends and the meager amount of vacation time they have saved up. The mantra also stems from a generation privileged with a much different outlook on employment and work in general. Startups are running rampant particularly within the technology sector making the dream of running your own business much more realistic. Remote working is getting ever more popular as businesses look to employ talent from anywhere rather than just from a physical location. A college degree and the right connections are no longer enough to solidify a job climbing the corporate ladder. Needless to say, the term work has changed quite a bit over the past few years.

DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.

It likely gets quite annoying hearing your friends talk about how much they love their jobs or scanning your social news feed only to read dozens of status updates about “the best job ever” followed by hundreds of emoticons and exclamation marks. But, to chalk DWYL up as a “secret handshake” for privileged individuals that “disguises elitism”? Not so fast.

Although the benefits of having the right connections will never be erased, progression in the workplace is no longer limited to the privileged few. Education, particularly in the technology realm, has become infinitely more accessible over the past decade. It’s entirely possible to learn to code from the comfort of your living room with little more than a laptop and a WI-FI connection (living room proved to be option as a homeless man learned to code and released an app). While it might certainly give you a leg up on the competition, formal education (in the form of college degrees) isn’t a requirement. In the case of technology, examples of your work can far outshine a diploma.

The DWYL culture certainly could be mistaken as elitism, and I’m sure in some circles, it’s accurately perceived as so. However, amongst the majority of workers that truly do love what they do, you’ll find a culture that encourages others and reaches out a helping hand. Since I began freelancing as a fitness writer, I’ve received 20+ emails from trainers looking for tips on how to land their first article in a major publication. As someone that wants to see others succeed, I’ve responded each and every time with tailored advice (not a hotkey response).

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished).

The DWYL culture is certainly more prevalent among creative folks. But, that doesn’t mean it’s missing from other career paths as well. For every designer that loves creating art on their computer screen from a trendy loft in downtown New York, there’s someone that truly enjoys plugging numbers into spreadsheets and creating charts and bar graphs (those people are out there).

The DWYL mantra isn’t culture-specific. It just comes off that way. There’s no one saying that being a designer is any more noble than someone that does taxes or a lawyer stuck in court every day. The career paths are just different. The phrase is meant to encourage individuals to find a career path they enjoy; it doesn’t discriminate against certain career fields.

If someone feels like their trapped in a repetitive, unintellectual, and undistinguished career path, they have two options:

  1. Do something about it through online learning, internships, etc.
  2. Complain

The overwhelming amount do the latter.

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class.

I don’t want to belabor the fact that choosing a career is no longer available for the privileged few. That’s a terrible argument in my mind. To misquote the popular phrase:

“The goal in life is to find something you love to do. Then, find someone stupid enough to pay you for it.”

The first part is relatively easy. The second part, well, it takes a bit of work.

I could go on and on nitpicking each particular point the author makes in the Slate article, but the entire piece is based on a few (incorrect) assumptions. The author assumes that everyone shouting DWYL from the top of their lungs is a privileged worker that lives in a slick, modern apartment, works from home on their Apple computer, and looks down on anyone working for an hourly wage.

That certainly might be the case in a a few instances.

However, by and large, the DWYL movement is a result of a large group of individuals that took it upon themselves to “make it happen”. They identified a sector of work they truly enjoyed and worked hard until they “made it”. The movement is more of an inspirational message that there’s more to “work” than making money. It’s possible to actually enjoy your job and work for a company that values you as a person. For every “big break”, there were thousands of hours put in behind the scenes in most cases. Companies aren’t built overnight, just as skills aren’t acquired in the same time period. If you truly hate your job, here’s a three step fix:

  1. Identify something you love to do
  2. Find someone already doing it. Follow them around and ask questions learning what skills they have that you don’t.
  3. Acquire those skills.

When you land it (the dream job), take a few minutes out of each day to mentor and encourage someone else.

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