Why you need to stop trying to “do what you love” for work

Photo credit: Anton Glavas www.antonglavas.com

Someone emailed me recently and said:

“People say ‘do what you love and the rest will fall into place,’ but I don’t know what I love.”

My initial reaction was to cringe.

Whenever I hear the quote “do what you love and the money will follow,” or some variation of it, I can’t help but barf a little in my mouth. I think I get what Marsha Sinetar (who coined the phrase) was saying, but there’s so much wrong with this overly popular statement.

This quote is harmful because it either has people chasing a fairy tale dream that doesn’t actually exist, or it has them thinking they can just paint pretty pictures and make a living.

Let’s look a bit closer at what’s wrong with the first half of this quote: “Do what you love.”

What does it mean to do what we love?

Does it mean hanging out with friends all the time? Travelling the world forever? Eating endless amounts of tacos?

We can’t just do anything we love and get paid for it. (Perhaps with the exception of some social media influencers — but even then it becomes “do what you love + social media.”)

To me, our work shouldn’t be about “doing what we love.” Instead, it should be about being connected to meaning in the work that we do, and contributing our strengths to further that meaning.

This is very different from doing what we love doing every day — a near impossible goal.

Rather than trying to do “what you love”, I’d suggest getting clear on:

  • What gives you meaning in your work
  • What your strengths are, and how those could contribute to your work

By focusing on these things instead, my hope is that you’ll nix the idea that you should love what you do in your work all the time (and stop chasing that unicorn).

​There are always going to be parts of our work that we don’t love. If you love the day-to-day of what you do even just 60% of the time, you’re doing pretty good!

The thing is, when we’re connected to meaning in our work, it matters less whether or not we love every single aspect of what we do.

For example, I experienced this back when I used to treeplant. The day-to-day of treeplanting can be strenuous to say the least, and I often found myself fighting against the elements — wind, rain, snow, extreme heat, mosquitos, or noseeums.

It was having a clear sense of purpose that carried me through.

There were lots of ways I could have made the same amount of money, but I was there putting trees into the ground in order to challenge myself, push myself to my physical limits, see what I could handle, and hopefully grow from the experience.

If I hadn’t had that sense of purpose, there’s no way I could have done the work. I didn’t need to love what I was doing at all in order to look back on it and say, “That was a great job.”

Now, let’s look a bit closer at what’s wrong with the second half of this quote: “and the money will follow.”

Really? It’s that easy? So I can eat tacos and money will come to me?

Well, maybe. In fact, I’m sure there’s a way you could get paid to eat tacos if that’s really what you wanted to do.

But you wouldn’t just eat tacos and then expect money to follow from that… that would be ridiculous. The world would run out of tacos!

Instead, you’d have to cleverly brand and market yourself as “the taco eating gal”, actively post entertaining videos of you eating tacos every day on social media, and spend at least 3 years hustling your taco eating before you even make a dime (or some similar scenario).

The point is, we have to do work to get to where we want to go, and that includes a lot of work that we don’t love doing.

Think of someone you know well, who is happy and fulfilled in their work. How long did it take them to get there? How many crappy jobs, failed businesses, rejections, or years of being broke did they have to endure before they got to that point?

If it’s anything like the people I know, it took years of hustle, let downs, challenges, and doing jobs they didn’t love (or didn’t even like) to get to where they are now.

For myself, it’s taken 5 years to build my business to a place where I have a consistent in-flow of clients, and where I can live comfortably just from that. It’s taken 5 years for the money to follow!

So no, the money doesn’t just follow. A lot of behind-the-scenes work has to go on in order to make our ideal career a reality.

If I were to re-word the original quote, I would change “do what you love and the money will follow” to “be persistent in finding and doing work that is meaningful to you… it’s so worth it!”

Here’s to persisting for nothing less than what we want.