Don’t Do What You Love, Do What You Must


If we could, most of us would lay in bed until our bodies naturally wake. Most of us would allow our circadian rhythm to dictate when we rise to brush our teeth and conjure the magic of coffee. However, most of us wake up at six in the morning because we are partial to food, water and shelter – the basic needs of life, which are far more important than snoozing. We understand that there is a real possibility we could lose everything, including the home with the bed on which we sleep.

There is, however, a diminutive sliver of people who leap out of bed in the morning excited and happy. These people are “doing what they love,” otherwise known as DWYL.

Since your thoughts precede your actions – there is no philosophical or elusive horse before the cart; just think, then act – it only seems natural that the DWYL movement followed the “positive thinking” movement. Decades ago when the “positive thinking” movement gained momentum, the next logical progression was work. Here we are in our generation surrounded by exclamations of “do what you love!” Ironically, many people who identify as experts of the dictum are not doing what they love. Like many others, they have fallen into the monotony of paying bills and mindlessly applying deodorant in the morning.

DWYL people – those that leap out of bed with adrenaline surging and no alarm clock at six in the morning are a rare breed. You have a better chance of sipping a dry cappuccino with Bigfoot at Starbucks than meeting a person who is seriously happy with their work.

My profession is ‘writer.’ I write books, short stories and articles for a living; and by living I mean that I generate income each month. I do what I love. However, I spend a significant amount of time with work that I do not love, because doing what you love often involves work that you may not like.

Allow me to explain. I once heard someone say, “I love writing, but I hate the paperwork.” I can relate. The idea of starting a new project and seeing it through to completion provides enough adrenaline to wake me at six with no alarm. But I don’t do this. Most of my work isn’t about starting or finishing; most of my work is navigating the waves of tedium in between.

10-20% of my work is super exciting while the other 80-90% is grueling paperwork that makes me want to feverishly retreat to my comforter and pillow. However, I understand that I am in a privileged place to not worry if the local shelter has a room for me. Many people are absent this privilege. Miya Tokumitsu articulated the error of the DWYL movement beautifully in Jacobin. Tokumitsu explained that DWYL “disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class.” Career expert Penelope Trunk exclaimed on her blog that advising someone to “do what they love” is absurd career advice and the pressure to find such a perfect career is “insane.”

As Trunk agrees, it is not realistic to feel enraptured with our work 100%, 80% or even 50% of the time. Instead of unrealistic expectations of being happy all the time, we must learn to appreciate those momentary slivers and intersections when our work feels creative, fulfilling and meaningful. Meanwhile, enjoy those moments and sip coffee with Bigfoot while you both hunt for the elusive DWYL.Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Kia Wakefield is a poetess, writer and essayist. She is also a certified life coach who helps people live authentically. She enjoys working on projects that improve cultural and theological understanding. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and son.

More From Thought Catalog