One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to “do what you love.”
Forget that. It’s absurd. I have been writing since before I even knew how to write – when I was a preschooler I dictated my writing to my dad. And you might not be in preschool, but if you are in touch with who you are, you are doing what you love, no matter what, because you love it.
So it’s preposterous that we need to get paid to do what we love because we do that stuff anyway. So you will say, “But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.” But it’s not true. We are each multifaceted, multilayered, complicated people, and if you are reading this site, you probably devote a large part of your life to learning about yourself and you know it’s a process. None us loves just one thing.
I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing. And I am not getting paid for sex. In fact, as you might imagine, my sex life is really tanking right now. But I don’t sit up at night thinking, should I do writing or sex? Because career decisions are not decisions about “what do I love most?” Career decisions are about what kind of life do I want to set up for myself?
So how could you possibly pick one thing you love to do? And what would be the point?
The world reveals to you all that you love by what you spend time on. Try stuff. If you like it, you’ll go back to it. I just tried Pilates last month. I didn’t want to try, but a friend said she loved the teacher, so I went. I loved it. I have taken it three times a week ever since. And it’s changed me. I stand up straighter. (I’d also have better sex, if I were having it. The Pilates world should advertise more that it improves your sex life: Totally untapped market.)
Often, the thing we should do for our career is something we would only do if we were getting a reward. If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid, you’ll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money.
The pressure we feel to find a perfect career is insane. And, given that people are trying to find it before they are thirty, in order to avoid both a quarterlife crisis and a biological-clock crisis, the pressure is enough to push people over the edge. Which is why one of the highest risk times for depression in life is in one’s early twenties when people realize how totally impossible it is to simply “do what you love.”
Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are. It’s how I chose my career. I bought the book with that title – maybe my favorite career book of all time – and I took the quickie version of the Myers-Briggs test. The book gave me a list of my strengths, and a list of jobs where I would likely succeed based on those strengths.
Relationships make your life great, not jobs. But a job can ruin your life – make you feel out of control in terms of your time or your ability to accomplish goals – but no job will make your life complete. It’s a myth mostly propagated by people who tell you to do what you love. Doing what you love will make you feel fulfilled. But you don’t need to get paid for it.
A job can save your life, though. If you are lost, and lonely, and wondering how you’ll ever find your way in this world. Take a job. Any job. Because structure, and regular contact with regular people, and a method of contributing to a larger group are all things that help us recalibrate ourselves.
So if you are overwhelmed with the task of “doing what you love” you should recognize that you are totally normal, and maybe you should just forget it. Just do something that caters to your strengths. Do anything.
And if you are so overwhelmed that you feel depression coming on, consider that a job might save you. Take one. Doing work and being valued in the community is important. For better or worse, we value people with money. Earn some. Doing work you love is not so important. We value love in relationships. Make some.