When someone tells you, ‘Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ that’s BS

Photo credit: Sebastian Jusko via Flickr

Believe it or not, this is a positive, uplifting message I have for you. But that starts with an understanding of what it really means to do something well and successfully.

I’m sure you’ve heard this, and it strikes people as a truism: “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Sure. You love driving? Get a job driving. You love singing? Become a singer. You love designing? Be a designer.

You’ll never really work because you’ll always love what you do!

Yeah. Sounds good. Not true.

But it’s OK that it’s not true, which you’ll get once you understand why it’s not true.

The primary reason it’s not true is that there’s almost no job you can do that requires you only to perform your primary task. There’s always more to it than that, at least if you want to do it successfully.

If you’re going to be self-employed, you have to market yourself, handle billing, spend time networking, negotiate contracts . . . most people who are self-employed spend more time doing ancillary tasks than they spend doing their main task, because that’s the nature of business.

And if you want to get a job working for someone else “doing what you love,” then you’re going to deal with everything from time sheets to staff meetings to internal corporate politics. You might even have to file reports!

It probably sounds like I’m pissing on people’s dreams, but I’m not, and I want to explain why I’m thinking about this.

My son graduated last week, and he intends to be an actor and a writer. He loves both and he is good at both. I expect that he will succeed. But I don’t want him listening to people who sell the “do what you love/never work a day” business, because what he’ll have to do to become a successful writer and actor will involve a lot of things he probably won’t love at all. He’ll have to learn to put himself out there, sell his services, form relationships, learn the needs of his clients, manage his finances . . . I’ll help him with all this, of course, but I’m not going to do it for him because that wouldn’t be in his best interests.

I expect that for his first year doing this full-time (and possibly for the first two or three), he will spend a lot more time doing the pure work/non-fun parts in order to establish himself. And even after he’s become well-known and successful, he will still have to spend a significant amount of time doing those things. I’ve been self-employed for 19 years and I still have to do them. Everyone does.

People need to understand that anything they want to do will require hard work, and it won’t all be of the I-love-it-so-it’s-not-work variety. You will not love all of it. Some of it will be nothing but pure work.

But that’s OK, and that gets to the other point here: Work is good. It’s a good thing to spend your time doing. It should make you happy to do it, even the parts that aren’t fun or easy or natural for you. Even the hard stuff is good to do and should make you happy. Why? Because it’s how you achieve things. It’s how you learn. It’s how you grow. It’s how you become more capable and well-rounded and independent. It’s how you find yourself experiencing things you never thought you would, and gaining capacity you never imagined yourself having.

I don’t think it helps people when you advise them to go do work that doesn’t really seem like work, because no type of work is really like that. But you can encourage people to pursue their interests by being prepared to tackle all kinds of things that don’t seem fun or natural to them, and to find within themselves the skills God gave them to perform those tasks against all their prior expectations of themselves.

Some work is just work. And that’s OK. Work is a good thing. It should make you happy to do it because it’s a gift of God. And the things you don’t think you can do are the most rewarding when you stick to it and found out that, amazingly, you can.

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