Bare List on The Lie of Loving Your Work

“Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”- Some idiot

This decorates many a reclaimed wood mantle piece, we scream it to high school graduates as they jet off to college, and a plethora of CEO’s cite it in corporate speeches. I’ve endlessly Googled the originator of this idiom to mixed results. Some attribute it to Confuscious, others to Marc Antony, a few to Harvey Mackay, and so on. Why is the original mastermind of this idiom so hard to pinpoint? Because it’s utter bullshit made up as a practical joke against humanity and the originator didn’t want to be associated with it for eternity. 

I hear this “life advice” so often it makes me want to become a scientist exclusively for the goal of building a time machine to go back and smack the thought right out of the knuckle brain’s head before this curse can be laid upon our society, and also kill Hitler and what not, but the curse priority one. It is wrong on basically every level and yet we still dole it out like breath mints at a garlic festival.

Let me tell you, I love what I do. I have a fervent passion for my career and my life, and I work every damn day. Alright, not every damn day, but the vast majority of damn days, I put in work. I wake up early and go to bed let, I grind out words on a page, take calls during carpool, and beg the Lord to put more hours in my day in the hope that one day my “To Do” list can be “Ta Done”.

“Yes, but you love the work so it’s not really working,” claim the ever hopeful souls clinging to the belief that this maxim will some day prove true. I’m gonna go ahead and crush those dreams right now: there is always work. Even if you are living your dream and completely fulfilled with your chosen life course, there will be work. There will be long hours, sleepless nights, and aspects of the job you don’t enjoy. Is it worth it? Yes, absolutely 100% worth it, but it will be work. Being a writer, for example, work. Lots of it. Not just the act of writing itself, which can be painful and grueling, but the edits, queries, promotions, social media building, speaking engagements that go along with it, all work. The synopses! Y’all, it’s more work to condense 80,000 words down to a page or two than it is to write the novel. I would rather write, edit, and query 50,000 manuscripts than write one synopsis, but I have to do it. I have to work.

Does that mean I don’t love what I do? Absolutely not, and that’s the first danger of this idiom is that it makes people believe they must be failing if they’re working. They must not love what they do enough if sometimes their jobs make them want to gouge their eyes out. Really, the inverse is true. The more you love what you do, the more days of your life you will be working. You will find yourself hard at work at 1 a.m. because you believe in your mission. You will work through lunch because on a personal level, you need this work to be completed even more than you need to feed your body. It’s easier to only work when necessary when you don’t care about your job. To leave work there and be free of the stress and fatigue associated with it. When you love what you do, you work harder to make sure you keep doing it.

More dangerous than that misconception though, is the insinuation that for work to be worthwhile, you must love what you do. Blatant untruth that sets up many an existential crisis. You do not have to love what you do to find meaning in what you do. You can hate everything about your job if you can find your purpose in it. Putting food on the table, gaining experience in your career field, getting a break to reset your priorities, etc. Example, I bar tended through college. Hated everything about the actual profession. The long hours, the backbreaking work, flirting with drunks for a bigger tip, pretending the same joke was funny the 400th time, being disrespected by people that look down on those in the service industry. The list goes on guys. While bartending is a great profession, it was awful for me. Sixty hours a week was hard to balance with a full course load, I missed all of my school’s sporting events, and I was always at work while my friends were playing, but it was meaningful, and I gave my all to that job. Not only was it a means for me to finance my education, I made great friends, I was exposed to a lot of great connections, and I was in great shape. In my years bartending, it went from a job I had to do, to one I took pride in and even looked forward to because I chose to find meaning in it, and finding that meaning made working worth it, even though I didn’t love what I did.

I worked with a lot of great bartenders who absolutely loved what they did and would not do anything else even if it was offered to them, but you know what they still did? They still worked (see how that came full circle?) Even though they loved their careers, they worked just as hard as I did, and in the beginning, even harder. They inspired me to work harder. From that job that I hated (but also really kind of loved because I made so many great stories and war stories from the service industry are the most fun to tell at parties) I learned the valuable life lesson that no matter how much you love what you do, there will be work.

I see so many fledgling writers, talented people with unique voices and interesting stories, that feel like they’re failing when writing is work. They’ve internalized that misconception that by doing what they love they won’t be working, and so when it’s work they’re ready to give up because they feel like the problem is them, like they must not really love writing (marketing/painting/managing/cooking/mothering) enough.

So, to that end, I propose a new quote:

“Love what you do and you’ll work your forking ass off for the rest of your life, but that will be okay.”

Admittedly, it doesn’t roll off the tongue. I’ll work on it.