I was sitting at a coffee shop with my girlfriend last Sunday when she saw a sign hanging on the wall over my shoulder: “Love What You Do.”
“That’s interesting,” Hilary said. “You always see it the other way around, like, ‘Do What You Love.’”
As in, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I am one of those people who theoretically does what they love. I get paid to write, and sometimes make films, and sometimes stand in front of a room of people and run my mouth. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t great, because after a decade and a half of job titles like dishwasher, busboy, waiter, bartender, custodian, assembly line worker, nonprofit development coordinator, reporter, editor, and retail sales associate, it feels great. But I would also be lying if I said my job wasn’t “work,” because it’s only great sometimes. A lot of it, like everyone else’s job, including yours, is bullshit I’d love to not have to do. Are you reading this at work? Just kidding. Of course you’re reading this at work.
In a talk I gave at a college last year, I said that anyone who says “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is full of shit, because everyone hates at least some part of their job. If it was 100% fun, it would not be called “work,” or “your job”—it would be called “Sex” or “Eating A Whole Goddamn Pint Of Ben & Jerry’s By Yourself.” I told those college students, if you love 30 percent of what you do and can tolerate the other 70 percent, you have won. (I did not say the Sex/Ben & Jerry’s line in the speech, for the record.)
Do What You Love is good advice to help people find what they initially want to do, but not everyone is looking for The Ultimate Fulfillment in a job, and not everyone is going to get a job that looks good on Instagram. I’m not being negative here, but we’re not all going to grow up to be pro snowboarders, famous actors, or adventure photographers, or anyone else we think is “living the dream.” Ninety-nine percent of the working population has a “real job,” and no one should feel self-conscious about that.
The trick for most of the world is not necessarily Doing What You Love, but learning to Love What You Do, whatever that is. Obviously if you truly, deeply hate your job, you should quit your job, but if you’re not going to quit, your job is a near- to long-term reality that you’ll have to face 40 hours a week or more.
There are people who can make any job miserable. There’s a chance—and I’m not pointing fingers—that if every single day at your job, you think, “my job sucks,” maybe you suck. The real trick is to find some sense of happiness in your work, whether it’s mopping floors or managing a whole staff.
We’ve all met that bus driver or custodian or grocery store clerk who, after we walked away from them, made us think that they would be a great TV show host or stand-up comedian. And we wonder why they’re not doing just that, sharing their personality with more people. But maybe they’ve got it figured out in being who they are for whatever audience they get, interacting with hundreds of people on a personal level every year, and just being happy adding joy to a job where making people smile isn’t a requirement, but something extra they do in addition to driving the bus or ringing up groceries.
For a long time, when my mother would tell me to “have fun,” I would say, “I am fun, Mom.” Perhaps that’s a good idea to keep in mind: Be fun. Yes, we’re all at work. As previously stated, it is not all fun. But it doesn’t have to suck. You’re very likely going to work for at least 40 years of your life, which is a hell of a long time to be throwing a pity party for yourself if you’re that miserable person at the next cubicle.
There’s honor in following your dreams in order to do what you love, but there’s also honor in doing your job. Because maybe doing what you love is raising a family, rock climbing on weekends, learning woodworking skills after you leave your job every evening, or like my friend Ben, making enough money that you can donate an inordinate amount of it to nonprofit organizations. Plenty of artists, poets, writers, and filmmakers pull espresso shots to pay their rent. Brian Panowich, author of Bull Mountain, one of Amazon’s Top 20 Books of 2015, is a firefighter in East Georgia. Not was a firefighter, still is a firefighter.
A few years ago, my Uncle Dan said he thought not every kid who graduated from college was going to be able to work in finance, and that you could make $40,000 a year driving a backhoe, which is a pretty good living—so why weren’t we telling more kids to do that? Is it “doing what you love”? Well, I know a lot of little kids who would light up at the thought of getting to sit inside of a big yellow piece of construction equipment—and adults, too. I have more than once in the past six months wondered how great it would be to start my work day by climbing into the cockpit of one of the 100-foot tall cranes I see in downtown Denver, instead of flipping open a laptop. Is that guy living the dream? I don’t know, not very many people can tell you what it’s like to operate a gigantic crane and build a skyscraper. Seems pretty cool to me.
We’re all special, and we’re all not that special, too. We’re also not so far removed from the last recession to forget that if you have a job, you’re living the dream, too. Almost nobody’s getting out of bed in the morning going, “Yay, work!” But we should be saying, “Yay, life!” And work is part of that, whether you clock in to pilot an airplane, a shovel, or a spreadsheet.