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The Problem With ‘Do What You Love’


Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life, the saying goes. Of course, no one is really sure who said it. Attributions on the internet range from Confucius to Martina Navratilova. But the more important question is, can we really expect to do what we love, in today’s world — and should we?

do what you love 

(Photo Credit: InaFrenzy/Flickr)

“There’s little doubt that ‘do what you love’ (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time,” writes Miya Tokumitsu in Jacobin. “The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate?– and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.”

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The Issue of Class

In short, some people can do what they love, because others can’t. The prime example of this, given by Tokumitsu, is Steve Jobs, who famously said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” That was true for Jobs, but less true for the workers in the factories that make Apple products.

The effect is to isolate workers who do “unlovable” jobs, if not to erase them from the narrative entirely. By the dictates of “do what you love,” people who do boring, dangerous, repetitive jobs are invisible.

The I in Team

Another problem with concentrating on DWYL, Tokumitsu points out, is that it’s inherently selfish, ignoring the fact that every single person on the earth is dependent on thousands, if not millions of other human beings to put food on their table and products in their shopping carts.

By doing so, the thinking is, we fool ourselves in several ways: we pretend that people doing difficult jobs don’t exist, and we pretend that people who do work they enjoy aren’t really working.

All of which makes it much easier for the folks in power to pretend that we don’t need limits on our labor and protections for our workers. In other words, everyone loses, even the people who think they’re not really working.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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