Doing what you love – at what cost?

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Thought-provoking piece that examines the “do what you love” perspective on work:

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace. …

No one is arguing that enjoyable work should be less so. But emotionally satisfying work is still work, and acknowledging it as such doesn’t undermine it in any way. Refusing to acknowledge it, on the other hand, opens the door to the most vicious exploitation and harms all workers.

Ironically, DWYL [Do what you love] reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to Pin and Tweet on weekends, the 46 percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.

Article: In the Name of Love | Jacobin.

What makes this so interesting:  I’ve always thought the push toward doing what you love was a great jumping-off point for a redemptive perspective on picking careers.

but this author really challenges those thoughts.  Miya suggests that the “do what you love” works only in a capitalist world where the privileged few, subsidized by the mindless work of the many, have the luxury of following their passions.

I’ve been thinking about mindless work for a long time.  In an unfallen world, we would still have work.  God set Adam in a garden with plenty to do.  The Curse wasn’t that we would have to work, it was that man’s work would be in toil and sweat, with the whole Creation pushing back against him.

In an uncursed world, work would not demand so much struggle – the drudgery that sucks us down on Mondays and makes us wish Friday afternoon were already here.  People wouldn’t be standing before an assembly line screwing two parts together for hours on end.  We wouldn’t consign brilliant carpenters to a life in fast food service because we don’t buy enough handcrafted tables to support them as craftsmen.

Is the answer, then, that a redeemed economics would lead to everyone doing what he or she loves?

I’m left with a lot of questions. Read the article and weigh in.


  1. The author makes a similar point, BUT I think there’s a valid point to make about “doing what you love” from a vocational standpoint.

    Yes, loving someone else is hard work; cleaning a toilet is nasty but if I love my family, we won’t live in a house of dirty toilets.

    At the same time, career advice is often tied to “possibility of monetary gain” … that’s a pretty lousy way to pick a career. God builds each of us with a unique package of gifts, plus our lives are shaped by a set of life experiences and circumstances often beyond our control. That package certainly pulls us to love doing certain jobs far more than we’d love doing others.

    I don’t know how to reconcile what I think may be an important principle in reforming economic systems — promoting work that each person can find fulfilling, in part because we find room for the wide variety of gifts and callings, rather than popping out high school grads to work in retail and college grads to toil away in corporate America …. but balancing that against the realities of life in a fallen world, or the limited resources available in an economic system (not everyone will go to college, nor could we make room for them if they tried), or the sheer cost of purchasing hand-crafted goods and services vs the cheaper yet still effective mass-produced alternatives.

    Not doing what you love doesn’t make you any holier than doing what you love.

    Maybe the author is swirling together the Christian life (the two great commandments – I’ll use that for shorthand) and personal vocation (what I do as work, to make money, to help others) in a way that misses some of the nuance?

    I dunno.


  2. while I’m here, let me also throw into the discussion the essay by James K A Smith, “The Economics of the Emerging Church,” reprinted in the collection The Devil Reads Derrida.
    In the essay, Smith takes the emergent Church movement to talk for spending so much time “ministering” to yuppies living in swanky downtown condos that they miss the irony that their emergent doctrine is irrelevant to anyone too poor to have the luxury of asking Big Important Questions About Life and Stuff.

    So, like with this article on “doing what you love” and the way it debases work that isn’t done by educated people trying to find themselves, Smith points out the irony of people who have time to reflect on life criticizing those who don’t.


  3. Too much to write on this! When are we hanging out next?

    To me, this goes right to the folly of “passion.” The over-importance of self-realized happiness in our culture…starting with those pesky Baby Boomers and all the way down the line.

    Passion, desire, the pursuit of “what I love” is no more sustainable than lust/romance in a relationship.

    But that shouldn’t prohibit or even limit people’s career pursuits to noble suffering, career drudgery, or money-grubbing. It may even be helpful as you get started in a life-long pursuit of something very ambitious or difficult. What’s missing is a culture of patience, discipline, patience, even business acumen in such pursuits. A long-term focus that doesn’t expect to be pop star by next year…or a Broadway actor by age 30. Or…quits your boring job in a huff to open a food truck because you’re mad as hell and can’t take it anymore.

    And I think this issue is best dealt with apart from the looming spectre of social responsibility (Xianese: “ministry”), at least initially. We need to get our heads on straight first…my perspective on work and personal fulfillment, then my responsibility to family, then my community of friends and co-workers, the concentric circles that eventually lead us to the issue of culture care.


    1. That. Comment. Was. Awesome.

      So I guess like most things, it’s complicated. Some of us need to be reminded that God gave us work as a gift to fill our hands and offer fulfillment. Not a curse.
      Some of us need the nudge to abandon what seems “safe” (choosing a career because it’ll pay well, for example, or because it’s all we’ve ever considered) in order to step out into using gifts/talents for ministry.
      I think young people need some release from the intense pressure they feel to figure it all out when they’re 18 or 22. Crazy. I didn’t know what I was good at until I was nearly 30.
      All of us should probably remember that life changes and I might not be doing the same job next year… and that’s ok.


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