Tag Archives: work

Doing what you love – at what cost?

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.

Stepping Sideways

Those of you who know my story know that I went through a significant career change about a year ago.

I’ve had 3 careers now in my (relatively) short life, and all 3 have been interesting and engaging and taught me a lot.  I opened my working life in a university library, a place that taught me how awesome it can be to do a job you love (reference librarian) amidst people who are also good friends. (Brad & Chuck, you changed my life. lol)

I worked for the library director who was straightforward, easy to work for (IMO),  and considerate of me as an employee. He gave me ownership over my areas so that I could grow as a person and as a librarian.  Seriously, that was a great first job.

My role in teaching faculty & students to use the library led indirectly to my second, “main” career as a teacher.  I was minding my own business living life when an acquaintance approached us and asked if we’d consider becoming teachers.  He was headmaster of a small classical school looking to launch a high school, and he wanted teachers who brought a deep, rich liberal arts background to the enterprise.

Looking back, I do think it’s kind of crazy that Dennis was willing to trust that our teaching gifts would emerge more fully and hire us on the basis of our intellectual preparation and interest in ministry/people.  I don’t know that I would make the same gamble … but his call to serve in the classroom was truly Providence.

A decade later I emerged with such a rich collection of experience, accomplishments, relationships & friendships, and memories. Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done — facing a classroom of students daily challenges you mentally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  So many of the posts here (reposted from my original blog on Xanga) emerged directly out of the soup (the storm? the hurricane? the surreal Dali-esque landscape?) of my classroom.

It was in teaching that I learned what Grace is, that adults must banish hypocrisy and pat answers when dealing with adolescents, that teaching is and must be a relational enterprise if it is to succeed.  I soar on the unpredictability of the classroom moment, the second-by-second mental challenge of assessing a classroom of learners on the fly and adjusting one’s flight path to avoid problems and confront misunderstandings head on.

Truly, as a mental and personal exercise, nothing has challenged me or forced me to grow like teaching did.

So why did I leave it?   Well, that’s a complicated answer.

If I were to boil it all down, it would come to this:  I looked into the well of creativity and realized I was dry.  I’d been doing the same thing for 10 years. And while a few classes had shifted here and there, and students are an ever renewable and changing resource, I found myself battling certain challenges without any new insight for how to overcome them.  Put simply, I needed a change.   And our life circumstances once again backed that up.

So we changed.

I feel like 2012-13 was a fog from which I’m just now starting to emerge. Perhaps in a while I’ll put that story  into words.

The important detail here is that I find myself now in a 3rd career, working in the communications office of a small liberal arts college.  It’s actually pretty cool.  Much of what I do during the day is interesting work — I get to meet plenty of people across the campus, help plan recruiting and marketing campaigns, bring order out of the chaos of project details, and learn about higher education from a position inside the industry.

And my office mates are cool peeps.  I think 25% of all conversations somehow end up referencing Top Gear.  In fact, ⅔ of anything we discuss will at least reference a British TV series.  Someone mentioned “shrubbery” the other day and we were off to the races with Monty Python quotes.  I definitely approve.

But I still feel like I’m turned sideways.  A year in, I’m still trying to get my footing in a position that’s linked to education but not to teaching.

We’ve been having a lot of discussions in the office about how to retool our team — we accomplish a ridiculous amount of work for only 4 people. To keep that under control, we need more carefully to pair us with what they we best, while continuing to consider what we each enjoy doing. (Because doing a job you hate but are good at is probably a special circle of hell.)

Those discussions have been really hard for me.

What do I do with this giant box tucked in a back closet of my mind, the box labeled TEACHER?

I can pull skills out of the box and lay them on the table…. in fact, that’s probably what I’ve been doing my entire life,  reapplying the teacherly habits of mind and skills to new situations.  They form the basis of my project management at work, my interview/client skills, long-range planning, an independent working style that’s still centered in meaningful collaboration, supervising student workers, enjoying the writing and revising process, brainstorming, flexible and creative problem solving (usually on the fly).

More than anything else I’ve learned working this year – and I’ve learned a ton – I’ve come to realize that while my job may always vary, my calling is to be a teacher.    Not really sure what that will do to my future resume.

Right now, it’s a daily Faith-building exercise to walk up the wall sideways rather than across the floor in a comfortable straight line.

I know this is where I’m supposed to be.  Time to dig in, make the paths fit my feet, adapt where they don’t, and glean all the good from the journey.

The ‘Good Enough’ Life

Enjoyed this piece by Elsa Walsh of the Washington Post on women being truly happy with the “good enough” life because balance is more important than raw achievement.

“Why women should embrace a ‘good enough’ life”

Walsh discusses her personal journey in American feminism from a loyalty to breaking barriers at all costs to a different definition of success.

“In my lifetime, very little has changed to improve the lives of working parents and their children. In fact, almost all of it has become worse since I was a young woman of 22, then a new mother of 38. And this is the most depressing measure of the women’s movement. Women like myself thought we had won feminism’s big prize — equal opportunity. But in our excitement and individual victories, we failed to demand the structural and cultural changes needed to make it work. In that, we have failed our daughters.”


“For a woman to say she is searching for a “good enough” life is not failure — it is maturity and self-knowledge.”

Any life lived solely for its own success will ultimately be a failure, regardless of the gender of the human involved, because it will be an empty life.

Great thoughts on how our priorities change as we grow into full adulthood.

PS. Walsh also makes this great point: “There is no real safety net for working mothers.” Or any single parent really. Our modern work culture demands our full worship–all our time, all our energy, all our attention. And for anyone in the median class or below, working moms won’t have the money to afford adequate child care. It’s a vicious cycle, an area for the Gospel to redeem.

Quotable: On Work

Thanks to Joey Thames for pointing this out to the faculty today.

(new paragraphing is mine, to make this easier to read)

The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of work done. To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work–our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure–and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people.

We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”;

of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”;

of goods, not “can we induce people to buy them? but “are they useful things well made?”;

of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?”

And shareholders in–let us say–brewing companies, would astonish the directorate by arising at shareholders’ meetings and demanding to know, not merely where the profits go or what dividends are to be paid, not even merely whether workers’ wages are sufficient and the conditions of labor satisfactory, but loudly and with a proper sense of personal responsibility” “What goes into the beer?” (pp. 98-99).

 ~Dorothy Sayers
From Creed or Chaos