“Do what you love” seems like sound advice for a happy life. But, is it?
The idea is that if you make you’re living doing what you love, work will feel like play and all your days will be filled with rainbows and kittens. The problem is that work is always work. By definition, work has to do with labor, effort, and exertion. I have both Yankee and Puritan blood in my veins, but I still don’t wake up looking forward to a day of hard labor.
I wrote a little about “doing what you love” in my latest weekend edition. This blog, for example, is a labor of love. I am not coerced into writing my posts. Neither am I compensated in any traditional sense. And yet, I willingly (even happily) show up here week after week. I love being here. I love sharing my thoughts and discoveries about writing and reading. So, in essence, I guess this is work (albeit unpaid work) that I love.
Or, is it?
A comment from a reader who is “a professional writer for a large company” made me stop and think. She confessed that she’d be happy if she never had to write another word as long as she lives. Although she remembers loving writing, she has burned out. Now, writing is just work.
I also write for a living. I am a freelance copywriter. Do I love copywriting? Well … not exactly. I actually wrote a confessional blog post on my marketing blog about the “real secret to doing what you love.” I don’t bubble over with joy while I’m writing copy for one of my clients. It’s hard work. It takes effort. It can be exhausting. I don’t love it. What I do love, is the result of that labor. I love being able to provide a valuable service (and have some fun with) my clients – people I genuinely like and admire. I love sitting back, looking at a job well done, and saying, “I made that.”
I’m sharing sort of half-formed thoughts; but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on whether you think “do what you love” is good advice, or not. Though I clearly haven’t got it all sorted out for myself,
I’m starting to think that finding “happiness” in your work comes down to two things:
- Accept that in a lot of cases, you aren’t going to love the actual work; but you will love having done the work. As I get older (and, perhaps, wiser), I am realizing that it is a hard won sense of accomplishment that brings me the most satisfaction and contentment. Whether the task at hand was cleaning my house, completing a workout, or finishing a client website, I love doing something a whole lot more once it’s actually done.
- Even in your work, try to maintain a sense of play. The thing that makes work so unbearable is the heavy sense of obligation – the “having-to-ness” of it. Whenever I can I try to inject a little discovery, experimentation, and exploration into my work. It’s not always easy (or, even possible), but just making the effort can make a difference.
There are many famous writers who kept their day jobs long after they’d made a name for themselves. Perhaps they knew that another secret to loving what you do is to hold the thing you love a little ways away from your “work-work.” Maybe by keeping their day jobs, they could maintain a sense of “otherness” about their writing that made it more enjoyable.
Whatever approach you take, remember what you love about writing and hold that sacred. It may be dreaming up a new story, researching a new topic, finding the perfect word, or – call me crazy – editing. You may love the feeling of scratching out sentences in a notebook or sending your fingers flying over the keyboard. You might find euphoria in the midst of a wild-eyed first draft, or in the quiet after you’ve typed The End. Or, maybe your love of writing only blossoms when you are able to share what you’ve written.
Find what inspires your love of writing and hold onto that. Even when writing becomes work, hold onto that. Remember why you started this journey in the first place. Know that even if you’re burnt out today, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Whether you love the act itself or the feeling of being done and sharing your stories, never stop writing.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.