Do what you love. Or, not.

Wall art by vol25 on etsy

Wall art by vol25 on etsy

“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.

39 thoughts on “Do what you love. Or, not.

  1. I think there’s a sure risk of turning your love into something you hate when you make a career out of your passion. Even though I’d love to be living out my purpose every day, I still wonder if being a full-time writer is something I’d enjoy.

    • It’s a slippery slope, to be sure. I think it’s something best tried in small doses so you can see what it feels like without risking your whole love of writing.

  2. Work it always carries an effort and the obligation can kill the will of working, but
    even if we had not the job we dreamed of, there are always things that we can take pleasure! Or if the job is not good at all, it´s our job to do what writers do, find something else in between that we love to do most.

  3. I think it depends on what you love. I recently realised that trying to treat writing like a professional was a bad idea, I burnt out and just made myself feel guilty when I didn’t do it, something I never really had a problem with my other hobbies (origami cranes, video games and reading). For me writing like an author (daily, word goals, deadlines, projects) was a bad idea, I stopped wanting to write as much, though I still enjoyed the process of writing.

    However I also love working with children, seeing that aha moment they have when they finally understand something. I love helping out, and I enjoy finding out all the different ways I should explain/do things to work for all learners. As such I am studying to become a teacher, this is something I love, but I doubt it is something I will regret.

    • I think it’s too easy to lose sight of what really makes us happy. We make assumptions about it all the time, without really paying attention to the reality. For instance, lots of people think a different job or more money would make them happy, when, in fact, the thing that makes them happiest is having the time to take a long walk each day.

      We need to be aware. In the moment. When we are happy, we need to notice that and notice what brought us to that point. And then … do more of that.

  4. I don’t know about this. I’m skeptical. I mean, you need to make money in your profession for your responsibilities, but there’s no reason why you can feel a sense of excitement when you go to work. I think it needs to be challenging, but not overwhelming. It needs to be challenging enough to keep you from being bored as well. “Flow” is what Mihaly calls it when people are happiest with what their doing.

    • There’s no black-and-white answer, is there? I mean, you don’t anything ALL the time. You have good days and bad days. There are parts of my “day job” as a copywriter that I love – I get really excited and jazzed and I feel the “flow.” Other parts … not so much. I suppose it all comes down to finding the right balance. Nothing is perfect. 😉

      • Very true, holistically or overall it’s “flow” that makes us happy…but yes there are the ups and downs in any career. I guess if you spend more time outside of “flow” than inside it then it’s time to reconsider the career choice. Lol. Love your blog though! Very thought provoking!

      • Exactly – flow is the key, and – as I mentioned to Amaya in the comment above – just paying attention to what actually makes us happy. One of my biggest frustrations is having to rush through everything. That takes all the fun out of whatever I’m doing. It took me nearly 45 years of living on the planet to figure that out! BUT, now that I know it, I’m getting much better at finding and holding onto the things that I really love and which make me happy. Writing is definitely one of those things! 😉


  5. I know that I will never stop loving writing. Writing lets you express who you want to be, and allows you to put your emotions and feelings onto paper. There is that risk of turning your passion or hobby into a career because you might not enjoy it that much later on. Many writers have a big name in the writing industry even if that isn`t they do for a living. I don`t think I will ever want to be a full time writer as it may be my passion, but I don`t ever want to dislike writing.

  6. I’ve often wondered (and written) about the job vs. career question. The idea of having a career that reflects your passions is certainly appealing, but I think that it’s perfectly respectable to have a job that pays the bills, if you’re satisfied enough and find stimulation and passion outside of your work. I love results-oriented, manual labour tasks like cleaning and gardening, too.

    I think the worry of losing some passion for writing has kept me from making a full-time career out of it. But then, so far, I haven’t felt satisfied doing other “day-jobs,” so I’m still searching, and appreciating the self-reflection I can do in my current job as a stay-at-home mom.

    I appreciate your tips–I think they’re applicable to many different careers/jobs. I’m usually a proponent of balance, and I think that’s part of what you’re getting at–that you don’t always have to be feeling the utmost level of fulfillment, even while you’re supposedly living out your dream. Keeping sight of the big picture can help get through the more mundane aspects that are part of ANY job.

    • Hi, Jean. 🙂

      Yep. Balance and keeping your eye on the big picture. It’s easier to appreciate the work you’re doing when you can see it as part of a greater whole rather than focusing on it as an isolated task.

      I often think about doing work that has nothing to do with writing – like running a co-working space or opening a bakery. I wonder if that would free up my mind to actually be more creative rather than, as my writing day job does sometimes, depleting my reserves of creative energy.

      Interesting to think about.
      Thanks for coming by!

  7. I think the happiness lies in the result of doing something you want to do. Sometimes writing something for me can be hard but the end result satisfying and give me a sense of accomplishment.

    • I think that ultimate happiness comes from a sense of freedom. Freedom to choose what you will do on any given day and how you will do it. I love days when I can work on a project of my choosing at a pace that is comfortable. I don’t mind working all day long, if I can meet those two criteria. It’s having to work on a particular project and do so all pell-mell and crazy that makes me wish I could do ANYthing else. 😉

  8. mmm. This is a really interesting topic, Jamie. Being a productive, outcomes sort of person, when I wanted to take writing more seriously, I of course started to think about what I could do to make writing my job. Journalist, copywriter, researcher, social media are all options that came to mind. It can’t just be anything though, as I discovered working in social media for 12 months – I don’t enjoy marketing or social media for other people, only myself 🙂 I need to really believe in what I’m writing, otherwise it feels like I’m pulling teeth! I’m working as a teachers aide at the moment, which involves no writing at all – but I feel as if I’ve never been so serious about my writing. So for me, writing is a sacred thing, not something that I can produce for any purpose. But I didn’t know that until I experienced it.

    • I’m still figuring out my relationship with writing – both for profit and for pleasure. I actually segment my writing into two buckets: “work writing” and “my writing.” In that sense, the writing that pays my bills almost doesn’t count as “real” writing. That part of what I do is a profession, a job, a career, even. The other writing – my “real” writing – is more of a purpose or a calling. Parts of that world may eventually cross over into the commercial realm, but only on my terms because – you’re right – writing is a sacred thing.

      TKS for coming by. Always nice to see you!

      • Yes – I woke up thinking about your article again this morning. ‘My’ writing can earn me a living for sure, but only on its terms…fussy thing!

      • And I was just thinking about what you said in your comment the other day – that we shouldn’t judge ourselves or our activities solely on their ability to generate revenue. So, even when “my” writing is slacking when it comes to bringing home the bacon, it still has intrinsic value that is, in the end, more important.

  9. I’ve recently taken on an every-other-week writing assignment. I wouldn’t want to do it every week, so it’s good to start small and get a feel for it. I think it would definitely lose the “fun” factor.

  10. Loved the way you focused on the results, Jamie! I think this is not only about writing for fun or for a living either, but accepting the fact that progress may take us over some rough paths no matter what we love to do/have to do.To me it is also important to keep what I do in relation to the world, people around me and to my own goals, making sure it matters, even in the tiniest way towards something bigger than myself. As you did when sharing your thoughts on the subject, as it made us who read it reconsider and think through priorities once more! Thanks, Solveig

    • So true, Solveig. No path is without its thorns.

      I love what you said about making sure that what you do “matters, even in the tiniest way towards something bigger than [yourself.]” I have always believed that a desire to connect (with myself, with others, with the world at large) is one of the main reasons I write at all. It’s a way of figuring things out, deciphering meaning, and inviting conversation.

      Thanks so much for coming by. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. I burnt myself out creatively not once but twice in my career as an aritist/designer. I got around it each time by switching horses in mid-stream and re-inventing myself in a different medium and discipline, but I would probably never have needed to do that if I’d known what you obviously do, that you can find ways to be playful and adventurous in what you are engaged in and don’t have to get bogged down and end up in a narrow rut. Good luck with this! Enjoyed the post.

    • It’s wonderful that you were able to find a way around your burnout and stay in the creative world, even if in a new role. I bet that each new iteration of your creative self fed the others, too, giving you a really well-rounded way of approaching creative challenges. You are fortunate to have such diverse ability. Glad you didn’t just give up! 🙂

    • “Love what you do.” Yes.
      That’s the thing, isn’t it. Whether you are writing a wonderful story or doing the dishes … find the way to love what you’re doing.

  12. Reblogged this on Travels with Mary and commented:
    Great write=up. Yep, I know exactly how this feels. I LOVE writing. But when you write for other people it is easy to burn out. The key is to still write for yourself so that creativity does not got out the door! TY for sharing this fabulous post.

  13. Hello. Thank you for a thought-provoking post.
    As a young adult, I fell into a career in financial services, and have made conscious decisions to keep my bill-paying activities separate from my writing. I like that my day job uses the more routine-oriented, administrative side of my brain, and lets me reserve the daydreaming, creative side for my writing time.
    I guess I believe (perhaps falsely) that a person can only generate so much creative energy, and I choose to use mine on the things I want to pursue.

    • Mmmm … you may have just inspired another blog post, Marie. I also sometimes wonder about whether creative energy is a finite commodity, or a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Based on my experiences, I tend to lean towards the latter, but I still live in fear of the former.

      Interesting topic. TKS!!

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  16. “Do what you love,” or rather: do what you’re good at. Identifying our competences —our gifts may be the key to happiness. I feel that providing a labor that is within our natural ability can be a pleasure, although we may “love” doing other things as well, the satisfaction of a “job well done” is a universal endorphin.

    • There is definitely satisfaction in a job well done, but I also encourage people to be careful not to let mere competency rule their path in life. While there is wisdom in playing to your strengths, there’s also wisdom in pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, especially if taking that scary step brings you closer to something that you may not yet have mastered, but about which you are passionate. 🙂

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