by Jay Shepherd, June 29, 2014
I’ve come to the sad realization that we have been giving our kids bad advice for years. In graduation speeches, articles, books, and guidance counselling, we repeat the mantra “Do something you love”.
It’s a crock.
“Do something you love” is not what a twenty-something should be aiming for at all, for two reasons.
First, few of the jobs available in the world are “something you love”. Sure, we probably need the odd professional skateboarder, and we certainly need internet entrepreneurs and rock guitarists. But we also need bankers and gas fitters and truck drivers.
Who is going to take on those jobs, if everyone is chasing something they love?
Second, doing something you love is not actually how you forge a happy life – at least for most people – and it certainly isn’t what our generation did to become happy in our careers.
In my high school, Frank was known as the “artist”. He could draw anything, but better than that when he put colours on a canvass, they grabbed your eyes and your heart. He was a genius.
Thirty years after high school, I bumped into Frank at an outdoor art fair. He was showing his paintings, which as expected were each a statement of his prodigious talents. I commented that he, at least, was able to make a career out of doing what he loved.
He quickly explained that painting was his weekend pastime, but that he had a “real job” that paid the mortgage. “I would have loved to be an artist full-time,” he told me, “but nothing about being a starving artist appealed to me. I knew what I would have to suffer for even a chance to be an artist. I decided that wouldn’t make me happy.”
How many of us, in fact, ended up doing “what we loved”? I know one, who became a professional tennis player, and another who was, and still is, a rock guitarist. Another, Denis, made a brilliant career as an actor, but sadly died too young. Even Denis would have said that doing what he loved wasn’t always 100% wonderful.
So, yes, a few were able to do what they loved. But for the other 99%, that isn’t what happened, and there was no chance it was ever going to happen, yet many of us are still very happy.
What we did, those of us who have had happy careers, is find jobs or professions in which we could “love what we do”. Along the way, we learned that there are many ways to love what you do.
Martin, for example, is a manager of a small actuarial group in an insurance company. He was an actuary himself, and enjoyed the numbers aspect of the job, but he doesn’t do that as much anymore. Now he taps skills he didn’t know he had, as a manager.
Martin loves his job. He gets on the bus to work every day eager to be in the office.
He and his five colleagues have worked together for almost fifteen years. The group are like family. Their lives are intertwined. When one started drinking too much, the others closed ranks and gently steered him in a more productive direction. Another went through a divorce, and found in the other five her main support network. Their kids play soccer together. Their dinner parties are legend.
Martin doesn’t much care about what he does every day. It’s fine, and he’s pretty good at it. But, every day he gets pleasure, not out of what he does, but who he does it with.
Jack is a lineman for a large electric utility. He has always enjoyed working with his hands, and he likes the camaraderie of the group of guys on his crew.
That’s not why he calls his job “the dream job I’ve always wanted”. No, it is a dream job because it allows him to spend every dinner time talking with his kids around the table, in the four bedroom house he always wanted to own. It’s a dream job because it allows him to put his heart and soul into coaching his kids’ hockey teams. The most important thing to Jack is his family. His job is perfect for him. He would never change it.
Sandra studied history in university, but ended up working as a fundraising co-ordinator for a national charity. It doesn’t particularly play to her natural skills – she’s really a bookworm – but she’s figured it out.
She loves her job, not because of what it is, but because of what it accomplishes. When she works on the monthly newsletter of the charity’s projects, she revels in the good they are doing. She focuses on the faces of kids benefiting from the money she raises. More than anything, though, she is proud of what she is doing, and of how her kids look at her when she talks about her job.
Jennifer is an accountant. She could always crunch the numbers, but the other side – finding clients, keeping them happy, networking – seemed impossible to her. She was socially inept, and despaired that she could ever do that part.
Somewhat to her surprise, she developed those client skills, and became not just good, but very good. If you asked her today why she loves her job, she would say vindication. Every day Jennifer goes into the office to do things everyone said she could never do.
And what about Frank, the artist? His day job is managing the food and beverage department of a major hotel. Does he hate it?
Absolutely not. Every day is a joy to him, because being an artist is a solitary activity, and in his job he is interacting with others all the time. He found that painting can express his creative side, but that he still has a driving need for people.
Sadly, not everyone is lucky enough to have a job they love. What is also true, though, is that very few of those who do love their jobs are “doing what they love”, as they would have perceived that idea in their twenties. Life is more complicated than that, and there are many ways that your job – while still paying the rent – can make you happy day after day.
We should be telling our kids “Love what you do”. It worked for us.