A few days ago, Tara Mohr shared this post on Facebook, asking people whether or not they agreed with the critique of “do what you love, love what you do”. The article suggests “the problem with DWYL is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of labourers.” It goes on to say that it is only the privileged few who can do what they love, and it is almost always at the expense of hundreds of other people contributing less enjoyable labour so that a few people can remain in their privilege (e.g. Steve Jobs did what he loved, but could only do so with the support of thousands of employees, janitors, food service providers, etc.)
I admit, this article causes some inner tension for me. My response is both “bravo” and “wait a minute…”.
There is part of me that says a big “Yes!” to the article. Yes, let’s be aware of our privilege and our sense of entitlement that we should be allowed to do what we love. Yes, let’s recognize the labour of those who provide food, clothes, and clean hospital floors for us. Yes, let’s realize that the marginalized single mother scraping together a meagre income on three part time jobs has never been afforded the kind of privilege that a “do what you love” mentality suggests. Yes, let’s examine the complexities of a world in which the colour of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, your mobility, the country you live in, the government that makes decisions for you, or a hundred other things could be the deciding factor whether or not you ever have an opportunity to “do what you love”. Yes. Let’s be honest and not be arrogant and entitled.
And then there’s the part of me that says “but wait…” I’m a coach and retreat facilitator. I work with many of those privileged (and some less privileged) who find themselves able to make decisions that lead in the direction of their heart’s work, and I ADVISE them to seek the path that love calls them toward. I’ve even written a book to support that quest. AND I was able to quit a perfectly good job myself in pursuit of more of what I love to do (recognizing, of course, my privilege in the fact that I had a savings account and income-earning husband that allowed me to do so).
How can I now say that doing what we love is not a worthwhile pursuit and we should abandon it in order to honour work of all kind? I can’t. I believe that our passions and our love were given to us for a reason. I believe that those of us who find a way to follow that love are making important contributions to the world because of it. I believe that I am better able to serve the world if I use my giftedness and follow my passions than if I do the kind of work that doesn’t make use of my gifts and doesn’t allow me to share my love.
But… let’s go back to the flip side… There’s another belief that sometimes conflicts with the “do what you love and love what you do” mentality. I believe in community. I believe that we are meant to serve each other and sometimes that means making sacrifices and doing hard things for the good of the whole. I believe in the hard work and sacrifice of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela and I don’t believe they always “did what they loved and loved what they did”.
I can’t help but think about Elizabeth, a woman I met in the remotest part of Ethiopia. At the age of 23, this remarkable young woman was running a water diversion project that would eventually give a community access to fresh water to grow crops in the desert. As a young woman leading a crew of 80 skilled labourers (all men) and hundreds of unskilled labourers, she faced prejudice, isolation, and a great deal of loneliness. It took a lot of courage and commitment to stay where she was and see this project to completion. Although she was using her leadership and engineering gifts, there probably weren’t many days when she loved what she was doing. And yet she did it, and today a community has beautiful lush gardens because of it.
And that brings me to my greatest concern with the “do what you love” mantra. It is too “me-centric”. It is the product of a society that is increasingly separating us from each other, turning us into consumers rather than citizens, and making us believe that the pursuit of our own happiness trumps the happiness of the collective. This doesn’t work. The more separated we are and the more self-centred we become, the less we rely on community and the less we make healthy decisions that serve our world and not just ourselves. This is why we end up with greedy economic systems where 1% of the population owns 40% of the wealth. This is why we destroy our ecosystems and overlook slave labour – because we feel entitled to consume the things we love and focus on ourselves instead of the good of the whole.
“The new Story of the People, then, is a Story of Interbeing, of reunion. In its personal expression, it proclaims our deep interdependency on other beings, not only for the sake of surviving but also even to exist. It knows that my being is more for your being. In its collective expression, the new story says the same thing about humanity’s role on Earth and relationship to the rest of nature. It is this story that unites us across so many areas of activism and healing. The more we act from it, the better able we are to create a world that reflects it. The more we act from Separation, the more we helplessly create more of that, too.” – Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible
I would like to suggest an alternative to the “do what you love” mantra, and it is this…
Do it for love.
Take “you” out of the picture, and focus on the collective picture of love. Once you do that, then the balance comes back into the picture. You can still follow your passion and believe that those passions contribute to a better world, but now you are doing it not for yourself, but because you believe in the collective good.
When you do it for love, you can show up as the most kind and respectful janitor at the hospital, because you are serving the people around you.
When you do it for love, you can quit your soul-sucking job, move out of the city and grow an eco-friendly garden in your little patch of paradise.
When you do it for love, you can own a big business and let yourself get excited about the financial success of it while treating the people who support you in that business with respect and compassion.
When you do it for love, you can move out to the remotest part of Ethiopia and oversee a water diversion project and find strength in your love for the people and the land.
When you do it for love, you can spend 27 years in jail and emerge with forgiveness for your captors and go on to lead your country into a new political paradigm.
When you do it for love, you can make art passionately and believe that you are helping to create a better world.
When you do it for love, you can survive those three part time jobs (or work yourself to exhaustion on a farm like my father did) because you believe that your family is worth it.
Do it for love. Do it for the world.
Maybe then we’ll find that “more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”