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Friday, January 17, 2014

Do What You Love, or Just Get a Job Already?

Posted by on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 5:09 PM

Having a job you hated used to come with the territory. It's a dinosaur bone from the carcass of our meritocratic culture—the idea was that you'd put in your dues and then work your way up to something better, or at least keep your shitty job and eventually make more money—but this generation of kids choosing love over a desk has been wrapped up in the notion that doing what you love is more important than working for money. Miya Tokumitsu wonders if living by the "do what you love" principle is actually just an exercise in privilege and elitism:

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.

But a bigger consequence is the ever-widening class dynamic:

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

Tokumitsu also points to academia as the place where we can see this devotion to love over money on full display:

Nowhere has the DWYL mantra been more devastating to its adherents than in academia. The average PhD student of the mid 2000s forwent the easy money of finance and law (now slightly less easy) to live on a meager stipend in order to pursue their passion for Norse mythology or the history of Afro-Cuban music.The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.

We all know that teens and twentysomethings get a bum rap, and we can't really blame them for not being able to get jobs in an economy that doesn't have much to offer them. Having just left a PhD program, I can tell you that there is a lot of smoke being blown up the asses of our young scholars with regards to the following of passions. But I think Tokumitsu's argument is valid if you look at this from the perspective of class—who has the luxury to wait for the exact right job to come along, or work for free until they figure out a way to find their passion? Why can't work just fucking be work?


Comments (48) RSS

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Man. Danielle, you're hitting it out of the park.

You kicked it off with comparing Miley Cyrus and Macklemore as equivalent racist appropriators (Poor Macklemore. Five years of the Stranger blowing smoke up his ass and then, BAM! He's a racist appropriator!).

Now just wanting or advising for a job you love... what? That means your a privileged elitist. Well. Of course it does.

Is there anything left to not feel guilty about? Music and career are covered.

Sure. In this economy young people are lucky to even BE employed at all. But for fuck sake they should at least aspire to something, shouldn't they?
Posted by tkc on January 17, 2014 at 5:24 PM · Report this
@1 Read the article she's discussing then try again.
Posted by wxPDX on January 17, 2014 at 5:26 PM · Report this
Happiness is a fine goal. If you can work in a place that you love, that's great! If you can't, try to work in a place that pays you enough to be happy when you're not working. (And keep in mind that many people don't even get that; they work a job that they hate, and when they're done they work a different job that they hate.)

@1 Having privilege isn't necessarily something you should feel guilty about. No one's telling you to quit your job that you love and work somewhere that you hate in order to have the real human experience. However, enjoying privilege and not realizing that others do not is problematic; it causes you to act privileged, causing even more hardship to those who lack your specific privilege.
Posted by Ruke on January 17, 2014 at 5:33 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 4
Hair-shirt liberalism.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 17, 2014 at 5:36 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 5
Who the hell is choosing love over a desk?

It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

Good luck with that regardless of the DWYL mantra.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 17, 2014 at 5:42 PM · Report this
Sorry Danielle- I like you a lot so far but I don't think you're the one to preach about not following one's passions and getting a low wage job vs. working the corporate ladder.
Posted by passionfruiter on January 17, 2014 at 5:44 PM · Report this
@3 Please define "Problematic?" This is one of those weasel words. Say what you mean. Immoral? Evil? What? What "problem" is it and how is solved by checking privilege (I assume thats what you mean)?

You know I realize I am highly privileged (though I was born very poor) and lucky to have what I have. It's literally the first thing I think when my eyes open in the morning. And I'm literally TERRIFIED it could all evaporate tomorrow.

How much more privilege acknowledgement do I need to do? I try and see that more people get the opportunities I have. But no matter how many times I count my blessing or help other people that doesn't mean my blessing are permanent. Look I'm fifty years old. My days of worrying about my career are over. Retirement for me will likely be working at WalMart. So I wish somebody thirty years ago would have told me to pursue something that would make me happy. Because they told us that getting a shitty job was just the way it was.

All this talk of checking privilege an words like "problematic" these to me are now overused cynical rhetorical cudgels to make people feel like shit for things they rarely can control.
Posted by tkc on January 17, 2014 at 6:02 PM · Report this
I earned my privilege thank you very much and I love my work.
Posted by Not feeling any white guilt either! on January 17, 2014 at 6:41 PM · Report this
guerre 9
Fuck yeah, Danielle reads Jacobin. The Empire grows!
Posted by guerre on January 17, 2014 at 7:21 PM · Report this
sirkowski 10
Sounds like Marxism.

>Website is called Jacobin

O...kay.................. yeah, no thanks.
Posted by sirkowski on January 17, 2014 at 7:37 PM · Report this
Tingleyfeeln 11
If you're not doing something you love I understand. The world is constantly trying to deny that to the underprivileged. Sometimes it's their own friends and family. Even the seemingly privileged experience some form of this.
Posted by Tingleyfeeln on January 17, 2014 at 7:47 PM · Report this
I love this topic. It rubs a lot of people the wrong way (although some are probably just like that anyway). Doing what you love is a privilege. Look at how many people get to do it. Overwhelmingly, those who do have access that allows them. How many blue collar and unskilled labor workers really love what they do, really? It pays the bills... Should all those who can do what they love, refrain from it? As my mom used to say, "Just because they are, doesn't mean I shouldn't."
As a guy, am I cut off from talking about feminism, or even simpler, from women's issues? Am I not allowed to use my privilege (which would take living in a deep, dark hole to accomplish), even if wisely? The discussion doesn't stop at which side of the chalk line you fall on, it goes on to include what you can do with your privilege. What if those of us, who are privileged enough to do what we love, took time to work for those who can't?
I'm doubly lucky. I do what I love, (which pays enough, if not much) and what I love helps people to get to what they love, in a sense. I know that not all of us can have that, but I'm sure that there are things any of us can do that may help another person get closer to doing what they love. Talking about the dark side of doing what you love is one. Acting on that discussion is another.
Activism is a funny thing- participants are there either out of privilege or dire necessity.
Posted by dangerdarling on January 17, 2014 at 8:08 PM · Report this
I was disappointed in the article when I read it in the Atlantic and even more disappointed to see it lauded in the Stranger. It's not elitist to tell people to do what they love. Virtually everyone understands that it is not always an option, and it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise or that most people don't take their audience into account when they provide that advice. Reasonable people know sometimes you're stuck doing what you must, and you're a dick if you tell someone who you know is in that position to do what they love. "Do what you love" means that to the extent you can, you should try to do what you enjoy instead of what your parents want you to do, what makes you the most money, or what you think mythical beings want you to do. Yes, you still have to work and make enough to get by, but to the extent you have any choice at all, do what you love is a good rule to live by.

However, it is elitist to assume "repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished" work cannot be lovable. Some landscapers, janitors, sanitation workers, and dog walkers love their jobs. Work can be enjoyed even if it's not intellectual or distinguished and even if there are things you might change about it if you could. The article is right that enjoyment shouldn't be used as an excuse to not pay a fair wage, but we can encourage people to make decisions for their enjoyment rather than for other reasons and fight for a living wage for everyone. They're not mutually exclusive. We can also respect everyone who works, even if it's not at a job we'd enjoy doing. That would go a lot further towards addressing privilege than berating people for advising others to do what they love.
Posted by Sasquatched on January 17, 2014 at 8:28 PM · Report this
Killing the idea of doing what you love will be the final nail in the coffin of the middle class in America, and I suppose America itself.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I don't believe everybody gets close to the goal, or even tries, and that is ok, but the unalienable right to pursue it is yours to make of what you will. The post war middle class and the creation of surplus in the broad society far below the 1% class level cut off is the closest we've come to broad realization of this right, a right the parasitic masters have been trying to hollow out with their reactionary tax policies, resource control, and policy control. Fuck'em. Do the best you can.
Posted by cracked on January 17, 2014 at 8:57 PM · Report this
@14 That is to say, the parasites have been winning since the mid 70s. But people don't let go of their identities over night, especially if your identity includes the idea that conditions should exist for everybody to pursue what they love.
Posted by cracked on January 17, 2014 at 8:59 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 16
The only jobs and salaries that are growing are professional jobs - as in a minimum of a Masters or PhD
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 17, 2014 at 9:00 PM · Report this
sirkowski 17
@12 I don't deny it's a privilege. I deny that it's anything to feel guilty about.

Of course, what is completely missing from the article is that DWYL isn't just about having the opportunity to do so, but also being able to sacrifice and set your priorities straight. As an artist, I'm so sick of listening to drunk bourgeois complaining how they wish they could do their dream job if they didn't have to pay for their car, their two kids, their condo and their 2nd car... Yeah, boo hoo.
Posted by sirkowski on January 17, 2014 at 9:16 PM · Report this
Hey, if you have to spend most of your waking hours during the week at work, it may as well be doing something you enjoy, but at the same time not everybody has the luxury of waiting around for an opening in their dream career. That is what is meant by the privilege involved in doing what you love.
Posted by treehugger on January 17, 2014 at 9:20 PM · Report this
the advice I got still feels right: 'take what you can get, do it well, keep moving til you are either happy w/ the work or they pay you enough to not mind. No one gives a shit about you or what you want.' If you are lucky enough to get it, and lucky enough to keep it, they you are indeed privileged. I think the idea that anyone cares what you may or may not want is an idea that is unique to the west coast, and is not dependent on age as far as I can tell.
Posted by Chris Jury on January 17, 2014 at 9:33 PM · Report this
@13 FTW.

"We all know that teens and twentysomethings get a bum rap, and we can't really blame them for not being able to get jobs in an economy that doesn't have much to offer them."

The people who really get a bum rap in this economy are those 55+, who lose their jobs and are simply not going to get hired by anyone, because someone 25-35 can do the job with more energy for less money. Young people without jobs are in a temporary fix; older people without jobs are in a fix that will extend the rest of their lives. And they don't have parents or 6 roommates to live with.
Posted by sarah70 on January 17, 2014 at 9:49 PM · Report this
Laboring in something that you love has always been an act of privilege. Nothing new about it. The history of arts and sciences is pretty much entirely comprised of people (men, mostly) who were wealthy or at least had wealthy benefactors.

Now for my question. Is there something wrong with producing labor out of something you love?
Posted by Joel_are on January 17, 2014 at 9:55 PM · Report this
@17, if I've ever heard a privileged rant, this is it: "As an artist, I'm so sick of listening to drunk bourgeois complaining how they wish they could do their dream job if they didn't have to pay for their car, their two kids, their condo and their 2nd car... Yeah, boo hoo."

As an artist, huh. How do you support yourself? As an artist? Probably not. But your non-bourgeois priorities are straight, though, yes indeed.
Posted by sarah70 on January 17, 2014 at 10:34 PM · Report this
BTW #13 wins the thread.
Posted by Joel_are on January 17, 2014 at 11:08 PM · Report this
Correction, the article was in Slate, not the Atlantic.
Posted by Sasquatched on January 18, 2014 at 12:03 AM · Report this
Sean Kinney 25
I like commercial fishing. Follow your dreams, yuppie fuckheads.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on January 18, 2014 at 12:54 AM · Report this
This is what I was looking for.…

Posted by Chris Jury on January 18, 2014 at 12:58 AM · Report this
Great little article on a very important point! Thanks for writing it. This problem has been growing in our society for a while, actually. My theory is that as unemployment has been growing, they've been using the education system to sweep the problem under the rug by encouraging students to take out easy student loans and continue other programs past college, thereby delaying the problem of finding work for even more unemployed young entering the job market. As you mention, great numbers working in academia are only associates, and a far greater number of those doctorate candidates don't get work n their field at all. What would be great would be if all highly overqualified and underemployed or not employed at all people got together and decided to do something to change the our societies are functioning. With automation and advances in science, we live increasingly in a world of functional employment. The world not needing a certain amount of qualified workers. That is why we need an unconditional basic income as the Swiss will be voting on. Coupled with an improved Medicare for all, we could basically wipe out poverty and economic insecurity, if all the frustrated young saw what was being down to them by the Elites. Then maybe all could work together to fundamentally change or revolutionize our society based on those 2 attritrubtes, minimall -UBI though the ss system, and an imrpoved Medicare for all. With all those educations out there, I would think that you all could put together a plan and action that would change everything.
Posted by Another reader on January 18, 2014 at 1:08 AM · Report this
Dr. Z 28
Condensed version: money buys choices.

Jobs was a master salesman, and he always sold the same thing: coolness. If you lacked it in your life, you could buy some from him. Jobs was always very careful to ensure what you saw of him was the front showroom where life was graceful and aesthetic and enticing. You could buy a little piece of it from him, for a price. The cost wasn't always measured in money.

Never mind that, as CEO of the largest tech company in the world, he certainly did plenty of firing people, laying them off, pushing them around, fucking them over, etc. These things are not cool, so you didn't see them. They were inconsistent with his carefully cultivated brand image, which was Steve Jobs. Only in the back of the house, where the image was assembled, could you discover it was ultimately crafted from plywood and glue with a bit of paint and veneer.

The Buddha got it right: life is ultimately unsatisfying. There are many noble paths through life but they all involve periodic self-examination and correction. Are you doing the right things, in the right manner, for the right reasons? These questions are more illuminating than whether you are doing what you love, which at the end of the day is just another form of desire.
Posted by Dr. Z on January 18, 2014 at 1:31 AM · Report this
bedelia 29
Many (a majority?) of jobs in this country, whether they pay well or not, neglect to think of their employees as whole and valuable human beings who deserve a fulfilling and well-rounded life. Unfortunately not everyone gets to do what they love all the time, but that doesn't mean that they should be working in jobs that they hate where they are treated like shit. Many unbearable jobs would improve dramatically if they were more supportive of their employees.

DWYL is absolutely elitist. People working at minimum wage now have no extra time, energy, or the necessary money to pursue their dreams. It is essential that those who are lucky enough to do what they love support the formation of better quality jobs and work to ensure that those around them are being taken care of and valued.
Posted by bedelia on January 18, 2014 at 1:35 AM · Report this
@29 If my boss tried to value me as a whole human being I think I'd puke.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 18, 2014 at 7:09 AM · Report this
As soon as I read this, I thought "oh no Danielle..." Not because I disagree with you, but because a large portion of sloggers may represent Seattle-above-the-Montlake cut, a population of over educated and under whelmed white folks who hide their greed, arrogance, and racism behind liberal politics. "But I run 5K races in support of the homeless" kind of people. I love your writing, keep up the good work!
Posted by Annie123 on January 18, 2014 at 8:26 AM · Report this
@31 while you savage your middle-class allies the Bezoses and Kochs of the world laugh laugh laugh. And just like that you become an ally of the truly rich and manipulative class.
Posted by ohthetrees on January 18, 2014 at 8:56 AM · Report this
"those who are lucky enough to do what they love support the formation of better quality jobs and work to ensure that those around them are being taken care of and valued. "

As someone who does what he loves and gets well paid for it (now), why is it my job to hold hands with people who haven't figured out how to do that? It took hard work, drive, ambition, very long hours, shit pay, etc. etc. for over a decade to get successful. You get to do what you love that way, not by some freak accident or luck but by hard work, motivation and ambition. If that's "elitist" then call me an elitist.

Most people are, sadly, too fucking lazy or shortsighted to understand that. They want life handed to them on a silver platter and when they see success there response is envy, not respect.
Posted by Elitist, do what I lover on January 18, 2014 at 9:24 AM · Report this
'their response'
Posted by Elitist, do what I lover on January 18, 2014 at 9:26 AM · Report this
@31 Hide your greed, arrogance, and racism? Interesting idea, maybe I should try it sometime.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 18, 2014 at 9:33 AM · Report this
"under whelmed white folks who hide their greed, arrogance, and racism"

Wow, nice bit of generalizing. Does that mean all people south of the Ship Canal are shiftless, lazy and criminally minded?
Posted by Except on Queen Anne & Madison Park? on January 18, 2014 at 9:38 AM · Report this
Original Andrew 37
For me, it's not even the job as much as the people with which I work. I had a job in college that paid minimum wage that I loved because the people were so great. On the flip side, I've had a job that paid very well that I hated because my boss was a deranged, neurotic asshole who made my life a living hell. I don't even care about pay anymore. I just want to work with people that aren't completely fucking crazy. Good luck finding that these days.
Posted by Original Andrew on January 18, 2014 at 10:13 AM · Report this
So, if this is an "intellectual" argument, which side of the "class line" does it fall? "That which is lovable" or "that which is not?"
Posted by Senor Guy on January 18, 2014 at 10:52 AM · Report this
If the left had it's way, we'd still be living in caves. God forbid some people have more drive, motivation, ambition combined with the strong work ethic required to succeed at 'what you love'.

And by the way, it is the eft that has demeaned 'regular jobs' with their entitlement society.
Posted by Elitist, do what I lover on January 18, 2014 at 11:50 AM · Report this
I should add that there's no better way to get the Slog rolling than "No True Scotsman".
Posted by Joel_are on January 18, 2014 at 1:31 PM · Report this
Rotten666 41
"DWYL is absolutely elitist. People working at minimum wage now have no extra time, energy, or the necessary money to pursue their dreams"

That's a fucking elitist statement if I ever heard one. Who appointed you the speaker for the lower class?

Posted by Rotten666 on January 18, 2014 at 1:45 PM · Report this
Tingleyfeeln 42
The demeaning of regular jobs is not a left vs. right problem. It is an elitism problem, particularly from those born priveleged. The people performing many of the menial jobs haven't helped the problem, given some of their tendencies towards negative attitudes towards those who are a little different from them. I'd say that they, collectively, have brought a little on themselves by living up to the stereotype portrayed by Archie Bunker.
One observation of mine regarding our history is that when we elevated ourselves economically, we failed to elevate ourselves intellectually. Work was still seen only as a means to an income, and it's potential rarely explored.
Posted by Tingleyfeeln on January 18, 2014 at 2:02 PM · Report this
@37, re "I had a job in college...", that's kind of a key statement right there. When I was working in low-income office jobs at the UW, many of my coworkers were in college, and when asked at parties what they did, they'd say "I work in XX department but I'm in college." So no one would mistake them for a lowly worker, because then they wouldn't be included in a serious conversation.
Posted by sarah70 on January 18, 2014 at 4:16 PM · Report this
Why is there an automatic assumption that those who do what they love (I refuse the acronym, it's belittling) make a lot of money or have some sort of glorious public status or do so only from a point if privilege? I can think of plenty of people, contemporary and historic, who Did What They Loved and managed to do it from underprivileged positions and with meager payback. These are all people for whom their work was their passion, and they could not imagine doing ANYTHING else:
Martin Luther King, jr
Jesus Christ
Francis of Assisi (hell, HE GAVE UP his privilege to follow his passion)
Caesar Chavez
Alice Walker
Lyndon Johnson (grew up in a penniless family)
Snoop Dogg/Lion
Spike Lee
Spike Jonze
Barrack Obama
Albert Einstein
Condoleeza Rice

It's a silly list, sure, but it makes the point: you don't need privilege, money, social status and white skin to Do What You Love (although CAN grease the wheels)
Doing What You Love is not about monetizing your passions. It means do what you're passionate about and screw the money. It's a horribly belittling statement and denying attitude to suggest that People Who Do What They Love are inherently only out for themselves and don't care about "the common worker" or that they're lazy and can't just simply "go get a job".

Frankly, I don't care about the politics of this. It's an idea that defies labels. People who have passion about what they do come from all statuses, all classes, all colors, all genders, all creeds and religions... Denying that is horrendously elitist, and only demonstrates a lack of recognition of the values, passions and contributions of those around you.

Finally, to anyone who suggests that Doing What You Love is somehow lazy or not real work: Fuck You. I work 50-80 hour weeks, putting up with bosses I hate, dealing with under skilled coworkers, racing to fill lousy deadlines, spending long periods not seeing my family by daylight, not owning a car or a home because I can't afford either... BECAUSE I FUCKING LOVE WHAT I DO. I may not love who I work for and with, but I love what I do. And none of your preaching is going to deny that of me.
Posted by Loving what I do, and hating you on January 18, 2014 at 10:25 PM · Report this
Dr. Z 45
@44: but has DWYL made you a happier person?
Posted by Dr. Z on January 19, 2014 at 3:53 AM · Report this
sirkowski 46
@22 lol I work exclusively selling my artistic services. So I'm not sure what the hell you were trying to prove there.
Posted by sirkowski on January 19, 2014 at 6:56 AM · Report this
@44: How would I know? I've never given myself the opportunity to not Follow My Passions. And honestly, I don't want to. The idea of willingly not Doing What I Love is distasteful to me. Wasteful, even. It's like being given a giant wad of money and deciding to bury it in the ground. You don't need to spend it on yourself, but at least do something with it -- invest it, donate it to a charity, make the homeless guy on the corner's day that much better. Something, ANYTHING, is better than not doing something with it at all.

I think your question rather misses the point. Those who Do What They Love, or Follow Their Passions, don't necessarily do it to become happy. They do it because it feels important enough to them that they have to do it. It's what they love, but not necessarily what makes them happy. Puppies and warm breezes make me happy, but I'd soon perish from starvation and exposure if that's I focused on.

I'd much rather be distressed while doing what I love than happy never getting to it.
Posted by Loving what I do, and hating you on January 19, 2014 at 8:44 PM · Report this
Thank you Danielle, this is a spot-on article.

I see the DWYL attitude throughout the tech industry. Not only do well-off tech workers fail to see the privilege they have to choose work that is intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding, but they disdain people who don't do so.

A while back, when Seattle garbage workers were on strike, the office conversation consisted of comments about how the workers were paid too much, or how anyone could do that job, so why should they complain? Not once did anyone recognize that their struggle is every laborers, or that the correct question to ask is not "why are they making 'too much'" but, "how can we all make more?"
Posted by lrb on January 20, 2014 at 10:40 AM · Report this

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