Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: Is it a Trap, and Have You Fallen into It?
A quote long attributed to Confucius: “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life." Is that a load of baloney or not?
As people quit their jobs in record numbers during what's been dubbed the "Great Resignation," it begs the question: Are people simply trying to recapture a balance in their work (less commute time, more four-hour work weeks?) Or do a large portion plan to rekindle their long-lost career ambitions — the ones they had in the back of their minds in high school or college (to be an entrepreneur, writer, artist, etc.)?
A whopping four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Resignations peaked in April and shored up a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Steve Jobs said, "You've got to find what you love" in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech. But what if it's bad advice? Let's walk through the reasons "doing what you love" can ultimately backfire.
Reason 1: Doing what you love might not pay the bills.
For most people, career decisions usually can't be about what you love most. Career decisions in the context of success must often be based on the kind of life you want to build for yourself.
Let's say you really enjoy watching kids but teaching isn't your thing. Education and child care administrators at preschools and day care centers earned an average annual income of $53,690, or about $25.81 an hour. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average earnings for child care workers is $25,510 per year — about $12.27 an hour. Can you support your goals and dreams if you choose that career path? It's possible to do so! But is it right for you?
Evaluate whether doing what you love can fit into your overall plan for your life — that you can meet your immediate needs, retirement goals, your college savings goals for your own children and more. If not, it's important to make sure that you can pay for everything and save.
Now, it's possible to leverage these skills in some other form. For example, instead of becoming an artist, you may choose to become a graphic designer to meet your short- and long-term financial goals.
Reason 2: You might have multiple identified interests or have trouble identifying a passion.
Can't figure it all out? You're not weird, you're normal.
For those of you still floundering to figure out what you really love, remember that many people could feel happy doing a number of things. You might have so many different interests that it's impossible to whittle them down to one.
In addition, some people never identify a specific passion that they'd be okay with doing for the rest of their lives. In that case, working a "regular" job that offers benefits and lots of vacation time might make sense for you. (Not to mention the compound interest perks that come with holding a retirement savings plan through your employer for 30 years.)
It might seem more beneficial to say you "haven't found" your passion than to think you know and learn later that you can't find success with it. For example, if you love singing but really don't have what it takes to "make it big," what happens if you spend half your life pursuing something that won't be lucrative? It's a bleak point of view to be sure, but it's important to recognize.
Reason 3: Developing a sought-after skill set might make sense instead.
You can turn the idea of pursuing your passion on its head. Why not work intensely at your job, developing your one-of-a-kind, specialized skill set that makes you a rare and valuable employee? When you become like a unicorn in the workplace, any employer might pay you any amount of money to keep doing it. Use your free time (or retire early!) to pursue your passions.
You can put lots of effort into your day job every day, then pursue your passion as a drummer with your band on the weekends.
Reason 4: You might struggle with your hobby once it becomes a job.
Unfortunately, every job has its downfalls, even to those working their self-reported "dream job." It's improbable that you will love everything you do every minute of the day, even if you've managed to turn what you love into a career.
How will you feel once you're always working? Will you grind your dreams of being a potter into an exhausting repetition of throwing pots so you can keep up with customer demand? Discussions about the thing you love most could turn into discussions about future work, past work or more work. You might find it tough to draw the line between work and passion, and in fact, a Deloitte study found that people following their passion usually work longer hours.
Reason 5: You might find it hard to monetize your work.
Would you be willing to do what you love for free? If so, you might have trouble charging the right price for it, even undercharging your clients for the work. As more and more people must identify their rates in the ever-growing gig economy, it's possible to undercharge — and people do, particularly if they are solopreneurs.
Consider Why Doing What You Love Might Be Problematic
A total of 70% of employees from a McKinsey survey said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work.
Teachers and your parents may have all suggested that if you find your passion, success will come. Many successful people over the course of history have said, "Passion should be your long-term goal."
Unfortunately, it can be a damaging message. Were we really all born for some higher purpose? Are we really "losing out on life" if we don't find our true calling?
Steve Jobs was actually passionate about calligraphy, western history and dance. He simply redirected his passions toward technology, management and marketing instead.
The realities of providing for a family, getting health care or saving for retirement may matter more. Paving your "perfect" bliss path might not be possible.