Doing what you love is overrated

Little Miss Money at The Pursuit of Riches is thinking about getting a new job. And so she is fretting about finding what she loves to do.

I told her that doing what you love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

As my mom wrote a few years ago, the idea of your job defining you is a pretty new concept.  A few decades ago, a job was what you did to live; your life (and probably passion) was what you did outside work. And, frankly, I think we’ve strayed a little far from that.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do what you love if you know what that is.

But what if you don’t? There’s a lot of pressure and presumption that anything other than a labor of love, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a basic lack of ambition. That no one could possibly be content as a receptionist or a food server.

I work as a customer service representative. Most people would call it a job, but I will never leave, thanks to the world’s best boss. So I consider it a career. It doesn’t give meaning to my life… but the paycheck sure does.

I couldn’t work for years. Now, each time I get a paycheck, I’m flood with an emotion that I can only describe as equal parts pride and greed. Well, 60/40 tops.

Maybe the ability to work — or, more realistically, the paycheck — should be a passion in and of itself. Whether due to unemployment or physical limitations, there are a lot of folks who wouldn’t care what they did, just that they could do it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ever complain about your job. In some jobs, you have to vent if you want to stay sane. And some jobs truly  are soul-sucking. (In which case, do try to find a different job; just don’t stress about it being  the one true thing that will bring meaning to your life.)

And, hey, if you do have a passion, that’s fabulous. Follow it. But realize there are caveats.

First and foremost, I’m sick unto death of hearing, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” If that were true, stores would never go out of business, actors would all be in big films or Broadway productions, and there would be a plethora of full-time bloggers. The fact is that following your bliss could be very dangerous financially.

Also, what happens if taking the plunge causes you to burn out on your passion entirely? What are you left with then? The blogger herself used to love interior design, but she became so disillusioned by the commercialism that she quit. She works in a related field, but still has a bad taste in her mouth about her old work.

And maybe that risk is worth it to you. If so, then by all means follow your calling.

But if you don’t have a calling, don’t sweat it. It’s okay to find fulfillment in something other than work. Maybe it’s more important to find it in life outside your job. Maybe it’s healthier to be able to delineate between your work and regular identities. Maybe instead of fueling our lives, our jobs could just fund them.


    • Abigail says

      Yeah, that always worries me. These things can easily become all consuming — especially when you’re first starting out and HAVE to pour all your energies into it. Then it becomes a habit and… yeah.

  1. thepursuitofriches says

    First and foremost, thank you for the mentioning. It's great to read other people's opinions on this matter… for me, it definitely got my feet back on the ground, questioning what's really important.
    Lake Livin's response above, about one's "passion job" consuming every waking moment, was an eye opener, too. Although I do believe it's important to do something you don't detest, that doesn't suck the energy out of you and leaves you drained at the end of the day, I don't want to waste my time seeking my passion, or trying frantically to turn that into a career, at the risk of missing out on other opportunities.

    • Abigail says

      No problem. I like to recognize good articles and interesting ideas. Plus you gave me a post, so thank YOU. I definitely think that, if you can find alternatives, you shouldn’t settle for a soul-sucking job. It costs you too much in the long run. I’m glad that you got a few more insights into the matter, and I just hope it helps you figure out what you want to do. I also like the comment on your site about figuring out what you want to do now, not for the rest of your life. It’s a pretty good philosophy — again, as long as you temper it with an actual life.

  2. Catseye says

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I've never understood "Do what you love and the money will follow either." A good friend of mine continues to "follow his passion" and he's too broke to pay attention. He's also terrible at managing money and relies way too much on his elderly mom. Not that I'd ever say that to his face! ;o)

    • Abigail says

      There are plenty of things we should never say to our friends’ faces. But yeah, while following your bliss is admirable, you also have to be realistic. I think side hustles are the best way to test out a passion, but as others have pointed out they can consume you, which can be detrimental to every other part of your life. Assuming you still have one at that point.

    • Rosa says

      a lot of people have passions for things that don't pay well, or their passion is not for the money side of things that make it work out in the end.

      I had an acquaintance who started and lost 2 restaurants before he realized that he really hated the business side and was happier working in someone else's restaurant. The payout for success is lower, but so is the chance of failure, the amount of stress, and the amount of time you have to spend worrying about profit margin and rent when you'd rather be designing menu items!

      • Abigail says

        Good point. It seems like a lot of the time jobs you’re passionate about lead you to self-employment. Some of us don’t want to run businesses. I personally have enough problems keeping my S-corp dealt with… and I’m the only employee!

  3. moneystepper says

    I think its important to find a balance. Your job shouldn't stop you from doing what you love. However, you don't necessarily need to do that thing you love for your career (and often it simply isn't feasible).

    • Abigail says

      Yep, you said it well. You can love things and nurture them in your spare time. And if it turns out you *can* make a living at it (sustainably) well then you have options.

  4. Punkin Pye says

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Abby, I'm so grateful for this post. Like you, I have dealt with disability my entire adult life. The fact that I worked at all was, for me a major accomplishment. Like you, I spent the majority of my career as a CSR, later workiing my way into higher paying positions. The whole time I was working, I felt like society and the media was pummelling me with "follow your bliss" philosphy. The joy I got from working was the ability to provide for my family. My paternal grandmother literally had to become a street beggar to feed my dad and her siblings. My maternal grandmother had to pick cotton and fend for herself from the age of twelve, never having had the opportunity to read or write. As a child, I was familiar with hunger and want. Things finally got better when my mother was able to get a good paying manufacturing job. I still remember how she would work 12 hour shifts for the overtime and come home with her hands eaten up by the caustic materials she had to work with. She did this for over 30 years to feed and educate us. It truly irks me that, today, society looks at these courageous women as "failures". As I worked for years in a non glamourous job that was far from my artistic dreams of being a writer, I still took great joy and satisfaction that my husband and I were able to provide a much better life for our son than anyone in my family had ever known. We were and are just regular middle class people, but the joy of my life was when my son told me he was hungry and I would point him in the direction of the full fridge and pantry. When he was in need of new shoes, clothes, or medical care, it gave me a great deal of satisfaction to know that there was money in the bank to provide them.

    Abby, I have seen the tragedy of individuals looking to follow their passion at the expense and suffering of their own children and families. I have seen the emotional and psychological scars left on people who had a parent who's dreams and selfish need for fullfillment and recognition came before their child's most basic needs for food and shelter. I now have a new crop of nieces and nephews who have reaped the benefits of their parent's and grandparent's hardworking lives and are now looking for careers in glamour jobs or are looking for that perfect job where they have a ton of fun while making wads of money. Most of them are just scrapiing by and are still at least partially dependent on their parents.

    • Abigail says

      Wow, thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you learned early on that the point of a job is to make a living — and that even the cost of that can be high. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman. And, with that kind of childhood, I can’t begin to imagine the joy that comes from knowing your family always has enough. That has to be amazing.

      I didn’t even think about the ramifications for loved ones when people pursue their passions. For those who succeed — and they certainly exist — I’m sure it’s a great relief to have Mom or Dad so much happier and hopefully even have the household budget ease up. But I’ve heard some tales recently of people whose parents lost the house because of divorce or financial gambles. It took a toll on them psychologically to be sure.

      As for your nieces and nephews, I hope they fix what my mother would call their rectal-cranial inversion. (Head up ass.) It’s all well and good to want to find the perfect job, but support yourself in the meantime, people! Besides not being a drain on others, you’re learning valuable business skills and building a resume for when you want to apply for your dream job. Sheesh.

  5. says

    This is a great piece, and I'd say that even if I weren't your mom. 😉
    My newspaper jobs were blissful, except when they weren't. I didn't always like what I was writing about, but it was writing for a living and I was grateful for the chance.
    Before that, as a newsroom clerk at a big-city newspaper, I was sometimes frustrated by the menial chores I had to do and also by the fact that I knew I could write if I had a chance. But that every-Wednesday paycheck was a source of pride: I could pay the rent, buy a few groceries and take care of my baby without help from anyone.
    Ultimately that job did lead to a chance to write. Would the editor have been as willing to take a chance on me if I hadn't been diligent? Maybe, maybe not.
    Do the best you can with the job you have, look for ways up (or out) and remember this: If you cash the paycheck, you owe them work in return.

    • Abigail says

      Yep, you got lucky enough to be able to work your way to your profession without a degree. Granted, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And, since you had infant me, plenty of other excretions.

  6. says

    I used to love what I spend 4 years in college working for. Then working for a huge corporation ruined it for me. Now I am pursuing (slowly) another thing.

    Passions can change when they encounter lousy work conditions and lousy bosses.

    • seattlegirluw says

      Yep, one of the comments on Pursuit of Riches was that things change. Perhaps, he said, we should be asking "What do I want to do right now?" instead of "What do I want to do for life?" Then again, some of us still don't have an answer for that. In which case, you find fulfillment elsewhere. I hope your new thing pans out.

  7. Kat says

    I really agree with this, and think that we need to (as a society) place more emphasis on realism. I HATE getting into a discussion with someone in college, and finding out that they've been told it doesn't matter what they're degree is in, and that they can follow their passion- no matter what. The fact of the matter is that a lot of us would love to be full time novelists, or artists, etc. but aren't due to financial restrictions. I know there's a whole host of parents who don't want their kids to be disappointed, or hurt, but that's not parenting. Just as telling kids that what you choose to spend your college resources on doesn't matter as long as you get a degree isn't good teaching.

    Part of the job that high schools and parents share is to prepare this awkward thing we call a teenager to be a fully capable member of society. It has always been true that, for a vast majority of these kids, this is going to mean being prepared to work full time, and deal with the whims of the job market. With the kind of economy we are experiencing, it is even more vital today that kids learn about marketablity. The fact of the matter is that there is increased scrutiny of what you've done your degree in, if you worked a part time job, what courses you took, and so on. With tuition increases outstripping interest rates, these kids need to be told the hard truth- that going into as much debt as the average student will take on, with no plan, is financial suicide. Even in state schools are unaffordable to most without student loans, and taking on that debt can delay owning a home, beefing up your retirement account, etc. so you need to be sure you can get a job, or you're not going to be able to function in society. To not teach kids about this is shackling their futures to a roulette wheel.

  8. 29Buffs says

    I am 62 and still don't know what it is I want to be when I grow up! I am a college graduate and retired. I survived a long career in a job I detested and that made me sick. I took a disability retirement to get out of it because it had be bedridden and incapable of enjoying anything.

    Now I do clerical work which I enjoy. It doesn't pay very well, but it is my fun money. I'm also very good, if I don't say so myself.

    I would take all those skills tests to see what I should be and it always came out with what I was doing and hated. So I am still looking and will keep looking as long as I can do anything.

    • seattlegirluw says

      I think it's great that you were smart enough to get away from something that was clearly toxic to you. Sometimes it's worth it to take less pay for something that doesn't make you crazy. And I agree: There is something very soothing about putting things in order.

    • Ro in San Diego says

      It's good that you found a job you like. I was in a job I liked but the boss was making me sick. I'm working for the same company so I got to keep all my email traffic. If I'm having a challeging day I just rummage through the awful emails and can't believe it's the same company. I worked with him for 1 1/2 years and am so happy I support a great boss and staff with whom I consider several my friends. It's so hard when the job seems like it's killing you. I'm glad you got out and found a tolerable job.

  9. says

    If people have a passion, or THINK they are passionate about something, I believe they should go for it. They'll never know if they don't try. And when they try and decide that they don't like it, they can always get another gig…hopefully.

    • seattlegirluw says

      Yes, but we're not talking about people who have an inkling about what they want to do. Although, I think those people should go about it smartly.

      We're talking about people who don't necessarily feel strongly about any one thing, but they feel pressured by society to have an overwhelming passion. As though anything else they do is just playtime.

      And, as I said, if you do have a passion and want to "go for it" then you should have a smart game plan. Preferably, start things out as a side biz and then if it grows enough, you can consider quitting your main gig.

  10. says

    Thank you! This is exactly what I told my son, who hated his job as a claims adjuster. He finally changed companies and went to work for an insurance company that doesn't abuse its employees, which helped his attitude quite a lot. But the issue is: YOU are not your job. The job exists to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Even though you have to spend altogether too large a chunk of your life at it, no job should be your life. Healthy people find other things to give meaning to their lives.

    • Abigail says

      Yep, it’s amazing how much our culture has come to expect our personalities to reflect/be shaped by our work. A little scary, too. I’m glad your son now works for a better company.

  11. Allie says

    I used to love translating Spanish. Vounteered all the time when I lived in southwest Ohio. Then I started doing it for a living for a uniform company. And after about 2 years of that, i started looking for something else. Anything else! Delivering pizzas, selling cutlery, and then I found a great position at an insurance company where my now husband lives and I've been working in some great departments. And they tell me, if you feel like taking Spanish calls you can, but if you don't want to, that's what we have interpreters for. And now I'm making nearly twice what I did as an interpreter(I was working for $9.50/hr right out of college and the job market was not so good). And I have more pride in explaining what I do now than I did then! The bringing home the paycheck is always a good feeling. I've always had a job from delivering papers at the age of 10 and granted, I'm only 27 but dammit, there's pride in that!

    • seattlegirluw says

      Yep, sometimes we burn out on our passions, which sucks. I'm glad you were smart enough to look at other options that you didn't necessarily feel drawn to — and that you found one you like. I'm also glad you're making a decent wage!

  12. Melissa says

    I agree that there's a whole lot of emphasis on the idea of finding your dream job and doing what you love. I was lucky to realize early on that I loved theater, but I also knew that picking that path would be extremely difficult, with little chance of succeeding and that I would need a back up plan. Crazily enough, it's worked, but more than once I've thought about getting out of the business to do something less stressful and more lucrative. And even though it's worked for me, I graduated with 15 other people – only one other works in theater now… even though it was everyone's dream. And the one's who "gave up" tend to seem a lot happier and financially stable than she or I are. There are definitely a lot of downsides to chasing your dreams – and the whole idea of the money following is ridiculous as well.

    • seattlegirluw says

      Yep, from what I understand, even when you can make money from acting, it tends to be erratic. Land a couple of jobs, then nothing for awhile. I am glad you got to follow your passion. I do think all jobs come at a cost, so your friends may feel their own grind at their jobs. All of that said, it's impressive that you've been able to make a career out of something so many people burn out on.

  13. Ro in San Diego says

    I learned as a young, idealistic woman what my dream of being a fashion designer entailed. I ended up locked in an apartment with a sewing machine being yelled at and unpaid. I've had several more false starts and jobs that didn't quite become a career. I learned to work with computers while in the US Navy and ended up in a career as a document librarian working with engineers for a government contracting firm. I've been at the job learning and earning for 12 years now and hope to stay here as long as I can type and pick up the phone to help my customers. My hobby of coupon shopping has connected me with wonderful, giving people and I support several charities with my purchases of "free' products each month. I'm living a different dream financed by a difficult job I still consider fun, and am able to spend my off hours working with wonderful people.

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