Nearly everyone wants to like her job (after all, the average American worker spends more than 40 hours a week there). But is it really possible to love a job? Or to even parlay the things we are most passionate about into a career?
Listen to enough TED talks or commencement speeches, and you’ll think: why, of course! Take Steve Jobs’ now-famous address to the Stanford class of 2005. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life,” he said. “And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
But Miya Tokumitsu wants to push back against this mantra. “As someone with one foot in academia and the other in the arts, I would hear lots of things like, Oh, we’re not in it for the money, or Well, you shouldn’t expect to get a decent-paying job right away,” says the Jacobin magazine contributor and art history PhD. “I think those kinds of exploitative messages come from this idea of ‘Do what you love.’ And they’re not only unrealistic; they’re also harmful.”
Tokumitsu, who teaches history at the University of Melbourne, has written a book on the subject called “Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success and Happiness.” So, what does she tell her starry-eyed undergrads when they want career advice? We asked her.
There’s nothing wrong with working for money
Tokumitsu’s main problem with the “Do what you love” mantra is that it treats people who take jobs because they need to pay rent or feed their family as somewhat lesser. And, since a pursuing a college education nowadays virtually guarantees you’ll be saddled with enormous debt, graduates — except for the privileged few — can’t afford to be too precious about their jobs.
“The plain fact is in the current world in which we live you need to earn wages to meet your basic needs, and that is the primary reason why people work,” Tokumitsu says. “And that shouldn't be shameful or embarrassing.”
Let your work serve you — not the other way around
In fact, there are other ways to derive pleasure from work without it coming from what you actually do in your 9-to-whenever. “You can get satisfaction just from knowing you can take care of yourself and take care of others, or that your job allows you the means to do other things you love, like spending time with your loved ones,” says Tokumitsu.
“It used to be that we worked to live: People worked and then tried to get that out of the way so they could do the really important things in life,” Tokumitsu says. “Now, we live to work. I think it’s highly unintuitive that waged work should be the means of happiness and joy and pleasure in your life.”
Love takes time
There’s nothing wrong with pursuing your interests — or a career that you think you’ll find fulfilling. But, the idea that you’re going to fall in love with your job on Day 1 is just unrealistic.
RELATED: Three steps to being happier at work
“The main thing I would say to a 22- or 23-year-old is that love takes time,” says Tokumitsu. “And that kind of pleasure from work can exist, but I feel like it comes a little bit later, after you've gained some experience, after you've made some mistakes and you’ve gained some skills. Don’t say, after six months, ‘Ugh, this stinks.’”
It’s not all about you
When applying for — or settling on — a job, sometimes there are more important factors than just the amount of pleasure you’ll personally get from it. “Think of the work you’re doing not so much as something that’s for you and for your pleasure but as a contribution that you're making to society,” advises Tokumitsu. “That's a different way of thinking of ‘Do what you love,’ but it's a way of gaining satisfaction from work that's not all about you, you, you.”