“Do What You Love”: What It Is, What It Is Not

A couple of days ago, I encountered several articles asserting that it’s high time we stop hounding today’s worker with the “Do what you love” (DWYL) campaign. Rather than aspire for a career life that would allow us to do what we love such that we can combine passion and work, some argue that we should instead acknowledge “all of our work as work” such that “we could set appropriate limits for it” and thereby get around to doing what we really love in our leisure time.

Am I the only one who thinks this is absurd? (Apparently not; The Onion published a hilarious satire building on this idea.)

 

If you’ve been a constant reader of this blog, you may be well aware by now that I am all for the DWYL philosophy. It is everything I am fighting for at this stage of my life. So you can just imagine how surprised and bothered I was to learn that living and promoting the DWYL mantra has been branded by some as elitist, degrading the majority of workers, narcissistic, and even downright unethical.

As I try to consider whether I am mistaken in pegging my life decisions on the foundation of the DWYL philosophy, I gather that the contrasting opinions regarding this mantra may be rooted in differences in the interpretation of what it really means. It is just four words, after all, and it’s not impossible that every person would have a different interpretation of what the statement means and how it applies to life.

 

I have my own view on what DWYL is and what it is not, and it is upon this view that I still assert it’s a philosophy worth upholding. I will continue to live by this creed and espouse this mantra to workers and would-be workers, given that it is understood in the following respects:

  1. “Do what you love” is not equal to “Do as you please.”

“You want to be a photographer? It’s easy. Find a way to exchange pictures for money. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ll always get to decide what to take pictures of.” —unknown

DWYL does not mean you can do whatever you like at any given working hour. It doesn’t mean you never have to do things you hate doing. It is not a means to escape doing “actual work.” As Andrew Matthews put it, “Doing what you love is not pulling in a pay cheque for lying on a tropical beach. It is having a passion for something—and putting all your love, energy and creativity into making it work.” DWYL is about passion, not pleasure.

“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.” —E.M. Gray

The concept of DWYL as being synonymous to “Do as you please” mirrors a mentality that sees successful artists and creatives as having achieved success solely by virtue of their inborn talents and giftedness. By now we ought to have recognized that such notion is flawed. As legendary artist Michelangelo attested, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” Those who were successful doing what they love did not do whatever their whims and desires dictated at the moment. They put in the hours, they put in the effort—and a heckuvalot of it. They practiced, they struggled, they did “actual work” to perfect their craft and make a decent living doing what they loved.

“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” —Julius Irving

  1. “Do what you love” is not based on the Scarcity Mentality.

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.”—Stephen Covey

The Scarcity Mentality is a concept first introduced by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This mentality promotes the idea that for someone to be added upon, others need to be subtracted from. This frame of mind is consistent with the zero-sum paradigm described by sociologists, which suggests that social groups only have a fixed quantity of resources—attention, power and prestige included—such that for someone to gain these resources, another person must suffer their loss.

Seeing DWYL through the lens of the Scarcity Mentality leads to the sort of conclusions that interpret it as degrading the majority of workers who do work they do not love. That there are people happily living their passions, doing work they love doesn’t have to subtract from the value of work done for other motives (e.g. financial needs) and especially not from the worth of people doing work they do not love.

This is not a perfect world, and indeed getting to do what one loves for a living is more a privilege than a given right. But that is not reason enough to dismiss DWYL as elitist or unethical. It may not be possible for everyone to take the path of their passions and at the same time make a decent living, but those who can and want to, should. And that doesn’t have to subtract from those who can’t.


  1. “Do what you love” is not a road to self-centeredness.

“(Anne) Lamott sees in writing not a selfish act of personal gratification but an act of warm generosity—which is, after all, what drives all of us who wake up in the morning to put something we love into the world and go to bed at night glad that we did.” —Maria Popova

Does doing what you love essentially mean indulging your selfish desires and putting your needs alone over those of others? No, it doesn’t.

Rather than an inward-focused act for the sake of self-fulfillment alone, DWYL is more an act of extension beyond oneself such that the world benefits most from what one can offer. DWYL requires courage and self-sacrifice too, often risking financial stability and other tangible gains for the opportunity to share more of oneself to the world, to contribute what one can to the best of one’s ability. As Gordon Marino mentioned in his article, “For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way.”

Would it not be a noble and worthy thing to aspire to—to get to use one’s talents in such a way that it maximizes the help one can give others, and leads to meaningful work that may even bring about positive changes on a larger scale?

“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) the world most needs to have done…The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner


  1. “Do what you love” is a call to go beyond fear in order to become the highest possible expression of oneself.

“If you have unfulfilled dreams, analyse your excuses. Usually we are not very honest with ourselves. We say things are impossible when the truth is, they’re very inconvenient.” —Andrew Matthews

There are people for whom doing what they love for a living would not be possible, due to circumstances that really deter them from doing so. But then there are people who, in actuality, can make a living doing what they love and realizing their potentials to the fullest, only they launch a host of excuses that conveniently convince them it is impossible to do so.

We are like prisoners in a cell where the jailor is gone and the door is open. But we still just sit there, claiming we are a prisoner still.” —Richard Nelson Bolles

Larry Smith, in his funny yet illuminating TED talk Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career, detailed such excuses for not going after our true passions in life. The true reason for failing to take action towards becoming the highest expression of ourselves, he highlighted, does not lie outside us, but within us—fear.

“You are afraid…to pursue your passion, you’re afraid to look ridiculous, you’re afraid to try, you’re afraid you may fail…”—Larry Smith

This fear is what the DWYL campaign is here to dispel. DWYL seeks to empower those who have it in their capacity to pursue their passions but are just too afraid to do so, those who may still have more to contribute by virtue of their gifts but have been influenced by social pressures and expectations to do what is expected rather than what is meaningful to them.

“Empower yourself and realise the importance of contributing to the world by living your talent. Work on what you love. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.” —Catharina Bruns

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  1. “Do what you love” is a way to fulfilling one’s purpose.

“God has already revealed His will to us concerning our vocation and Mission, by causing it to be ‘written in our members.’ We are to begin deciphering our unique Mission by studying our talents and skills, and more particularly which ones we most rejoice to use.” —Richard Nelson Bolles

Although possibly not the only way to fulfill one’s purpose, DWYL is, for sure, one way. It is a way of finding meaning—or creating meaning—whichever way you want to view it. Not everyone may consider it gainful or appropriate to take up such philosophy, but if you personally find that it leads you to do meaningful work that contributes to your and others’ betterment, then there’s no reason to cross DWYL off that list of work mantras to live by. ♠

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3 thoughts on ““Do What You Love”: What It Is, What It Is Not

  1. Hi!!! I couldn’t resist leaving a comment. I just graduated this March 2014 with a degree in Nursing from one of the most prestigious universities in the country and have likewise taken the PNLE. As of now, I am on a 1 year hiatus before I study Medicine and I am thinking of possibly pursuing writing. Anyway I love reading your blog!!!! You have a very refreshing and interesting way of looking at things! I do understand what you went through as I am unsure of what to do at the moment.

    • Hi there, Ivy! Thank you so much for your heartwarming words regarding my blog. It’s great to know the stuff I post here get to be understood and appreciated like that. 🙂

      And thank you also for sharing that you relate with what I’m currently going through. Whatever you choose to pursue, I hope it is what makes you genuinely happy and what will realize your potentials to the fullest. And remember that could always be a nurse, or a doctor, and still write. 😉

      If you want to pursue writing, a blog is a good place to start. If you do decide to put one up or are already blogging, drop me a line (or leave a comment here) and I’ll follow your page!

      All the best,
      Carla 🙂

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