The Downsides of Loving Your Job

A week ago we talked about young people centering their identities around their work less and less, but a few insightful readers commented about fields of work where the trend is the opposite: you have great passion for your work, it’s a part of who you are, and it bleeds into your life. This is on one hand what many people go their whole lives wanting and never find — work you love! On the other hand, in places like the non-profit world or academia, your very passion, while requisite, can prevent you from recognizing unfair situations, or asking for better pay, or having a life outside of work.

After reading each of these comments I can’t stop thinking about the ways we can lose ourselves, and let ourselves be taken advantage of — even in the most benign, subconscious ways — when we have emotional ties to the work we do. Sometimes it’s worth it, or it’s a fair trade, or even what we want, but it’s definitely something to think about.


These discussions often happen in the context of people de-identifying with soulless jobs, or opting out of the fast lane to take more meaningful work. I have a do-gooder job, though, and still struggle with this–sometimes I think it’s harder because if you fail at your job, you’re failing your cause and the people who depend on it. I need to constantly remind myself that my personal life is most important, that a mistake at work shouldn’t ruin my whole day, that saying no to extra work is ok because I have other values and responsibilities (including grad school!).


Yes, I think in the non-profit world, people identify with their jobs to a huge extent. This is easily exploited, as employers expect us to trade monetary compensation for “meaning,” which usually translates to an unhealthy over-identification with your work. Indeed, the ethos is so twisted at this point that a person who does not over-identify with their work is considered less qualified for it, as if our employers are the ones who are doing us the favor by allowing us to work on weekends, at 7am, at midnight because the cause is so important.


This is absolutely the case in the academic sector as well. “Love” is supposed to make you grateful even amidst financial insecurity (i.e. running out of funding before you finish a PhD, or having to adjunct for $2000/course) and insane demands (staying in lab until midnight regularly, teaching and researching as if both were full time jobs, putting together job application packets with dozens of personalized pages for each listing). But after living on next to nothing in training for a job, and working incredibly long hours, because you are judged on your “love” for and “commitment” to your work, you shouldn’t be so “entitled” as to expect these years of preparation should lead to secure employment.

Some people do get jobs in their fields, sometimes people transition successfully to other fields, and I personally have had some experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything as a graduate student, so I’m not saying it’s a total scam or anything. But I do think the language of “love” and pressure to identify with your work are rhetorical diversions from legitimate economic concerns.

Damn, right?

Photo: UC Davis College of Engineering


7 Comments / Post A Comment

LSS (#5,298)

This is sore subject between me and my significant other. He works in academia (and has struggled!) and is defined as a person by what he does. I have a corporate job that is tolerable (on most days) but is not something I love. I make almost double in salary, which helps us out tremendously but I get a lot of flack about not following my passion or doing what I love to do. My fear about getting a job that defines me as a person is that if I fail at it, I’ll be a failure at life, which I couldn’t handle. Would love to hear from others in similar situation.

loren smith (#2,300)

@Lee I agree with you. My partner and I were both on academic tracks, and dropped out to get boring corporate jobs that pay the bills. My job doesn’t define me at all, but it does allow me to pursue my actual interests. I feel I have to explain that a lot to my cohort.

Meaghano (#529)

@loren smith I know that my dream is to be able to do a few hours of work that I don’t love but am good at, and live off of that, then have the rest of my time to do whatever I want / what makes me happy. I think a boring corporate job that doesn’t drive you crazy or exhaust you (that part seems key), and lets you live comfortably while you enjoy your own life is pretty ideal.

kellyography (#250)

@Lee This is really interesting. I have a job that isn’t fulfilling in any way, but pays the bills and is pretty flexible. I feel all this peer pressure to search out something more “important” or “ambitious” because so many of my peers are “ahead” of me, career-wise, and typing emails for the rest of my life would be a waste.

At this point, I think I would prefer to know what I want to do but be afraid to pursue it rather than have zero clue about where I want to be professionally.

Ms Mustard (#5,336)

Yes! So glad this is a topic on here. In the non-profit I work for, there is a very large expectation that I and my co-workers be grateful for being a part of the community, and basically all acknowledgement of my value to the organization comes directly from customers, rather than supervisors. There are expectations to donate money to the organization, to volunteer there, and no expectation that we be given raises for merit or for years of service. It can be a really difficult position to be in, especially working on the level of a non-profit where you are directly supplying the services that fulfill the organization’s mission. You really need to understand the intrinsic value of your work and be dedicated to do the work well at that level. It makes it really simple for an employer to exploit your dedication and engagement with the community to provide value to their organization with very little compensation for their workers. And very hard for workers to negotiate for fairer wages or better working conditions, because you don’t want to leave or work at the level of compensation you’re actually getting when you’re truly a believer. We talk about “drinking the Kool-aid” at my job, because the community is so intensive and all-encompassing, the lines between your personal and professional lives are pretty much non-existent.

Meaghano (#529)

@Ms Mustard EXACTLY!

planforamiracle (#4,034)

I work at a small non-profit arts org. In a way, it’s the “unicorn” among my previous arts jobs in that the work environment is extremely healthy and we all have boundaries about our jobs vs our personal lives. I think it’s partly due to our team getting along really well, and my boss having a business/management background outside the arts (there is a dearth of HR/people-management skills in my industry, IMO.) The other factor is that we’re an annual festival with a distinct busy season where it’s acknowledged that all hands will be on deck, and a distinct off-season where we still get work done but are encouraged to generally disappear for a little bit and recharge.
We all value the work that we do and the results of our labour, but I think we all have a sense that it’s not life-or-death.

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