The Privilege of Doing What You Love

The aphorism of “Do what you love” (DWYL) is the work mantra of our time, but the ability to pursue work out of love and not economic necessity is also a privilege. Here’s Miya Tokumitsu in Jacobin discussing why DWYL is problematic:

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class. Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and cosign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can self-righteously bestow DWYL as career advice to those covetous of her success.

If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves — in fact, to loving ourselves — what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

Yet arduous, low-wage work is what ever more Americans do and will be doing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest-growing occupations projected until 2020 are “Personal Care Aide” and “Home Care Aide,” with average salaries of $19,640 per year and $20,560 per year in 2010, respectively. Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning, especially the crucial work of caregivers.

My parents, toiling at their blue-collar working-class jobs, hammered in the idea that work was just work, a means to an end—they labored not for love, but to build a life they loved: a place where they could call a home, a home where they could raise a family. Like typical tiger parents, they encouraged me to pursue respected, well-paid careers like becoming a doctor. Being able to pursue a job other than for its remunerative rewards was a privilege. They were right, and I thank them for the privilege. [And thanks to Merin for the link.]

Photo: Amy Gahran


14 Comments / Post A Comment

lemonadefish (#3,296)

It is certainly a privilege. I think it’s kind of a con too though – I chose a profession so that I could do what I love, but it isn’t any fun. If I had it to do over, I’d chose something much more boring that paid a lot better and wasn’t so demanding (like pharmacy! Great choice, youth of today!).

stonetongue (#3,580)

@lemonadefish The article argues that employers use this in order to pay people less, like in academia and media jobs.

boringbunny (#3,260)

A lot of caregivers love what they do and a lot of lawyers/bankers hate their prestigious, intellectual jobs. So DWYL is just elevating certain jobs above others but this would equally denigrate low-paying and high-paying jobs. To some degree it’s a privilege because you can’t love a terrible job (but both high and low paying people can feel trapped in terrible jobs) but there’s a wide swath of middle that the author ignores. Some people are happy as a clam as a receptionist or walmart greeter. I think the fortune cookie is right – if you can’t have the job you love, love the job you’re with.

stonetongue (#3,580)


“Some people are happy as a clam as a receptionist or walmart greeter.”

Some more anecdata for you here. I’m a clerical worker – no money, no prestige, no social currency, no intellectual stimulation and (surprise, surprise) I don’t love it.

“if you can’t have the job you love, love the job you’re with”

This is another platitude like ‘do what you love’ that tries to soothe things over for a massive working class who get zero satisfaction from their repetitive, dehumanizing jobs.

Mae (#1,769)

@boringbunny I think this may stem from the different ways that people are socialized to view their work, though. An upper middle class person who has been brought up to view their career as an extension of themselves, and as a proxy for self-worth, isn’t likely to be happy as a Walmart greeter, but someone from a working class background who views it as a *job* might be happy with it because they derive more of their identity from other areas. (Or they might still hate it.)

In my experience, the further up the class ladder you go, the more social pressure you encounter to say that you are happy with your job. So, even among the lawyers who don’t like their jobs, I bet far more of them *say* that they are doing what they love, as compared to, say, retail workers. In some circles, saying that your job is just a job is kind of a faux pas.

samburger (#5,489)

@Mae yes, that is where it stems from, and it totally lacks perspective and ignores the realities of poverty.

I work with more lawyers than you can shake a stick at, and yes, they do hint at liking their jobs, and I believe they do because our working conditions are bomb ass and we all make so much money that sometimes we just roll in it for fun on the weekends.

Those of us who are socialized to identify with our jobs are, in part, because it’s so damn easy to identify with “I get paid a lot and I am creative at work.” It’s less easy to identify with “I barely get paid and I wave at people.”

Ya dig?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@stonetongue Repetitive, dehumanizing, and almost always deeply underpaid. I don’t doubt that some people love being greeters or line cooks or whatever they do, but no one loves being broke.

siege91 (#1,738)

As someone dating a self-employed graphic designer with a nice apartment in a coastal metropolis I can tell you that all that even people with these great-sounding jobs still think there’s something better and that their current jobs are a compromise and why aren’t they just creating REAL ART instead of a stylish poster for health insurance, etc.

I always thought the thing to do is to shoot for the middle. At the end of college I wrote down dream jobs and found that I really wanted to be a location scout and field advisor for PBS Nature, but there is like maybe one actual full-time job in the world doing that and if you really insist on shooting for that job you will most likely end up working at Starbucks or Walgreens instead after your parents make you move out of the basement. Instead I got a job at a consulting firm where I got to do fieldwork about half the time. Good ’nuff.

Eric18 (#4,486)

It’s important to realize that the whole DWYL movement is new and only applies to a fraction of people in the world. As mentioned above, most people work jobs to build better lives for themselves and their families.

This reminds me of my favorite Karl Marx sick burn: someone asked him who would polish boots in the future commmunist utopia, and he replied “You will.”

It’s just the Horatio Alger story painted with a different brush.

Penelope Pine (#2,808)

I have one thing to say about this: “Fuck you, pay me.”

Yes, yes, yes. I’ve written about this a lot, but most recently:

Let’s face it, most of the jobs we NEED to keep the world as we know it operating are not fun but they ARE essential.

stonetongue (#3,580)

@Esther Goh@facebook

It may be that essential jobs aren’t fun, but I’d argue that most un-fun jobs aren’t essential. They’re bullshit. Check out this article written by David Graeber:

We have every reason to question and expect more in this time of unprecedented affluence.

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