Brazen Careerist: “Bad career advice: Do what you love”

I don’t know how I stumbled on to this post, but it was really thought provoking for me. At first I wanted to get defensive, think about why she was wrong and point out that she had contradicted this post many times in the past both in one of her books and in other blog posts (as pointed out by several readers in the comments). Apparently she even ended one of her books with the statement: “People will choose to work because they love what they do. ” – Penelope Trunk, in ‘The end of work as we know it.’

But in the end I really enjoyed this post because it end challenged my beliefs, and expanded my perspective. Anyway instead of rewriting a blog post, I’m just going to copy from an email conversation I had with my friend on this post (note: these are from several emails, and I realize a lot of rambling):

It seems like there are a lot of people in the comments that felt really good after reading this post. It, at least momentarily, squashed all their doubts about their lives. They weren’t missing out on something great after all. Maybe they feel relieved because they can point to this and say: “Whew, see…it’s not my fault.” I feel like the strong reaction shows an underlying doubt. There is a part of them that still believes in this fairytale.

Why do such a high % of people in their 20’s believe in this notion, while a very low % in their 40s+ say that it is garbage and that “reality has set in.”

Maybe the reason why most people think this advice is BS is because they stopped thinking about what they loved the second “reality set in..” ie, bills. Dreams can’t pay bills, and paying bills requires you make money, and generally the most accepted way to make money is to get a job. Job takes up time and dreams are pushed aside, before long you don’t really know what you love but you know how to make money, and that can feel good too. Perhaps the key to finding what you love is to KEEP looking. Not waiting, but looking.

I think there are other issues at play here… Most don’t know what they really would love to do. Think about all the people who think they want to be entrepreneurs, movie stars, singers, actors…do you think that the would all LOVE to do these things? Or are most just looking at what others have and thinking that is something they would like to have. I would imagine that a lot of the commenters on that site fit in this category. Look at early stages of American idol…most of those people really believe they would like to be singers, but I’m willing to bet that only a very small percentage of them actually would love to sing. 99% of them are there because they want to get famous and rich.

maybe another issue is that people are too specific when looking to do what they love. They define things too tightly. For example, what my friend Jerry has discovered he loves to do connect with people at a very deep level (as he calls it: “connections of the heart.”) He’s had 3-4 careers in his life that he has loved, but they all have this underlying theme. But what if he had confused an activity that involves connections of the heart with “his calling?” What if he thought that what he loved to do was be an actor (without realizing that what he loved about acting was it allowed him to have connections of the heart with the characters and audience)…so he went out and tried to be an actor, and it didn’t work. Does this mean he can’t do what he loves? No, it means he was too narrow in his focus. Keep trying things that interest and excite you, or in Jerry’s case that appealed to his interest in connecting with people… you will probably end up in another position where you can be excited, and in fact end up doing what you love….

I agree with the notion that believing in and seeking “the perfect job,” is quite a heavy burden. It’s not going to get you anywhere. So sitting around and hoping to see the perfect job hit the classifieds for you will not ever amount to anything. I also do believe that no matter how much you love what you do, it will always have moments that feel like work. It’s never all happiness…life is always great for anyone, nor should it be. As my mom said: “You need contrast.” So I think people are mislead there as well.

I actually believe people are completely confused as to what doing what you love means. It doesn’t mean there is a job out there just waiting for you to snatch it. It doesn’t mean that everything you enjoy doing should and can be a job or career path for you. I It means you continually move towards, experiment with, try things that interest or excite you, and you follow those feelings to new things. You do things that make you nervous (in a safe, structured way…no drugs, etc). You do things without worrying about what they may or may lead to in the future, you just do them because they excite you.

I think this pursuit of purpose is very similar to choosing a spouse. You certainly can’t ever know beforehand who is “the one.” You have to get in there and spend time with them. You have to experiment. Some people are “lucky” and know what they want, and get it. Others try and try and try, always bailing because it’s never just right. And others still never really believe they can find “the one,” so the settle for the one who will settle for them. But the truth is there is no perfect spouse, no perfect relationship. It takes a good fit and hard work to make a great relationship. But if you love someone, deep down, you want to work on it, you want to make it the best it can be.

perhaps again the issue isn’t about the end result, about finding and doing that thing you love…it’s about the seeking. If you are willing to seek and continue to seek throughout your life, then I’m willing to bet you’ll have a lot more exciting days than boring ones. Doing a lot of experimenting, a lot of “seeking,” inevitably means you’ll try a lot of things that don’t work.

just like an athlete…they are never in good shape, it’s not a place you ever get…it’s always just in front of you. So they try new training techniques, new machines, new supplements, new routines, new diets..constantly tweaking…and finding those that don’t work, those that fail, that is what ultimately makes them better.

Perhaps the “secret” to life then is: fail big and often. Failing is aliveness. Failure is a teacher. Failure paves the way for growth, and growth is living. So maybe the goal isn’t to try and find what you love, maybe it’s to try lots of things you might.

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