Doing What You Love Vs. Loving What You Do

Today, I came across the following article from Scientific Americanon how productivity and happiness at work go hand in hand: (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-working-smarter-and-happier/).

This brought to mind for me an issue that I have been grappling with all of my work life: should your goal be to do what you love or to love what you do?

We live in a blessed time, in which many of us are encouraged to identify our passion and use that to find work that we love. This was even a theme in the welcome speech I gave during my high school graduation[1]. In secondary and post-secondary schools, we are administered batteries of tests designed to identify the kind of individual we are and what career we would be best suited for based on the passion that motivates us. When possible, we drop everything and start a career from scratch: willing to take a few steps backward to see if we can identify the job that makes us jump out of bed in the morning with unadulterated excitement[2].

There are two primary problems with this. First, not everyone has this kind of opportunity. There are large swaths of our population (specifically in the United States – beyond the US there are even more of these people) for whom a job is a means to an end. These folks need a job to pay the bills: most likely because they have less flexibility. They have families, they have medical issues, they are rooted to a specific area, or they have a specific set of skills that is non-transferrable. For them, there is not time to “find your passion”, but rather they need to “find some work.”

The second problem is that despite the psychological tests and the fact the think we know what our passion is, seeking our passion may often times results in finding out what we thought was our passion is really not. There is a deeply rooted assumption in the “find your passion” motto: that working in the context of your passion equates to happiness. This sets us up for disappointment when that thing we are passionate about (i.e., playing video games) does not equal a career that we love (i.e., coding video game programs).

Finding your passion assumes linear causality: the end point of which is satisfaction and happiness in your work. Linear causality it not real life. Instead we live in a complex adaptive system, and a process philosophical perspectivesupports the idea that all things are processual. There is not end point: you are unlikely to find extreme happiness in your mid 30s because you followed your passion. Instead, you have the opportunity to find passion in small parts of whatever job you have!

I had an OB-GYN who once told me that she hated routine medical check-ups in which she had to perform pap smears. Yet this was a necessary part of her job – which ultimately allowed her to help women to deliver babies – an activity which defined happiness for her. Despite her lack of passion for the routine elements of the practice, she found that it allowed her to get to know a lot of women and to be someone who could answer questions for them and be a guide and a mentor.  In this, she found happiness in her job.  This ultimately made her a better doctor – in all aspects of her work.

So maybe you don’t like your job. Maybe you have toxic co-workers, you do work you find dull, and you don’t feel appreciated (raise your hand folks, I know it’s quite a few of you!).  But maybe, just maybe, you could shift your perspective and find something – even a little something – that brings you happiness. Maybe you could identify something you are doing where you know you are providing value. You aren’t necessarily stuck in a dead-end job – you just haven’t opened your eyes to the possibility for happiness within it.There are situations in which the context of the work environment is so toxic that the only successful course of action is to address the conflict or to leave. However, in most situations, we make our environments worse by focusing on the negative aspects we don’t like. You may not be doing what you love, but there is usually some path to finding a way to love what you do.

[1]Many moons ago.

[2]Like starting a PhD in your early 30s.

 
E. A. Luckman