Lies About Love and Work

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Every now and again, I see this little pearl of wisdom pop up on my Facebook feed, and I think, Yeah, Steve Jobs said this to a bunch of Stanford grads, but I bet he never made this little speech at one of those Foxconn factories in Shenzhen. He probably never made this speech to the janitors who clean the Cupertino campus.

Chasing what you love and never settling is rich people bullshit.

Work is work

You know why people pay you to do your job? Because it’s the kind of activity that no one would do if they didn’t get paid for it. That’s how most jobs are, whether it’s cleaning toilets, cooking Denny’s meals, or doing the QA and writing the code updates that make sure you can still open Adobe FrameMaker in OS X Snow Leopard.

I went to the Apple website to look at jobs, and this is from the first one I saw:

As a Business Leader, you drive the strategy and infuse the business vision into management and store teams in each market location. You foster consistent practices for all locations, but you’re also flexible enough to manage unique variances in your market.

No one wakes up on Saturday morning thinking, I’m gonna manage some unique variances with my kids! I have never, ever, ever, in a conversation or a Landmark course or an AA meeting or wherever, heard anyone say that what they really wanted out of life was a chance to foster consistent practices. Someone might get into it and do it really well, and that’s great. But it’s a job. You do it to get money to pay for things.

And there’s no shame in that, or there shouldn’t be. But what the do-what-you-love rhetoric really has behind it is something much more insidious.

Only the rich do it right

When Steve Jobs tells you that if you do what you love, you can be like Steve Jobs, he’s also saying the opposite: if you’re not rich and successful and respected like Steve Jobs, it’s because you weren’t bold and brave enough to follow your bliss and never settle and do what you love.

In other words, Steve Jobs deserves his money because of his personal merit. That’s the secret message behind every zillionaire saying you should do what you love. He didn’t get rich by a combination of luck, privilege, ruthlessness, and peculiarly lucrative business skills. No, he got rich by following his passion and never settling. Something anyone could do, right? If only we were bold enough.

What follows is that if you’re poor, working shitty jobs, struggling to get by, or doing OK but sort of just getting along somewhere in the middle of a corporation, it’s your personal fault. It’s not the system, so don’t even look there. And whatever you do, definitely don’t start considering the idea that vast accumulations of personal wealth are a problem. They’re a goal — a personal goal, not a societal goal — and if you’ve fallen short, it’s on you.

How to do what you love

So let’s say you really do want to take Steve Jobs at his word. You can do it individually, trying to cut a path that sets you apart from everyone else so that you, and you alone, can do what you love. Or you could consider systemic changes that could allow many more people to lead lives that they enjoy, with more time to devote to what they enjoy.

There’s no simple solution, but there are ideas out there: guaranteed health care that frees people from corporate employment as a survival requirement, guaranteed universal income, sabbatical years, free education. These are some of the ideas I like, but you might have others.

And on a personal level, do your work because there’s work to be done and because you need to make a living, and do what you love because you love it, and stop insisting that these two things have to be the same thing.