Love What You Do

Ever wondered about balancing work and passion? We've always been told about doing what we love. But what if passion actually follows work, not the other way around? Maybe it's time to shift the focus from chasing love in work to pursuing what genuinely makes us happier.

Balancing work and passion has always been a bit of a puzzle for me. Sure, I’ve tackled the topic in casual chats, but I’ve never arrived at a rock-solid viewpoint I can hang my hat on.

One thing’s for sure, though: when you’re passionate about something, you don’t just “like” it, you’re magnetized by it. Work becomes less of a chore and more of an irresistible pull, leading you into that coveted state of flow.

Paradoxically, the waters get murky when you blend passion with obligation. Notice I didn’t say “work”, because the nuance here is crucial. You might work long hours on a side-project, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to. On the flip side, you’re pretty much obligated to trade time for money to, you know, keep a roof over your head.

This is where Paul Graham’s essay, How to Do What You Love, becomes a must-read. He starts by drawing a line between work and fun, challenging the childhood notion that they’re mutually exclusive.

There’s this narrative: “Do what you love, and the money will follow”. Sounds neat, but it’s overly simplistic. Passion doesn’t come with a built-in business model. The journey from passion to paycheck is more of a creative maze than a straight line.

When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing.

Jason Fried of 37 Signals offers a more grounded perspective. He argues that love for what you do isn’t a prerequisite for success. Instead, he leans into intrinsic motivation — doing something because it matters to you, not because you’re head over heels for it.

I’d say that, if you want to be successful and make a real contribution to the world, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the work you do, and you have to feel good about spending your days on it. Love might grow — and it’s a wonderful thing if it does — but you don’t need it up front. You can succeed just by wanting something to exist that doesn’t already.

We often spotlight people who seem to love what they do because they’re successful. Take Travis Kalanick, the Uber guy. We talk about him because he’s disrupting transportation, not because he’s enamored with his job. Let’s not forget the hypothetical guy who also hated San Francisco cabs but just became a cab driver… He’s not making headlines, is he?

On top of this confusion between work, passion, or “love what you do” fallacy, there’s a broader discussion that needs also to be addressed. I recently tuned into a podcast called “Why We Work”, which delves into unconventional career paths. It got me thinking: is this “work-love” conundrum a Millennial thing? Our parents might have had different happiness metrics, like providing for the family or ensuring a good education for their kids.

Here’s Why We Work’s take, I’m paraphrasing here:

Maybe now we think more about this idea of happiness and doing what you love. But our parents might not have that, and that’s OK. Because maybe for them the standard of happiness would be to provide for the family or give a good education for his sons. They might not even think about do what they love because they had other priorities beyond this. They measured their happiness with another scale.

The point is subtle, but I’d never thought of that. That made me reflect and led me to a few takeaways.

  • Survivorship bias: we often mix up passion and work. The loud ones are usually the successful people who are passionate about what they do. But what about the quiet winners who aren’t all that passionate? They’re out there; they just don’t make as much noise.
  • The “you’re special” myth: post-millennial folks have been told they need to find meaning in their work. That’s a lie. Loving your job is rare and not always sustainable. Most tasks are not “to be loved”, there are only so many “dream jobs” out there.
  • Passion follows work, not the other way around: you usually get passionate about something you’re good at. You get better, people notice, you get even better, and so on. It’s a positive cycle, but it starts with the work, not the passion.
  • Purpose over routine: you might not be head over heels for your daily tasks, but you can still find passion in the bigger picture. Like, if you’re a runner working in shoe design, you’re still part of something you care about — even if your day is full of emails and spreadsheets.

Maybe we’re too hung up on this “love” thing. What if we shifted the focus to overall happiness? Seems like a more realistic and useful way to look at it.

First published on February 09, 2015