As someone who is reasonably fixated on work and work/life balance, it was awesome to see a trio of links about the cult of Doing What You Love and Loving What You Do in this week’s issue of Austin Kleon’s newsletter. The key article, Miya Tokumitsu’s “In the Name of Love”, is a deep dive into the nature of labor, the unquestioning acceptance of privelege and the corruption of the American dream. Really great stuff and delightfully illustrated by Leslie A. Wood:
So if Doing What You Love is a trap that leads to the exploitation of the working class, how should a person with the good fortune be able to choose a career do so?
My Boy Maslow Has Something To Say About This
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as any freshman sociology major can tell you, is a way to prioritize human desires from the most basic requirements for life (food, shelter, sleep) up to the higher-order realm of self-actualization. Generally (although never by Maslow himself) depicted as a pyramid, the idea is that as you satisfy the basic requirements for existence, you have the luxury of worrying about more and more abstract things.
Do What You Love assumes that the doer’s most primal requirements are taken care of (trust fund?) and ignores the stark reality that people work to get money to satisfy those basic needs. Instead, focus first on satisfying the base levels of the pyramid, then worry about feeling creatively fulfilled.
Baby Don’t Hurt Me
Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought it was a problem if you love something that doesn’t love you back. Plain and simple: your job (like your favorite sports team, like your city) cannot love you. And if you “love” your work, how do you feel about your family, friends and pets? There are many words in the English language to describe levels of affinity and “love” is the most emotionally charged of them all. Work is complicated enough without introducing that kind of baggage.
But Now I Don’t Have a Trite Saying That’s Ready For a Minimalist Poster!
Yeah. Work is complicated. It doesn’t resolve to a nice and tidy sound bite. Do What You Love hides all that complexity, but not in a way that is useful or instructive.