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Forget 'Do What You Love'—This Mantra is Better

The danger of embracing a DWYL mentality.

Art Credit: Nima Salimi

Are you doing what you love? Based on the number of articles floating around the internet (a quick google search for “do what you love” returns over 2.8 billion results), the answer is probably no. But is that really such a bad thing?

Miya Tokumitsu's article "In the Name of Love" critiques the "Do what you love, love what you do" mantra (DWYL). Who really gets to do what they love? Does everyone have that option? And how much does it really matter?

In an increasingly competitive job market, many people choose jobs for reasons other than emotional reward—to pay bills, support a family, or because their circumstances simply don't allow them to meet minimum requirements for "something better." The danger of embracing a DWYL mentality is that it takes away from our ability to recognize the inherent dignity in the kind of work we can be tempted to deem unlovable, i.e. "repetitive, unintellectual, or undistinguished."

In a recent radio interview, Tokumitsu calls out the DWYL credo as "popular mythology," arguing that to reinforce this myth, we often look to exceptional class-transcending icons to perpetuate the idea that "all it takes is enough hard work and passion for anyone to succeed in a career they find emotionally rewarding—and succeed fantastically." She continues:

The reality remains that the people who get to do what they love are mostly those with the financial capital to acquire the credentials required by many of these prestigious and personally rewarding jobs. It's not just degrees, but also things like unpaid internships, rent in expensive cities where many of these jobs are located, etc. The superficial uplift of 'do what you love' is really effective at masking the social mechanisms of who gets to do what kind of work.

Worst of all, Tokumitsu professes that thanks to DWYL thinking, those who do less lovable work become invisible contributors to others' success:

If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing. . . . Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning, especially the crucial work of caregivers.

While there's nothing wrong with doing what you love, I have a more universal mantra to propose: "Love what you do." Turning the DWYL mantra around can help see through the false liberty that our culture maintains as true—that happiness can only be attained if you do what you love. On the contrary, it's a journey to love—not merely doing things you enjoy—that leads to true happiness.

Develop love out of what you dislike. No job is perfect, even if it seems that way on the surface. And anyone who pretends to love every single aspect of her job is living a lie. By carrying out your work well and being conscious of your attitudes toward the tasks that occupy you at each moment, you take control of transforming your actions—big and small—into acts of love. Start by identifying necessary tasks you dislike, then aim to do them a little bit better each time. It's an exercise in humility, determination, and perseverance more fulfilling to the spirit than any temporary pleasures can allow.

Respect even the most mundane tasks—it's mainly in accomplishing them well that we contribute toward a greater good over our lifetimes. Be mindful of how you speak about your work and how you critique others' work, especially taking care not to belittle the tasks entrusted to you or someone else. Chasing after the DWYL mentality can easily transform into a sense of entitlement ("I deserve to do something more," "I'm too good for this," "If only I were happy in my job, then I could . . . ") which leads to self-centeredness and bitterness toward others.

Count what brings you true love. Everyone loves something or someone else more than their job—it's ultimately why we work in the first place! Whether it's enjoying your favorite hobby, spending time with your friends, or laughing with your children, at the end of the day it's these blessings that bring true happiness and lasting satisfaction. Work is exhausting, but in cultivating sincere happiness among those around you by cheerfully serving the people you work with and carrying out your job as well as you can, the purpose of your life becomes more worthwhile and rewarding than merely "doing what you love."