Do Something You Love; Don’t Hate Your Work

Miya Tokumitsu has a cranky article on the advice to “do what you love,” saying that it devalues the work of people who, realistically, probably can’t follow the advice.

I feel like I have a decent perspective on this.  For years, I told people, “You know what?  I don’t love my job.  Most people don’t love their jobs.  I work for money.”  Just about two years ago, I quit my old job that I didn’t love and got a job I did love (and then another job that I loved).

I stand by my old mantra.  Most people don’t love their jobs, and most jobs are inherently un-lovable.  There’s nothing wrong with not loving your job.  And indeed, there’s nothing wrong with living for something other than work.  In my case, I was really fairly focused on finding love — like, of a person.  I was in my thirties, had a string of short, failed relationships, and single life had gone from being “sort of lonely, but also sort of fun and exciting” to just being depressing.

Then, about four and a half years ago, the woman who is now my wife and I found each other.  And over the course of the next 18 months, I filled in that side of my life.  I suddenly had so much more attention to spare.  And one of the things that became very clear to me is that I was really pretty unhappy with my job.  Not only was I unhappy, I was underperforming pretty severely.  I just couldn’t make myself care to actually do the work.  About two years ago, I quit that job — honestly, I quit it shortly in advance of a point where I was going to get in some serious trouble for my under-performance.  My boss was happy to see me go (not because he was a bad person — he really didn’t want to go down the performance plan route, and was seeing it loom up inescapably).

I moved from being a fairly junior developer at a fairly large software organization to being the first engineering hire of a tiny start-up.  And lo and behold, it turned out that I loved doing this.  I was putting 10+ more hours a week into my job and looking forward to going to work in the morning.  When that company went under, I found a similar job at another start-up, which I continue to do today.

So, my experiences of this are:

  • It’s startling how much my performance improved when I started really enjoying my job.  I went from being inches away from being put on a performance plan to being someone who my new bosses described as “one of the best engineers they’ve ever worked with.”  I went from being junior and stalled in my career to being central to both companies.  My compensation has risen accordingly.
  • It’s also startling how much more I enjoy the rest of my life.  I get a charge out of work now, and it increases my energy and my passion for my home life.  I also just feel more confident and more at peace with myself.
  • I think I really only could love my job once I had my home life settled, though.  I wasn’t going to pour energy into my work when I was feeling lonely and isolated in the rest of my life.
  • Once I did enjoy the rest of my life, my job that I didn’t like was a drain on my happiness.  Before that, it was just background noise.

Loving your job is great.  You spend a lot of your life working.  It’s wonderful to actively enjoy that.  If loving your job is a reasonable possibility for you, you should try to get into a situation of loving your job.

But more important is two things:  1.  Don’t hate your job.  2.  Have something you love.  If you go to work and it’s just your job and whatever, that’s one thing.  If it’s a drain on your happiness, making it harder for you to enjoy any part of your life, that’s another.

I don’t know that it’s realistic for everyone, or most people, to love their job.  It is realistic for most people to live for something, be it work, their family, travel, their hobbies, whatever.  And it’s realistic for at least most people to find a job that doesn’t ruin their happiness.

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