Amongst the many internet trends – the commercialisation of happiness, the quasi-religion of productivity approaches – there is one phrase that makes my toes curl and my blood start to simmer.
“Do what you love.”
It’s a distillation of a thought first offered by Confucius “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and the sentiment is a noble one yet for many it is largely unobtainable.
I used to love my job, I loved the busy nature of it, I loved the different areas of helping build a product, and for many years as I progressed through the company, getting more senior roles, I truly thought of it as doing what I love.
I am a geek, I enjoy many aspects of building a software product, most of them on the user/business side of the equation admittedly as I’m not a developer. I enjoyed learning about accessibility, usability, user research and analysis, storyboards, roadmaps and more. I invested a lot of my own time and effort into it, working long hours across multiple timezones, chatting to teams in Indonesia in my mornings and San Francisco in my evenings (my Boss was, for a time, based in Boston, MA).
And then as I was about to transition to a newer role, one I was excited for which would’ve taken me into the world of product strategy with a sales and marketing view, the rug was pulled out from under my feet with one simple word. Redundancy.
It was the third time I’d been made redundant and, as with the others, completely blind-sided me. We’d had a couple of rounds of redundancies in the past but I’d always felt secure as my role and knowledge was fairly niche and unique at the time.
It was a blow.
Looking back it was likely a very good thing for me, personally, though. I managed to take a couple of months off, and when I started working again I did so as a contractor in a role I’d never done before, although I’d worked closely with them in the past.
It’s a different world when you are paid a day rate. I work 8am to 4pm, I don’t get sick pay or paid holidays, I pay my own tax. This means it’s not in my interest to invest any more of my own time, and that’s purely on a financial basis, my current project and contract has a finite end so I know I will be moving on at that point, which is yet another reason not to invest my time too heavily. I hold myself to my own professional standards and work ethics but at 4pm I am done.
Do I love what I do? No, it is a job that pays my bills. This is not a vocation, a calling, or anything like that for me and, despite the internet clamouring for validation and the strange need to attach higher value to things than they necessarily require, I’m quite happy with that.
The issue I have is that if I was to love what I do, my job would be a mish-mash of sitting on the sofa playing computer games, walking about in the fresh air, reading books, and a few other things commonly known as hobbies.
Which nicely brings me to another point, once again peer pressured into existence by the internet, of having to always be the best you can be at something. Why? A hobby should be relaxing, a way to unwind and switch off from the daily pressures of adult life, not a way to add to the stresses and strains you no doubt already have by demanding constant improvements of yourself! So you can knit a wonky scarf, but can you knit a pair of stripey socks.
Since I started contracting my work/life balance, something I actually place value on, has never been better.
Granted I’m very lucky to be at least working in a job that is palatable, suffer-able, and on some days is actually fun (albeit in a ‘everything is a challenge’ kinda way). I don’t think I will ever place much value on loving what I do for work, but for me that just means I have all the more time and energy to put elsewhere, in things that offer me much more value; family and friends.
And oddly, spending my time with my loved ones whilst living life as best I can boils down to doing exactly what that phrase, the one I so loathe, suggests.
Do what you love.