Who Really Gets to Do What They Love?

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Is the key to success following your dreams?
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It's become popular to insist that the key to a successful career is to simply "follow your bliss" straight into a profession that you're truly passionate about.

It's the same advice Steve Jobs gave fresh-faced Stanford grads in a commencement address nearly a decade ago.

"You've got to find what you love," said Jobs. "And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."

It sounds simple: Follow your passion, and fame, success, and gobs of money will follow.

But is that how it really works? For most people, is it really practical to do what you love? And if it's not, why are we giving this advice to our young people?

Miya Tokumitsu, holds a Ph.D in art history. Her recent essay in Jacobin magazine, entitled “In the Name of Love,” breaks down why being told to "do what you love" isn't necessarily sound advice.

"The popular mythology certainly is that anyone can do what they love," says Tokumitsu. "To reinforce this myth, we look to exceptional, class-transcending icons like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton. The idea is that all it takes is enough hard work and passion, and anyone can succeed in a career that they find emotionally rewarding—and succeed fantastically."

While many are told from a young age to turn their passion into a bankable job, Tokumitsu says that just isn't the case for all.

"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," she says. "It's not just degrees, but also things like unpaid internships, rent in expensive cities where many of these jobs are located, etcetera. 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."

Tokumitsu says over-identifying with work can also produce existential anxiety after a bad day on the job, at times making the "do what you love" mentality burdensome.

"It makes it seems like work is a very important if not primary source of love, and if you aren't deriving pleasure from your work that there's something wrong with you or something wrong with the choices you've made in your life—I absolutely reject that," she says. "There are so many people right now, especially in this tough job market, who are doing work that they never planned on doing—and certainly never dreamed of doing—but they're doing what they need to do to get by. That is just as valuable as any work could possibly be."

Are there risks associated with the "do what you love" mentality for those that are already in their ideal careers? Tokumitsu says yes. Listen to the full interview to hear why.