It’s a truism of this generation that the way to choose your career is to work out the ‘thing you love’ and then do it. Seems simple enough. And if you follow this advice, all manner of riches should be poured down upon you: fulfilment, happiness, health, career success, nice friends, a good-looking partner, great skin, perfect teeth and to top it all off, actual money. At least, that’s what I learnt from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. Or was it ‘Eat Pray Love’? I don’t remember. One of those.
The problem is that whilst it’s a very seductive idea, it’s a pretty shitty way of running your life, picking your career and managing a wider community. Unfortunately, however, the idea is pervasive. It forms the backbone of every B-grade Hollywood film. Your parents said it to you throughout school (though, they might occasionally backtrack when you’d announce you wanted to be a crocodile trainer).
I’ve spent that last 18 years of my life repeating that I had to go into theatre, because I loved it more than anything and therefore I’d never be happy if I didn’t do exactly that. I thought loving something was as much as was needed. I was encouraged in this by anyone whoever spoke about the acting industry – it’s so hard, you have to make sure you LOVE it more than ANYTHING, otherwise there’s no point in going into it. So I loved it harder.
But I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t work that way. And that ‘loving’ something may actually be a hugely detrimental thing to feel towards something you want to be successful at. Here are my reasons.
1) Remember when you first fall in love with someone and everything they do is wonderful and even their farts smell of roses? You don’t want to have that kind of attitude towards something you do as a job. To be truly successful at work, you should be able to think critically and objectively about what you’re doing. It requires you to look at your industry, your company, your colleagues, your own work and think, ‘well, is this the best that can be done? Is there something missing? Are we doing something stupid that we should fix?’ It’s hard to do that when you think everything smells like roses. If Florence Nightingale was so in love with nursing that she hadn’t been able to look up and say, ‘hey, how come all these infections are spreading amongst my patients,’ we’d all have been a little bit worse off.
2) Falling in love involves spending a lot of time with the adored object. Like, A LOT, of time. Like, sometimes you don’t even really come up for air. Like, sometimes you turn around and it’s 9 months later and you call your friends and they’re all like, ‘Dude. We thought you were dead.’ I mean, that might not be the best kind of relationship, but, still, you have to admit it sometimes happens. The problem with doing this with your career is that you begin to lose all perspective. Related to the first point – you can no longer think critically about your adored career because you have nothing to compare it to. It seems like the most important thing in the world, because it’s the ONLY thing in the world.
3) Love is selfish. Not in a, ‘this-person-is-all mine-i’ll-kill-you-if-you-even-look-at-them’ totally psycho-jealous kind of way, but in a ‘I’m-love-this-person-and-more-than-that-I-love-how-good-they-make-me-feel’ kind of way. Yes, you love them for who they are, but you also love them for how they make you feel. Which is a perfectly fine way of choosing a career as an individual. It becomes a disaster, however, when every single middle-class kid decides they want to play the cello and only play the cello and be paid a living wage for playing the cello and why shouldn’t they play the cello, after all, they love it. Now, I have no problem with middle-class kids that want to play the cello (hey, it’s a beautiful instrument, and I saw ‘Hilary & Jackie’, it looked like a really glamorous life until Jackie got multiple sclerosis), but my point is, someone should really also learn how to, I don’t know, cure multiple sclerosis as well as everyone becoming cello players. I’m not saying there’s not a place for cello players. I’m just saying there’s as many things wrong with the society that is all artists as there is with the society that is all doctors. The other problem is that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone whose told me their passion is collecting rubbish. So, ‘do what you love’ leaves some massive holes in society that some unlucky person has to fill for whatever reason. It doesn’t really seem fair that they can’t also ‘do what they love’.
4) Sometimes you fall in love with someone that doesn’t treat you very well. They take advantage of your love for them. They insist you have to go out at midnight to buy cookies for them from the convenience store even though they’re not diabetic or disabled and they live in a really bad neighbourhood. And then, when you call them in tears one night because your best friend’s boyfriend has decided he hates you and wants your best friend never to see you again, instead of offering to come over immediately, your partner kind of yawns and says, ‘Oi, that’s dreadful but I’ve got a really early start tomorrow so I should probably get off the phone….’ A career that you love unconditionally is like that. You’ll do unthinkable things. Like, work for free even though you don’t know how you’re going to pay the rent next month. Like, putting up with a boss who emotionally abuses you because the job will ‘look good on your CV.’ Like, being the coffee person because maybe sometime soon the people you’re getting coffee for will let you actually do something related to the career of your choice. You’ll even start thinking it makes sense to pay money to be involved in ‘opportunities’ for ‘potential’ work that ‘may become available’ ‘somewhere’ down the line.
5) Sometimes we fall in love with people that are not quite right for us. Maybe we’re sick of being single. Maybe we couldn’t find anybody else. Maybe we went through a tough break-up and it seems easier to be in love with this ok person for a while instead of going out there and having our heart broken all over again. The point is that they aren’t quite the match we think they are. But we try desperately to make it work. Maybe you’re vegan and all she eats is steak. Maybe you work for Shell Oil and he’s an environmental campaigner for Greenpeace. I’m not saying you can’t make it work (or that Hollywood couldn’t do a damn fine job of making a quirky rom-com out of your attempts), but I am saying it might be more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes we fall in love with careers or industries that don’t match our talents or our personalities. But because we ‘love’ them, or because we know of no other way of choosing a career, we stay in them longer than is advisable. Sure, maybe you’ll be able to make it work eventually, maybe you’ll develop that killer shark instinct you need to be the cutthroat criminal lawyer you always dreamed of since watching Law & Order all those years ago. But, would it really be worth it? Maybe you’d be better used and happier somewhere else, doing something else.
6) People fall out of love. This is true. Divorce statistics don’t lie. I know we all want to believe in the happily ever after (I know I want to believe in the happily ever after), but chances are it won’t come your way. If you’re lucky, your ‘lifetime’ partner will die before you fall out of love with them and then you can spend the rest of your life mourning their great loss (I’m looking at you, Queen Victoria) and thinking you missed out on some kind of grey-haired, sepia-coloured, pigeon-feeding, end-of-life romance. Otherwise, there’s a large chance that the person you swore eternal devotion to is going to, at some point, loose their pretty shininess. You change, they change. You find yourself living in an apartment made up of a quarter of things you used to love from your old shared house and a quarter of the things you used to hate, plus a cat or two that you’re never sure you actually adopted but you seem to feed now, awkwardly flicking through Tinder and trying to encourage a sense of flirtatiousness and footloose fancy-free-ness. Breaking up with the career you thought you loved (or wanted to love) is just as devastating. You find yourself at an unimaginable age, starting at the beginning, looking at university guidebooks whilst shuddering with confusion and distaste at all the young people you might need to interact with who remind you on a daily basis just how much of a head start they have over you. Sure there’s nothing wrong with starting again. And, even if you choose a career for other reasons that you ‘love’ it, you may find yourself shifting gears at some point down the line. However, changing jobs is so much harder if you’ve invested all that emotional energy, that love, into the career to begin with. It’s like your personality has been ripped out. You don’t know who you are anymore.
Aristotle said: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” It might be longer and more complex than ‘do what you love,’ but it’s all the more useful for it. It considers the world, not just yourself. It considers what you can offer, rather than just what you’d like to do all day (I mean, I’d like to drink red wine whilst playing ‘Spell Tower’ on my phone, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of my time and I’d probably be pretty bummed at myself on my death bed if all I’d achieved in life was a score above 10,000 on Spell Tower).
I’m sure I haven’t convinced the majority of you. And I’m sure plenty of people (plenty) will continue to go out there and choose careers based on ‘what they love’ and only on what they love (hey, you can’t fight City Hall. Or after-school specials). And some of you might find that works out ok for you. But the rest of you might find yourself dissatisfied, unhappy, unfulfilled and not really sure why. The problem is the nature of the game, the starting premise. When it comes to work, at least, love is definitely not all you need.