“do what you love” is not great advice

A reader writes:

A lot of people talk about doing what they’re passionate about, loving their jobs, doing what they love and getting paid for it … and it kind of confuses me sometimes. How do you figure out what you love to do? Now, I like certain things but I have absolutely zero interest in starting a business of any kind. I don’t consider myself un-ambitious, but I don’t strive to be the next Donald Trump or Martha Stewart. I want a 9-5 job at a reasonably functional company that pays a good wage, so I can indulge in what I like after-hours (socializing, cooking, eating, shopping). Some people see this as not having ambition. Do you get people asking you how to stop feeling guilty over that lack of ambition? Over not wanting to start a business? I just think not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur and that doesn’t make them any less ambitious or a “loser.”

For some reason, I thought being passionate about your work meant something that you can do for hours and hours and never get sick of — until I had a conversation with someone who does love what they do, who told me that that’s not true at all … you can still be frustrated, have bad days, and want to go home, and still love your job/profession … and the majority of people can’t do the same thing for hours and hours–it’s not possible. And it’s true — even at my “best” job, there were still some aspects that I disliked and were frustrating, but I remember that I never NOT wanted to be there, which is so different from my past jobs where I was ready to go home before I even left the house!

The people who get to do what they love for a job are the lucky ones; they’re not the majority.

Lots of other people are pretty content with what they do, but not passionate about it. This is probably the majority.

And then a third group of people really don’t like what they do. They range from not-especially-happy to outright miserable.

Your goal is to avoid being in the third group. (Although, frankly, that’s not realistic in all cases. In some cases, work is simply work, and you do it because it funds important things, like housing and food.)

I know that “do what you love” is popular advice in a certain socioeconomic slice of our population. But it’s unrealistic advice that’s often unhelpful.

Not all passions match up with the realities of the job market. If you’re passionate about poetry or painting, you’re going to find very limited job opportunities for those things. Other people’s passions are their friends or their family, or home-making, or dogs, and again, there’s not much of a job market built around those things. But those are lovely passions to have. And in those cases, it makes sense to find work that you can do reasonably happily, while pursuing your passions when you’re not at work. And that’s completely okay.

(And note that often what makes people happy at work isn’t that they’re passionate about what they’re doing, but rather that they have a sense of accomplishment or impact, or they enjoy the autonomy they’re given, or they feel respected or useful, or whatever.)

Now, some people are passionate about their work, of course, and that’s an amazing, wonderful, lucky thing. If you can find a way to turn what you love doing into something that makes you a living, go for it. (Although be aware that sometimes that backfires, turning something you loved into an obligation.)

It’s also important to note that most people who earn a living doing what they love didn’t start out on that path. It emerged over time.  And some of them never would have predicted that their work would be their dream job, but somehow that’s what it turned into. For many of us in that group, if we’d started out pursuing a passion, it would have led us down a much different road — but here we are today, thrilled with what we’re doing, yet a little surprised by the road that took us here.

So I wouldn’t stress terribly over this. You want to make sure you’re doing something that you’re good at, something that brings you a reasonable amount of satisfaction, and something that can earn you a living. But it’s okay for the things that you really feel passionate about to be things you do outside of work, if that’s how it turns out.

And last, entrepreneurship is really a totally separate question from all this. Starting a business takes a very specific type of person, and not everyone is cut out for it. (And it annoys the crap out of me when people suggest it as a cure-all for anyone who can’t find a job or who’s unhappy in their current one.) There’s absolutely nothing unambitious about not wanting to start your own business — it’s pretty normal, in fact.

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. EngineerGirl*

    I think it is more important to “love what you do” instead of “do what you love”. The sense of accomplishment from doing a job well is a great motivater. And that often leads to other opportunities.

    Loving what you do, by the way, is deciding (yes deciding) that you are going to do the best possible job on something, and learn new things about it. Even if it is making small incremental changes, you are improving the job.

    1. V*

      What a great distinction! It’s so true. Doing what you love (or, loving what you do) doesn’t have to mean engaging in a hobby 8 hours a day for a nice salary. (not that Alison’s post implied that… but I do think that’s what a lot of people think)

    2. Mike C.*

      It’s rather difficult to decide to “love what you do” when you’re stuck in a toxic environment. I really don’t like the idea that it’s all up to the individual when there are so many outside forces influencing the situation.

      1. V*

        I agree with this too. But absent a toxic work environment, I think it’s a good point that you can “love what you do” by doing a job that you find fulfilling and rewarding, without that job being something that you’d do for free. I think that’s what EngineerGirl is getting at.

        As someone who was just (thankfully) freed from a toxic work environment, I couldn’t agree with you more Mike C., however I think the point here is that just because someone doesn’t enjoy, say, accounting in their spare time doesn’t mean that they can’t love their job as an accountant.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        It is a lot harder to “love what you do” in a toxic environment. But you need to focus on the job, not the people. You can still find ways to do things well, while looking for a way out of the envrionment.

        I know from my own experience on two separate “hell programs” that my committment to excellence allowed me to get out. My reputation had been shredded by some really unethical people at that point, but others that knew my work gave me opportunities at other assignments. That allowed me to restore my reputation.

        Performing with grace under pressure can only enhance your reputation.

  2. CatB (Europe)*

    “Do what you love” often time is just like “meeting your Special One”, it just appeares unexpectedly in your life. And it surely doesn’t equate entrepreneuship. I echo EngineerGirls: start by loving what you do. At some point in your life it is possible you’ll discover there are things that you love to do and you’re good enough at them to get paid for doing them.

    I’m part of the lucky bunch who do what they love for a living, but I only discovered that some 10 years into my professional life. And I’m not even sure freelancing is the proper way, but that’s how events piled up in my life.

  3. kristinyc*

    Get out of my brain!!!!

    I’ve been out of school for 5 years, and it wasn’t until 3 weeks ago that I actually got a job I really enjoyed. This will go against a lot of typical career advice (but isn’t that the theme on this post?), but it took a LOT of job hopping to get there.

    In school I was pretty ambitious, and my parents kept telling me I should start a business, but I have absolutely no desire to ever do that. I’ve never wanted my career to be my life, and a lot of people (especially in my life – in the techy startup industry in NYC) really don’t understand it. It doesn’t make anyone less ambitious to feel that way. I want to have a job that I enjoy doing and feel accomplished and proud of my work, and I want to become extremely skilled at what I do (which is happening), but I also want to go home at a reasonable hour and spend time with my dog and fiance (and in a few years, kids. If I’m not already home with them…).

    For a while, my goal was just to find a job that I can tolerate so that I can afford to stay in NYC. I found that, but it’s a job I actually really love at a company that understands work/life balance.

    As for finding what you’re passionate about – start with something you enjoy doing. For me, it was writing. What kind of jobs could I do that would let me write? At the time, it was an insurance company that needed a marketing copywriter. It wasn’t terribly exciting writing, but I learned a lot about marketing and other areas of the field. That turned into a very specific specialization within that field, and the specialization (email marketing) is something I really love doing. You’ll get there.

    1. Jen in RO*

      It was similar for me too. I started out with a hobby (reading SF), got a job copyediting SF books through a friend and then, when I decided copyediting wasn’t enough to pay the bills, I found a job in technical writing and I realized that hey, this is also cool and actually pays! 99% of the time I look forward to going to work and I hope this doesn’t change!

      1. The IT Manager*

        :) I love to read (sci fi mostly) and during a recent career change did wonder if it was possible to turn that into a job. But I decided that it really wasn’t possible.

        Although a friend said since I love sci fi so much I should offer to do reviews for free for my local public radio station and try to turn that into a career. Although kind, this was just an insane suggestion. Although I love reading and enjoy discussing books, I have zero desire to be on the radio or become some sort of public speaker.

        Remember the reason they pay people to work is because 99.99999% really wouldn’t work for free. You should try to find something you can enjoy, find fulfilling, or at least tolerate, but to expect to truly love it is unrealistic.

        I once wanted to be an astronaut. The shine has worn off for me, but for those amazing and dedicated people who did acheive their goal, they spend a very small percentage of their time in space. They train for a year or more for a single mission and spend a lot of other time doing publicity and other stuff that’s not the cool parts.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I just got really lucky, honestly. My friend was the editor-in-chief at a publishing house and disappointed with their copyeditors – they had degrees in Literature and stuff, but their editing was crap since they weren’t readers of sci fi and didn’t understand the context. He also read my blog, so he knew I could form coherent sentences and I knew my grammar… so he talked me into giving it a shot. Best thing ever!

          1. Jen in RO*

            And, for the record, my education had nothing to do with any of the jobs I’ve had since I finished university. I enjoyed doing my bachelor’s in tourism, but I’m sure I’ll never actually use it! The grammar I learned from my 5th grade teacher and the CS/programming I learned in high school are the reason I’m doing what I do now.

      2. Editor*

        I started out editing when all I needed was a pencil or pen and a couple of reference books. I would love to continue writing and editing, and I have been looking at technical writing and similar jobs.

        Most want people with software backgrounds, so those technical writing jobs I’m not qualified for. There are other technical writing jobs, and those require experience with software I’ve never heard of. Those employers have never heard of the software I’ve used at the publications where I’ve worked. Sure, I can learn to use technical writing and project management software, but first I have to find a decent class, and my experience with online software classes has been very, very bad.

        The work I enjoy — writing and editing — is much more difficult to get into now than it was 30 years ago because every different type of writing and editing has different software and technical qualifications. Writers may be required to shoot video, take photos, use project management or other software to manage texts handled by multiple users, or do layout or website design.

        For other types of passions, such as pottery or the arts, I think pursuing it might be easier than it used to be. One young artist I know has a part-time job to pay the bills, but is bringing in some money from her art through Etsy. She couldn’t have done that 30 years ago — she would have had to be applying to craft fairs and hauling around her work, a time-consuming way to market it.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I probably wouldn’t be a tech writer if I was in the US :) The market here is probably similar to the US market 30 years ago – before I got this job, I hadn’t even heard of tech writing. And from my team of 8, I’m the closest HR could get to the job description, my coworkers hadn’t written or edited before. (And, luckily, I don’t have to do anything fancy yet! I am really bad at design…)

  4. Anonymous*

    I think the pressure to “love” your job causes people to be less satisfied with their work than they might be if they approached work with the attitude of “This is a necessary activity that enables me to do other things I enjoy.” And in my experience, doing what you love as a full time job is just as, if not more, likely to make you hate that activity as it is to bring you long-term happiness. For example, you may love baking, but suddenly doing it 40+ hours a week, getting up ridiculously early, and slinging around giant bags of flour, etc may have zero connection to the pleasure you feel whipping up a batch of cupcakes on the weekend. I do have a type of job that some people would consider a “dream job”, but the parts that people would point to as being the “cool stuff” are only a tiny portion of my work. If I took the job just for that, I would be disillusioned pretty quickly.

    1. Danni*

      +1 to ruining the passion. Working at a crappy organization for the past 2 years has RUINED my original passion. Liking a specialized area of academics because it’s interesting does not equate to being happy in a research organization and taking MA classes and being pressured into going to conferences, etc.

    2. EJ*

      “I think the pressure to “love” your job causes people to be less satisfied with their work than they might be if they approached work with the attitude of “This is a necessary activity that enables me to do other things I enjoy.”

      This. Absolutely this.

    3. Piper*

      “This is a necessary activity that enables me to do other things I enjoy.”

      Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! It took me years to realize this and it’s made all the difference in the world. I don’t love my job, it’s not what I’m “passionate” about or what I’d do if money were no object. But it does cause a low amount of irritation, allows me to grow skills, is pretty interesting, has a good work/life balance, and pays pretty damn well. All of that allows me to do things that I’m truly passionate about when I’m not at work.

    4. Lily*

      I agree! Often there isn’t a lot of “doing what you love” in a dream job.

      I also chose employment over self-employment because I thought it was less hassle and more secure. However, is it a good idea to say that when you asking a potential employer if they have any open positions? Was it unfair of me to be put off, especially since I myself agree?

      I don’t want to get too far off topic, but I wonder how successfully free-lancers make the transition to having a boss? Don’t they become free-lancers to avoid having a boss?

      1. Ariancita*

        Maybe it depends on industry. In graphic design, I did both. What I liked about freelance was getting to pick and choose (to a certain extent) my clients/projects. It wasn’t about not wanting a boss. I mean in a way, you always have a boss–the client. And it was also about making more money. When I did graphic design work, I was working long long hours with little pay, like many of my colleagues. Freelancing, I could work the same long hours but get paid more. Might be different in other industries, like programming and such.

      2. Andrea*

        I became a freelancer so that I could work at home for fewer hours and more money. It wasn’t about not wanting to have a boss, though my boss now is whichever client I’m working for at the moment. I wanted to use my technical writing and rhetoric degrees, as well as have a flexible schedule that I control (at least most of the time). I write many different kinds of documents on a variety of topics, and I get to learn new things almost constantly.

        The tradeoff is that all of my clients are evil lobbying firms (not all lobbying firms are evil, of course, but these are), and I personally disagree with almost everything I write. And I have to pay my own quarterly taxes (I get insurance through my husband). But these firms pay very well, they pay on time, they like my work, and (thankfully) my name isn’t attached to any of the published pieces that I write. Am I doing what I love? Eh, well, sort of, sometimes, I guess. But do I love what I do? Oh hell yeah. I work maybe 25-30 hours per week, all in my own home, and I get paid five times what I made when I was teaching at a university. I’m using my training and education, and I’m good at what I do. I also have a flexible schedule with lots of time to garden, work on house projects, shop, read, walk my dog, write for fun, lunch with friends, volunteer, cook, clean, etc., etc., and I don’t have annoying coworkers, ridiculous policies, dress codes, commutes, or meetings (well, not meetings that I attend in person, anyway). So for me it is well worth it, even with the drawbacks, and there are some big ones.

        If I had followed the “do what you love” advice, I suppose I would still be teaching at the college level, making almost nothing, putting in lots of hours (including evenings and weekends), dealing with lots of frustrations and fewer joys, making a 30-minute drive there and back, and constantly wondering if I would have a job next semester (due to state budget cuts). I loved that job, too, and I sometimes miss working with students, but I love the life I have now more.

    5. AP*

      “I do have a type of job that some people would consider a “dream job”, but the parts that people would point to as being the “cool stuff” are only a tiny portion of my work. If I took the job just for that, I would be disillusioned pretty quickly.”

      ABSOLUTELY this!

      I have a “dream job” too, the kind that a lot of people go to school for and would love to get into but most don’t make it, or quit once they realize that its only cool and glamorous about 5% of the time. I love it, but it’s because I enjoy the parts of it that are not exciting, that most people don’t imagine and rarely see – waking up at 4am, dealing with difficult personalities, carrying giant cases of equipment through airports…I love the fact that I enjoy what I do, but I think it’s a little naive to think that anyone loves it 100% of the time, or that if you have a perfect job you won’t have any tasks or responsibilities or co-workers that you can’t stand. But if you can keep some sort of passion about it over the long haul…you are seriously lucky.

      For the record, I, too, have absolutely no interest in starting my own business. Sales? Hell no.

      1. Sam.i.am*

        Yep. When I tell people what I do, the most common response is, “that’s my dream job!” I think because (a) someone on a popular tv show had this job, (b) I work for a company people are obsessed with and (c) I have a very specific skills set most people want but don’t have.

        But they don’t have to deal with the very high pressure, terrible hours and, well, reality. When my job is good, it is very good. Big when it is bad, it is horrid.

    6. Jen*

      “This is a necessary activity that enables me to do other things I enjoy.” TOTALLY. Also what others have said… I jumped around quite a bit, kept trying to focus on the parts I liked, and 8 years out of college have a job I really like and am starting grad school in a related field next year. I had some crappy jobs and crazy bosses on the way, but you do get there eventually.

      The key is to make sure you’re doing those other things you enjoy – not just going home and watching TV. Making time – however little – to spend time engaged in those other activities makes a huge difference. =) =) =)

      Read “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

  5. Danni*


    I am just about to finish up my MA in a field that I do not want ANYTHING to do with afer I graduate. I work in a research organization relating to the industry and I HATE this place and it’s made me just hate everything about the industry. Luckily, I transitioned into a position there that is in a different area, so I’ve been able to branch out, but I learned that just because your job (or your masters course) is, in theory, about your “passion”, it doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it.

    I have worked part time as a receptionist for 2 years as well, and the company is SO GREAT that I have enjoyed this job 100x more. I’ll be moving abroad in December once I graduate, and while it feels a little weird to tell people I won’t be pursuing my original ‘passion’, I know that a job isn’t everything. What I DO want is a job where I feel supported, encouraged, appreciated and am inspired to do great work. That is so, so, so much more satisfying than chasing a ‘passion’.

    1. Sonata*

      Danni, I hope a lot of people read your post, because it’s the perfect example that passion isn’t required for job satisfaction. To me, having great coworkers is one of the most important factors.

      (P.S. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could find a supportive org. that would revive your original passion? Good luck in your career!)

    2. ChristineH*

      I think this might be my problem too. I pursued my MSW because my passion was that I wanted to help people with disabilities. While I am still very passionate about disability issues, I found that I didn’t love working with people as much as I thought I would. Oh sure it was very rewarding at times, but some of the frustrations of working with people often cancels out the good, at least for me.

      Bottom line – Passion is not the best reason to get an advanced degree; you have to be sure that you also have the skills and personality traits to make it work.

      1. Maria*

        Agree. I got a law degree and realized I don’t have the passion for it I thought I did, combined with one miserable work environment after another in the field. I’m trying to transition, my goal is to just find a happy work environment, I’m hoping that even if it’s something outside of what I used to think was path, it might be more satisfying in other ways. I agree you can’t always turn your passion into a job (mine would be baking!) but, I am hoping to find something that doesn’t make me unhappy every day.

    3. Lily*

      It could be a question of balance in your life. Before I had kids, I wanted to work with people. After I had kids, I had enough of people and wanted to do something with measurable progress.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Yes! That is what I want. My last job could have been that way, and I liked it when I was first there, but it changed so much, and not in a good way. :( I’m hoping I find something like that too.

  6. Sonata*

    Thank you, Alison, for your down-to-earth insight. I’ve been an office administrator for decades, and sometimes I get the middle-aged blues, wondering if I coulda/shoulda done more with my life (something that will immortalize me – LOL). Your answer helped me feel better about my career. It hasn’t been impressive, but I’ve really cared about coworkers/clients, and I think my peacemaking efforts have succeeded at times. Thanks again for helping me realize that most people don’t make a big splash in their careers. We simply do our best in our corner of the world, and that’s not bad.

  7. B*

    I love to bake. Will make anything and everything from scratch..cookies, molten cakes, even did a chocolate teapot cake once. Many people said I should work at a bakery or open my own shop. Why don’t I? Because I know my passion and enjoyment for it would die. I do not want to make 100 lemon meringue pies, put in my dues for no pay, be on my feet all day, etc.

    That is my long way of saying, just because you have a passion or hobby you love does not mean you have to turn it into a job.

    1. Esra*

      Seriously, making a wedding cake for close friends is super fun, but the thought of doing it regularly for clients makes me weep.

      I don’t think it occurs to people that the small doses hobbies/part-time passions come in is part of the appeal.

      1. Just Me*

        My husband LOVES taking pictures. He has done weddings and gotten paid. He wants to do more with his camera and make money with it but I can see for years that he just isn’t the business type.
        Making business cards, stating prices, dealing with diffucult people etc. Not that he can’t but is takes away from the fun and aristicness ( sorry I don’t think is a word ? ) from what he simple just likes to do.

        We are still working on making some money at this but we realise the barriers and are working on it and looking at other ways to turn the passion into at least a part time money maker. We know it won’t go into a full time job and that is OK.

    2. EM*

      Yeah, my husband and I love to cook, and I think we’re pretty darn good at it. One of my husband’s friends thinks we should open a restaurant. No way. Running a restaurant sounds miserable. (I am thinking that someday I may want to write a cookbook)

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, as someone else mentioned just because you enjoy doing something for yourself doesn’t mean out enjoy doing it professionally.

        I had a pretty good time okay cleaning my bathroom and folding laundry. I like cleaning my house; it’s cathartic and makes me happy to feel like I’m taking care of my family. I’m a dork that way.

        But hat doesn’t mean I have any interest in doing it for a living.

        Although, EM, I will trade you two beautifully cleaned bathrooms and three loads of linen laundry for one Sunday dinner delivered so I can pretend I cooked it.

        Yes, I’m supposed to cook today and an desperately trying to weasel my way out of it.

      2. The IT Manager*

        THIS is what lots of “start a business” advisors fail to understand! If you like to cook and want to do it for a living become a chef and let someone else manage the restuarant. If you like making beer (like Kat below), don’t open brewery because you end up focusing on the business and not the creative side of brewing.

        And trying to open and run your business is a lot of work! From what I’ve heard it’s these kind of people that end up working much more than 40 hours a week.

        1. Ariancita*

          This is true. When I did freelance, I actually loved the business side of things–all of it: growing new business, courting clients, vendor relations, even the nitty gritty of paperwork/estimates/billing. But I have friends who did create successful businesses, but hated it every step of the way and eventually sold their businesses to get back to just doing creative.

        2. Sara*

          The first thing I think of is HankMed. I know it’s fiction but I think that kind of business model could work very well–one person who taeks care of the “creative” and one who takes care of the business aspect. Although I do know a few people who have turned something they like to do into a successful business (but while I’m happy for their success I wouldn’t like to assume that that happens to everyone), I definitely don’t think it’s as easy as people seem to think it is.

        3. Megan*

          It’s totally true – my mom’s mom and my dad’s dad each owned and ran their own businesses, and my mom once told me that when you own your business, it often feels like the business owns you. Luckily there was no major life unhappiness, but there were lots of long hours and coming in on weekends for many years. It’s tough going.

          1. Sara*

            The funny thing is, my father was exclusively a business owner (he immigrated to this country in the 1980s and did work a traditional job in his country) when he came to the US.

            I may have been born way after the “struggle” period, but I remember we were extremely financially comfortable (mortgage paid off in 10 years, private school education with no financial aid) and he was always just there. I know he worked hard, but, like in my other example, I don’t assume that this is what normally happens. Some say I”m negative, but I think I’m being realistic. For two successful businesses/business owners, I know the statistics of how most businesses fail within the first year.

      3. AnotherAdmin*

        EM – running a restaurant is miserable especially if you don’t want to live it 24/7. I have two professionally trained chefs in my family and neither of them work in restaurants. Both found out pretty quickly that getting to the top of the chef heap is brutal work with no life. They both found other careers and now cook for personal enjoyment.

        My hobbies are all the creative type – baking, needlearts, jewelry making, etc and I’ve been told about a gazillion times that I should turn one of those hobbies into a business because “you could make a fortune!” Hell no. My hobbies are to give me balance and a creative release and I tend to cycle through them depending on my mood. If I want to walk away from a project for a day, a week, a year, I can. I don’t want to be pressured to finish something, then make a bunch more so I can try and sell them when I’d rather just move on to a new project.

    3. Jen*

      Agreed again. I’m so glad someone brought this topic up, as I have the same “issue” LOL.
      I went to art school and loved it… but I have a “real job”. I LIKE my real job. I still make art, but have no desire to be “an artist”. I want to make what I like and is meaningful to me – regardless of weather or not it sells, or is popular. I don’t want the pressure of it needing to earn me money. Sometimes I still struggle with this and feel like a sell-out (art school is rough, people), but I think I’m right. I’m right for me, anyway.

  8. Jamie*

    Alison’s answer to this should be required reading for everyone.

    I think it’s less about your passion and more about finding a great fit. Not everyone has their path clearly marked right from the start.

    Years ago when I was brand new to the working world, I had occasion to be in the IT guys office and he showed me how he remoted into other computers all over the world from behind his bank of monitors.

    I still remember getting a little chill of excitement and I knew I wanted the keys to that. Kind of like when I bought my last car, I test drove quite a few and they were fine. Certainly adequate and in my price range – but nothing special. Then I got behind the wheel of my Mustang and knew that was for me – it just fit. It felt like me. It was the same with IT.

    It is kind of like falling in love when you find it. I’ve had a lot of different facets to my jobsiver the years and some I’ve enjoyed more than others – but the IT stuff was what fit. I am one of those people that other people hate because I do define myself in large part on my job – what I do in who I am in many ways. IT is who I am in a way that the other stuff, as interesting as it is and as much as I enjoy it, isnt.

    My mom was a nurse and that was more a calling for her than a job. It was what she was meant to do and would have done it for free. My path wasn’t as straightforward, but that’s the key.

    And loving what you do absolutely doesn’t preclude having a rough pach at work or even sometimes hating your job. Holy crap, I can love what I do and hate my job at the same time, and do – often. It’s like you don’t stop loving your kids just because you’re mad at them. I can get mad at my job, but still would be lost without it.

    I guess I am lucky to be in the first category – I really do love what I do. But if that ever means I have to stop stressing and complaining I’m in serious trouble. :).

    1. Karl Sakas*

      Jamie, thanks for pointing out that loving what we do doesn’t mean every day is perfect. Loving what I do — running the business side of a web agency — makes the occasional bad day more bearable.

      1. Jamie*

        Right. Truth, I wouldn’t trust anyone wo says they never had a bad patch at work. Like those people who claim to have a perfect marriage…I don’t think there is any such thing as perfect.

        There’s an easy way to evaluate what you love about our job and that’s to imagine a restructure – which parts would you fight to hang onto because “they’re mine.”

        Here are parts of my job hats I’d happily train someone else to do and that would be fine. I don’t hate doing them and they need doing, but I’m not emotionally attached to certain transactional duties.

        Overseeing IT? Heading cost accounting and inventory control? My role as ISO management rep? Those I’d go o the mat to keep…and the loss of any would shake me on a pretty visceral level. But going to a new job, I’d need an IT role and the others would be fine, but if they weren’t part of the deal it wouldn’t affect how I see myself.

        What was that post from ages ago about if you were offered a million dollars, but you had to walk away from your job in any form, could you do it? I loved that discussion.

        And FTR no – a million dollars and I had to work with no IT involvement in any sense – so I’m calling someone else to remap my network drives? Couldn’t do it – nope.

  9. Michael*

    A designer friend of mine had an opportunity to take a programming position. He’s a bit cross-talented and could do it though he enjoys being a designer. All I asked him was “could you see yourself looking forward to going to work over the next year?” He didn’t take the position.

      1. Esra*

        Yea, a lot of us have skills in both disciplines, but it’s not a good idea to break totally from the one you actually enjoy. I’m a designer that can code, but coding full time would make me miserable.

  10. Amouse*

    This made me think of an Ally McBeal quote where Ally’s assistant says to her:
    “What you don’t realize is that not everybody wants to be a lawyer or a professional. I like my job. I like being a secretary. I like that it gives me free time to do other things. To dance. To invent my stupid face bras. And I’m really sorry to disappoint you Ally, but I like my life.”

    Excellent post Alison. Thanks for this.

  11. sam.i.am*

    I had a gratis appointment with a career counselor at my alma mater and, while the overall session was terrible, I did get a good nugget of advice from her: Do What You Are.*

    I love buildings. I can talk for hours about the various facets of design and I’m passionate about historic restoration and contemporary design. And when I go on about this, all my friends are like, “You should be an architect!”

    But I’d be a terrible architect. I can’t draw, I’m terrible at math and I’m not at all detail oriented. I don’t like working independently and I hate being beholden to clients and their crazy whims.

    So I have a job that’s a great fit — I work as part of a team, I focus on long-range planning and goals, my clients come to me because I’m an expert and my field is visual, so I get to execute my design ideas and aesthetic every day. And I live in a really cool converted loft and subject every visitor to its really interesting (to me) history, but no one has to worry that the stairs are going to fall down because of my rounding error.

    *This is also a really terrible career book she recommended, so take the sentiment away, but don’t buy the book.

    1. Karl Sakas*

      “Do What You Are.”

      Yes! I’m lucky that I enjoy doing things that many people might hate to do (e.g., recruiting, accounting, and resource management). Everyone who wants to work for a marketing agency wants to be on the creative side. Not me — I like the business and quantitative side.

      There’s less competition, but more importantly, business operations is closer to who I am. I’d rather let the designers and developers do their thing, while I’m figuring out how to optimize profits and employee morale. And I’m lucky to have found a company that values my doing that.

  12. Kat*

    I want to email this to everyone I know. I cannot tell you how much it seems like I hear this from everyone: parents, friends, well meaning distantly related family members. So many people I know are knee deep in student loans from trying to follow their passion for things like story telling, painting, pottery making (one corollary, I know someone who has actually been successful in that, but her husband comes from a family with money, so she can do this as she pleases without concern for paying for bills), literature. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told that I am a sell out for not pursuing my passion for literature. And people keep asking me when I’ll open my new brewery because I enjoy home brewing. The truth is I know myself. I’d be horrible at owning my own business because I would never give myself a break; I’ve always known that I’d never continue my English major after graduation (although I do still read-a lot. I just like not having to write sometimes ridiculous things about minor details); I enjoy knowing that there is a CEO that is making the tough decisions that I’m happy to not be a part of right now.

    As a sort of recent grad (I’ve been out of college for 4 years), I’ve seen how depressed a lot of people get when they graduate from college where they’ve been told by friends, professors, school administrators, and parents to follow their passion and find that entry level jobs can lack this fulfillment, and they have to work longer than a semester for things to get more challenging. I wish there were more people telling students (and others!) to focus not just on finding happiness in their jobs, but also in the things they do outside of their jobs!

    1. twentymilehike*

      I want to email this to everyone I know. I cannot tell you how much it seems like I hear this from everyone: parents, friends, well meaning distantly related family members.

      Oh, goodness yes!

      I am taking intro business class right now and I was really interested in learning about business and management structures, etc. For the most past, the text book is living up to my expectations, however, the lectures have basically become a weekly seminar on how you can ONLY BE SUCCESSFUL AND RICH IF YOU OWN A BUSINESS YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT *AND* OWN RENTAL PROPERTIES. See, the professor is in property management, house flipping, etc. and little did I know, that this is the ONLY way that you can be successful. He goes as far as to differentiating people who do what he talks about as “eagles” and everyone else is a “pigeon.” You don’t want to be a pigeon now, do you? Okay,. maybe I’m generalizing and simplifying, but this is community college and some people are taking this very, very literally.

      I’m mildly insulted, but he’s fairly entertaining, so the lectures are tolerable.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I can’t tell you how much I love the idea of turning this standard dictate into “do what you love and own rental properties.”

        Or other random things. “Do what you love and have a backyard chicken coop.” “Do what you love and never go to Idaho.” “Do what you love and fast on Sundays.” And then we can all go around insisting that people follow this advice because it’s the only way to happiness.

          1. Ali*

            Oh my gosh, I wish too my mom could see this. I went into school wanting to be a newspaper journalist, but saw where the business was heading (down the tubes, basically) and have been looking into other communications roles. However, those are still pretty competitive, and I’ve re-signed myself to thinking that I may not pursue a living in that field.

            But my mom doesn’t. get. it. Whenever I mention to her that I’m thinking of working in a different area, she goes “but you love to write! That’s what you should do!” I hope she’s OK with me never being able to leave home then and making no more than $10-$11 an hour. I want better pay, but where I live, that’s pretty much all that’s offered. I’m trying to figure out how to use my skills elsewhere, but my mom gets all annoyed when I mention doing anything else but being a writer/communications type.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              For what it’s worth — as a writer type myself — there are so many other fields besides journalism/communications where good writing is a huge asset! So few people can write well, so being a good writer will help in loads of other situations.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I would love to hear what suggestions you have for that, Alison. I’m having to make a career change and all the assessments say “Good writer, creative, attention to detail.” Narrowing it down is the hard part. :P

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Seriously, nearly any job can benefit from good writing. Hell, I picked my house painter because she wrote thoughtful, coherent emails about the first project I did with her! That’s an extreme example, perhaps, but good writing is a benefit in nearly any field. Certainly any professional, white collar field.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  My point (possibly not clear there) is that there are so many ways to use and benefit from good writing than just typical writing jobs. Pretty much all white collar jobs need to write in the course of doing there work, and if you happen to do that part well, you’ll stand out. So don’t feel like you’ll only use your writing skills if you’re … a writer.

                3. Katie*

                  Maybe I’m just being too cynical, and maybe it’s just because this is a bad economy, but I haven’t found my writing skills to give me a lot of leverage when job hunting. I get the impression that employers think anyone can write, or that good writing just isn’t that important to them. And Ali’s right – in the rare event that you do get a writing job, it’s usually for something like 10-11 dollars an hour (and forget benefits). If that’s what that skill is worth to the market, then it’s clearly not seen as very valuable.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No, I’m not talking about job searching — I’m saying it’s useful once you’re on the job. My point is that you don’t need to feel like you won’t be using writing skills if you take a “non-writer” job.

                  (That said, I personally did always find being able to write to be a big advantage in job searching, starting from when I applied for an admin job when I was 21 and ended up being hired as a staff writer instead. That happened because I had a bunch of published articles on my resume, which I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to write professionally.)

                5. Elizabeth West*

                  Thanks, AAM and everyone else. I did put my content job on my resume, and I do have my blogs on as well. I like to emphasize my writing skills whenever I can.

                  I’m trying to find something else to do besides admin work, but I’ll have to go back to school. *sigh* I can’t do the accounting everyone’s wanting so I’m kind of screwed, since jobs are being consolidated now. I’m working with Vocational Rehabilitation, but they’re asking me what I want and I really don’t know. No one’s paying me to write novels LOL. Not yet, anyway. ;)

                6. Katie*

                  Do you have any guidelines for listing publications on your resume? I’ve written for a few blogs, but I was always reluctant to list my work, as it was sporadic and unpaid. What kind of publications count?

                7. Christina*

                  Alison, you mention that it’s great to have published articles on a resume for someone who wants to be a writer but a) what if you write for an organization where the policy is “no bylines” when you write several newsletters and articles and b) where do you start getting published? E-mailing publications and just pitching ideas and hoping they like them?

                8. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Katie: In general, print publications or “big name” publications are going to be the most impressive, but if what you have is blogs, list them! It still counts. Doesn’t matter that it was unpaid.

                  Christina: Yeah, if it’s that kind of thing, you can’t really list it the same way, but you can certainly note that you wrote newsletter articles, positions papers, or whatever.

                  I don’t have great advice on getting published because I actually did it by ignoring all the normal advice. When I was 16, I started periodically writing articles and just sending them to my hometown newspaper, which fortuitously happened to be the Washington Post, and they published them. I later learned that you’re supposed to query first, but I’m not convinced — I don’t think most editors will take a pitch from someone without a bunch of bylines to their name already. I always just wrote the article and sent it in, and they happened to take them. Totally contrary to the official how-to-get-published advice that you’ll find everywhere else.

              2. fposte*

                That’s another downside to the “Do what you love” advice–it generally comes when you have very little idea what jobs would involve your doing it–often when you’re new to the career world you think that people who enjoy doing X go into X-ing, and that’s the only place you can do X. I knew I wanted to write, for instance, but I didn’t really know about options aside from novelist (not really a great financial plan) or journalist, and there is, as you note, a whole world of jobs that don’t have “writing” in the name that involve writing.

                1. Rana*

                  That is an excellent point. The second-hardest part about changing careers was trying to figure out what other contexts might be able to use my skills and talents. I’ve sort of stumbled into an acceptable alternative now, but, really, it was the source of several years of angst.

                  The first-hardest part? Realizing that the things that I am really good at, and loved doing, are things that no one wants hire people full-time for. Hence the freelancing; what people won’t hire an employee for, they often will pay for a project’s worth.

                  Which is one reason I’m finding this conversation both interesting and mildly “triggering.” I know what kind of work I would love. And I know how good I am at it. And I know that there are jobs in it. But they are very, very few. And now, after so many years chasing after them, I’m no longer competitive.

                  I like a lot of what I’m doing now. But thinking about what might have been makes me sad.

                2. Rana*

                  Which reminds me of another point… if you ever ask someone about what they do for a living, and they seem uninterested in talking about it in any great detail? Don’t press. Just don’t.

              3. ChristineH*

                Alison – That’s good to know because everyone always tells me how good my writing is, but have never found a way to highlight this area since I’d originally had planned on going into traditional social work. Oh sure I could write a blog (even my brother thinks I should do this), but I can’t bring myself to put myself out there. I did write a couple of articles for my local professional association, though.

                1. Lori*

                  If it helps anyone in this string, I just recently got a job at my company in marketing, and I’m getting paid a decent wage to write, edit, and coordinate to my heart’s content. And I should add that my degrees are in Psychology and German (MA).
                  I started out in an admin job in Finance. Then took a year off to have a kid (we can do that in Canada). Then went back to another admin job. During that job, I decided it was going to be my last admin job and started hunting around the company for writers. I sat down with them to see what they did, asked them questions, etc. About four months later, a job description was circulating via email. Someone I had networked with emailed it to me. I got the job before it had even made it to the internal job board. But part of the reason I had gotten it was because I spent the 11 months in the last admin job focusing very much on improving my writing. (If this post sounds a bit runny-onny, it’s because I’m not editing it :) ). It’s not my 100% dream job, but it’s at least my 85% dream job. I’m happy with that.

            2. Sam.i.am*

              As former newspaper reporter, my advice is to focus on the other stuff. Just because you’re a writer/creative type doesn’t mean you need to do that professionally and/or in print media. If writing is important to you, get a journal or start a blog and focus on your other skills and interests to figure out the professional thing.

              Also, I wish I had focused less on “I love to write” when I was choosing my first career because, while I do love writing, I HATED being a journalist. I am not an impartial, dispassionate person. Also, if you love writing, communication/PR jobs may not be for you, because while there is writing, it’s not all that “creative.”

      2. Kat*

        Ha! That’s hilarious. I’ve always said that if I ever win the lottery, I’d use part of the money to buy vacation homes in places I’d like to visit then rent them out when I’m not stay there. But I mean, I’m decently sure it’s cool to not own rental properties and be successful. I definitely feel like life without rental properties is less stressful at least.

      3. EM*

        This type of advice is so annoying. Not everyone wants to be a landlord. It’s a PITA. I actually have the opportunity to (eventually) inherit some rental property, but the family consensus is that it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

        1. Twentymilehike*

          That’s what I think! And I know others who say the same. I really do rather enjoy a simpler life and I wish everyone else was more okay with that. Someways I wonder if I’ll ever own a home since I’m getting close to too old to pay off a mortgage before I retire. Or if it will even be worth it …

  13. Another Emily*

    I had this roommate one time who was really cool. She didn’t know what she wanted to do for a living, but she did know she loved mountain biking. So she got a great job (totally unrelated to mountain biking but the pay was good) in a location with great mountain biking and pursued what she really loved every weekend. I think she was pretty happy with the situation.

    I chose my industry based on “do what you love”. My actual job has almost nothing to do with what I love but I really like my job. So I wasn’t wrong to choose the industry even though the “do what you love” advice is overly simplistic. Maybe the advice should be if you don’t like your job, try to get a different job.

    Your ambitions in life sound totally reasonable and that they’ll lead to your own personal happinness so don’t feel that you have to take advice from people with totally different ambitions than you.

  14. ChristineH*

    Alison – Thank you for this very humbling post. As I explained above in my reply to Danni, don’t pursue a career or advanced degree just because you have a “passion”; you may be very interested and knowledgeable in a certain hobby, issue, topic, whatever…but as Jamie so wisely said above, it also has to be the right fit: skills, personality traits, etc.

    That said, I do think it can be done, but Alison is right…it is a very lucky few who can perfectly connect a true passion with a career.

    Plus, it’s absolutely okay–and encouraged–to have a hobby or interest that you’re passionate about outside of your career. I’m a passionate (read: borderline obsessed :P ) with a particular current singer; yet, I have no interest in actually having a career in the music/entertainment industry or working on a similar artist’s management team. I’d probably go insane if I did!

  15. Navan*

    I agree with Alison’s statement about finding what you live kind of sneaking up on you. I started out on a totally different path to where I am now and you couldn’t pay my younger self to believe it.

    I’m a lucky one who is able to do what I love. I work with kids with special needs one on one- and I adore it. I have so much fun at work, I feel so accomplished at the end of the day (most days), and I’m never watching the clock. However- this backfired sometimes. I get frustrated when the progress I projected isn’t being made. I care SO much about the kids I work with that I’ll often bring home work I shouldn’t. My life and my work are very intertwined so I can never really get away from work. And I make way less money than I could potentially be making with my skill set and education- simply because I love what I do so much. There are drawbacks to everything.

    I admire those who can do things they’re not totally passionate about- they make it possible for all the other stuff to get done. I highly doubt my cleaning lady is passionate about my dirty toilet- but I genuinely appreciate that she shows up and cleans it every week. If you find a job that you’re excited about going to- that IS doing what you love.

  16. Geo*

    I found this site about a month ago, and now I’ve got a chance to comment!

    Blech, do what you love. Good advice (I always did better in classes that I enjoyed, for example), but typically not practical. Also, kind of cliche.

    But back on topic. Believe it or not, I found out what I wanted to do through a set of online aptitude tests. They all pointed me toward publishing, writing, and journalism, so I took an introduction to journalism class in college and loved it — especially copy editing.

    So, hey, when in doubt, take a few aptitude tests.

    After I graduated with a B.A., I started my search to be a copy editor either for a paper or online.

    That’s … kind of where the wheels started to fall off. Turns out that papers usually cut into the copy editing staff when things get rough. And things have been rough since people realized that they can get news online for free rather than pay for a paper. Meanwhile, copy editors for the web are pretty rare in general, whether for media outlets or private firms.

    So, I switched gears and became a reporter for a rural county paper, which I thought I would hate, but I ended up loving. Meeting new people, covering town events, writing feature stories, they were all great. Heck, I’m not even a very outgoing guy, and I still liked all of that.

    At first.

    The hours are very flexible, and I get my health insurance through work, and … that’s about it as far as pluses go.

    Meanwhile, the owner of the paper is demeaning, overly demanding, and doesn’t seem to understand how the paper works despite having worked in the industry his entire life. We’re also using techniques to publish the paper that were obsolete about 15 years ago, and we have to use half-busted computers to get our work done.

    Office morale is always terrible, and that’s when he’s not on tirades threatening to cut pay, cancel benefits or some other such nonsense. Of course, he never follows up on anything, so I think he just gets off on the power.

    And while I was thrilled just to get a paycheck (and a raise six months later) while using my degree, two years later, that’s worn off. My paycheck is too small to let me move out of my mom’s house, so I’m still at home.

    I love my work, but I hate my job.

    (If it’s any indication, I found AAM because I wanted advice on writing a cover letter and tweaking my resume.)

    My advice? Find a field of work you at least somewhat enjoy that allows you some mobility. Journalism opens doors to marketing and public relations, for example. And computer science let’s you consider more options than I can count, though, like journalism, there’s a bit of specialization involved.

  17. Carl*

    I understand most people feel good about their job, but they kid themselves long enough they can’t tell the difference. Others are happy to serve under someone, while most find it outright miserable (like myself). It can also come from the people you work with. I used to be “passionate” about developing software, and websites, until previous employers began stripping away my dignity by talking down to me, controlling the hell out of my work, and outright making me feel like I’m a worthless P.O.S. In short, I don’t like working for most people in the traditional sense. Yeah, I know some of you reading this might say, “I’ll never work with him! He has a bad attitude!” Well, that’s probably because you’ve been convinced a good attitude is to be a good, obedient worker. Not me, just doesn’t sit well anymore. I tried that for sixteen years, and it hasn’t panned out. No friends, hardly a family, little money, no property, or anything of the sort… one hell of an education, though.

    So, my passion for life was stripped away by an employer. But how does one remain passionate about their work? Do something you love is good advice; sorry, I disagree here with Alison. Now, I’m not saying everyone has to get into adult entertainment, as I’m sure most people love doing that. What I am saying is work with something related to what you love. The OP says they love cooking and socializing… ever give catering a shot? You get to do that, and there are always weddings and parties around. You can even do low-budget catering; some of the greatest people I know live on crappy budgets.

    1. twentymilehike*

      What I am saying is work with something related to what you love.

      That is much better advice than “do what you love!” I never thought I would “love” administrative work, but I work in the motorcycle industry and my life basically revolves around motorcycles, and THAT Is what makes it work. If I did the same thing I did, but for like a furniture company, I’d probably be a lot less satisfied with my job. The only thing I really love about sofas is that I get to sit on one when I watch TV.

    2. Sara*

      “I think liking what you do is important to your overall happiness, but loving it, not so much. It’s been rare in my work life for me to be miserable at a job because of the job tasks (what I did). The miserable, stressful, frustrating times are because of people or the culture. I like my current job but there was a period of time two years ago when I became very unhappy – a new person came in to run a dept that my dept worked with closely and the new person was a nightmare. It caused a significant change in my level of job satisfaction and I likely would have left if the new person hadn’t done so about a year after he started. In that case, say I was doing something I *loved* — my passion for what I did wouldn’t have changed the situation of having an impossible colleague.

      As to having a job you love meaning you never get sick of it….the only thing I can do for hour and hours and not get sick of is watch Law & Order re-runs and so far I haven’t figured out a way to get paid for that. Well, that and playing with kittens, also yet to figure out how to turn that into a money-maker.”

      YES. That is so true–it’s not so much the tasks and nature (and if it is….perhaps a career change is in order?), it’s the people that can amke it miserable. And those were the hiccups at my last job. But otherwise I enjoyed my job. I fell into that field by accident (started as a volunteer because I was bored/needed something to do) and found out I liked it….so I looked for related jobs…..However, my options are limited, so I want to get a degree in that field so I can work year-round; I’m pretty sure that this is what I want to do (at least commit to this field for the next decade or so). And what made me happy was, as Alison said, the sense of accomplishment, autonomy, decision making etc.

    3. Sara*

      Carl, I’m sorry that your passion has been stripped away. Alot of what you said are really the fears that have made me scared about working life…trust me I’v ehad my shares of ups and downs.

      However, I think I made it clear in my letter to Alison that I have no interest in starting a business cooking or socializing or anything of the sort. Like most have posted here, I too consider myself competent in the kitchen, it soothes me, I like browsing and trying new recipes and i love when people praise my cooking, but I also mess up sometimes–having one harsh critic is enough, I couldn’t handle screwing up a dish and ruining my business.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Talking about “authority” as something inherently objectionable doesn’t make a lot of sense. Certainly some people in positions of authority abuse it or handle it poorly, but authority itself isn’t the issue. In general, authority tends to be necessary to run most enterprises, other than the most unusual.

  18. Anon*

    Long time listener, first time caller.

    Great post. I’ve heard this “do what you love” advice almost continuously over the past 18 months or so. I’ve long thought it was awful advice, and I’m glad to hear that at least one other person out there has a similar point of view.

  19. Monica1*

    I’m going to say, find a way to connect your passion to whatever work you’re doing. Also, be sure the position will allow you to showcase your strengths. I’ll give you my example. I love sports and politics. My bachelor’s is in poli sci, and masters in community development. I had a hard time for a few years oit of college, but found my niche managing fitness centers for a national chain. I incorporated my academic strengths by developing a community of staff, and likened myself to a ‘mayor of the gym’ as I checked in with members. Now I do research at the corp. headquarters– entirely playing into my academic strengths. I absolutely believe I made my own fate by turning elements ofeach position into outlets for mypassions and strengths. I encourage you to do the same!

  20. Anonymous*

    I’ve learned to do quite a few different types of work over my 10 year professional career and have formal education in three different areas as well. This is probably not uncommon for most people in my age group.

    While I certainly have types of work that I prefer, I have noticed that this is less important to me in terms of my general happiness with a job. What I am finding is that factors like work culture and general treatment by an employer are, in some ways, significantly more important to me than performing only the tasks I truly enjoy. I think this has forced me to be more flexible in terms of what jobs I am willing to take and this is a good thing. There are some tasks I truly despise, but as long as that is not the primary focus of a position, I am now generally more concerned with how I will be treated at an organization and what my day-to-day reality will be like at that organization.

    It reminds me of that saying about teachers: “A great teacher can make the most boring topic fascinating (or at least tolerable, but a horrible teacher can make the most fascinating topic absolutely terrible.” To me a great workplace, can make the most mundane tasks bearable, but no amount of great tasks can make up for a toxic workplace.

    1. katinphilly*

      “To me a great workplace, can make the most mundane tasks bearable, but no amount of great tasks can make up for a toxic workplace.”

      +A million

      I had to leave a job that I felt “passionate” about and excelled in, because a new director came in and bullied me right out of it.

      Actually, I have been very fortunate to work at jobs with missions AND tasks that I felt passionate about. But a 100 times yes about this being very bad advice to job seekers. In spite of my good fortune, the trade-offs have been immense – low pay, craptastic benefits (if any at all), irregular and long hours, dealing with non-profit founderitis and the dysfunction that runs rampant in a lot of non-profits, temporary lay-offs because grants didn’t come through on time or at all, etc.

      So people should be very, very wary of this advice. It will not be all puppies and rainbows, even if you do wind up one of those lucky few who love and feel passionate about their jobs.

  21. Meaghan*

    Yes! This is becoming such an annoying meme.

    Notwithstanding the overjustification effect of diminished enjoyment of a hobby once it becomes remunerated, there are just some things that don’t translate from activity to job. For example, I love cooking – I get excited about recipes, I read cookbooks for fun, I bake to relieve stress. A lot of friends tell me that I should become a cook or open a bakery. But it took one conversation with a cook to blacklist that idea – 80+hours a week, high-stress environment, etc etc… no thanks! I’ll stick to being passionate about cooking at home.

  22. Snow*

    I think key here is: Be realistic about your skills and whether you can make a living out of your passion. Do what you love – if you’re really great at it and know 100 percent you can excel.

    I’m extremely lucky that I’ve always been able to do what I love. Sure, my job is not 100 percent pure bliss, but it’s my dream job and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. (I’m a journalist.)

  23. Aja*

    ” I want a 9-5 job at a reasonably functional company that pays a good wage, so I can indulge in what I like after-hours”

    Well, look at you, being all reasonable and stuff :) seriously, I think that makes so much sense. The fact that you already know this about yourself — that you will be working to live, not living to work — is a huge realization. I think everyone needing to”do what you love” as it relates to work is, in a word, bullshit. Sure, it’s an ideal situation and who wouldn’t want it? But it’s incredibly difficult to acheive and a far more likely and acheivable goal is to find a good balance between what you like to do, what you are good at, and what you can make money doing. I won’t even get into what elitist nonsense it is, this concet of not only needing to make money but also making sure you’re PASSIONATE about what someone will pay you to do. If everyone in the world only did what they were passionate about society would come to a grinding halt tomorrow. Most people in the world work to makie money to support and care for themsleves and the people they love.

    I think liking what you do is important to your overall happiness, but loving it, not so much. It’s been rare in my work life for me to be miserable at a job because of the job tasks (what I did). The miserable, stressful, frustrating times are because of people or the culture. I like my current job but there was a period of time two years ago when I became very unhappy – a new person came in to run a dept that my dept worked with closely and the new person was a nightmare. It caused a significant change in my level of job satisfaction and I likely would have left if the new person hadn’t done so about a year after he started. In that case, say I was doing something I *loved* — my passion for what I did wouldn’t have changed the situation of having an impossible colleague.

    As to having a job you love meaning you never get sick of it….the only thing I can do for hour and hours and not get sick of is watch Law & Order re-runs and so far I haven’t figured out a way to get paid for that. Well, that and playing with kittens, also yet to figure out how to turn that into a money-maker.

  24. NewReader*

    I think the do what you love advice came along to encourage the discouraged people. I know plenty of people who have nothing positive to say about their work place. The do what you love advice offers a reprieve from all that.

    I would be more inclined to think of going with where your natural interests and talents* are. I cannot picture anyone remaining passionate about their work- for reasons other posters have mentioned. The newness wears off and we get to see the actual dynamics of the industry or the particular biz.
    But if you are good at what you do and you know you make a contribution- I think that is the ultimate.
    I read a definition of love recently: Love is a commitment not an emotion. Do you feel a sense of commitment to an employer/ a given field/etc? I mean a positive sense of commitment, not a ball and chain sense of commitment.

    I believe we have more than one natural talent or interest. So if a person does not want to bake or brew for a living they could cross those things off the list and check out other usable talents or interests. Nothing wrong with that.

    1. CatB (Europe)*

      So if a person does not want to bake or brew for a living they could cross those things off the list and check out other usable talents or interests

      Yes. And also they can merge two or more interests / talents in a way that is different from all. One of the top-ranking bloggers down here is an ex-journalist with a passion for cooking. He doesn’t cook for a living; he blogs about food and makes cooking demonstrations. He got involved in a program for better cooking in kindergardens in his city. All in all, he’s earning a good living and he’s happy doing what he loves without having to sweat over a stove all day every day. “Do what you love” is, for many, a great advice – as long as you don’t take it literally or rush things.

      1. EAC*

        I’m like your friend, I love to cook, but there was no way I could see myself working in a commercial kitchen. I work for a specialty food broker and on the side, I handle the social media for a few small food manufacturers. I just chose a job that was related to my passion and it has been working out pretty well for me. But this was after 20 years of working in a field that bored me to tears.

      2. NewReader*

        Cat B this is a topic that fascinates me-
        “And also they can merge two or more interests / talents in a way that is different from all. ”

        I love to hear people tell their stories of their journey. To me some of the transitions seem like a leap in logic that is as huge as the Grand Canyon. But somehow the person has made that leap.

        A family member used his hobbies on interviews to help the interviewer understand the diverse ways he was able to apply his knowledge of electricity and mechanics. When the interviewer heard that fam member did X, Y and Z the interviewer instantly grasped “Okay, this guy not only has a working pool of knowledge, he keeps his knowledge up-to-date(relevant) and he is able to apply it to a wide range of areas.”

        In first interview, family member transitioned himself from a desk job (soul sucking) to a tech job (his reason for living). Years later he made another job change. With this second job he was not so reliant on his hobbies to illustrate his abilities BUT the hobbies helped to demonstrate his personal interest and passion for techie stuff. He had relevant work experience in the field to talk about. The work was not in the same areas as his hobbies- but there was lots of transferable learning.

  25. JM in England*

    Alison’s answer has hit the nail right on the head.

    I wanted to work in my chosen field since being a small child and that’s what motivated me to take a degree in the relevant subject, which then opened doors into the industry. So you could regard me as fortunate in that respect. However, I agree with all of the posters who say that the work environment makes all of the difference.

    I’ve had jobs where the work was interesting but the toxic culture tarnished its enjoyment (in fact, a performance review at one such place said that I wasn’t “passionate enough”) and also the flipside where a great culture (including fabulous co-workers that I really clicked with) made what were quite mundane duties more bearable.

  26. John Quincy Adding Machine*

    I have a cousin who’s very into fashion and sewing. She makes the occasional wedding/bridesmaid dress for friends, and they’re lovely. People keep telling her to set up a website, make business cards, all that jazz, but she’d rather do her day job (nannying) and make dresses when she feels like it for fun or a bit of extra cash. I had a hard time understanding where she was coming from for a while, because I’m someone who wanted to follow a particular career path since I was little, went to university for it, and got out and have realized, slowly and painfully over the last few years, that it’s not going to happen. So now I’m trying to follow my cousin’s lead, and find a job that doesn’t make me miserable so that I can go scuba diving and whatever else on my days off.

    As an aside, I’m a cook now, and I would never, ever advise any people who love cooking at home for friends and family to attempt to do it professionally. Don’t do it! Terrible pay, long hours, no social life, and it’s an awful, hot, sweaty, burn-y, dirty, loud, rude work environment that rewards ball-breaking effort on a Saturday night with… a pint of flat beer at the end of the night if you’ve done a satisfactory job cleaning the grease traps.

  27. BL*

    In college I remember freaking out over the super specific senior design projects we were presented with and how passionate the other students seemed about them. I talked to my mentor and supervisor at my internship. He asked if I liked my job, I absolutely did. He asked if I was passionate about making printers, ummm not so much. We then talked about what I liked about the job. He said he enjoyed his job for many of the same reasons…he was treated with respect, had great coworkers, somewhat interesting problems to solve, it paid decently, and it didn’t consume his life. When I graduated, I didn’t have a specific field I wanted to go into but I knew what I didn’t want in a job or company culture. I am now in the second post college job and I have been thrilled with both of them. Thankfully, I knew to ask about these things and was able to turn down jobs that didn’t match what I wanted.

  28. nyxalinth*

    There’s many things I love (writing, making jewelry, animals, computer games) that for the most part don’t lend themselves well to a career (I’m not at all the entrepreneurial sort, I’d cry when animals have to be put to sleep/go ballistic on purposely neglectful or abusive owners, computer gaming industry is way, WAY hard to get into, and I’ve done freelance writing/crowdsourcing for two years while trying to find a brick and mortar job that wouldn’t get outsourced out from under me and I just don’t make enough to get by) so I’m one of those people who has to take traditional employment to support what they love doing and themselves.

    For the most part, that’s been working in call centers which for me range from “Annoying but tolerable” to soul-sucking. I enjoy helping people, but getting crap flung at me from higher-ups and customers both is way too stressful for me. So for me it isn’t even a matter of “Do what you love’ it’s “Find something that doesn’t murder my spirit and fling it into a ditch.”

    Right now? I’m doing inbound sales part time. Not really my thing, and while I can’t find any concrete proof online or anywhere else, I suspect it’s super-dodgy, if not outright a scam. I hope I’m wrong about that.

  29. Katie*

    Do what you love is great advice – Do what you love for pay might not be quite as great. Just because you can’t realize your passions professionally doesn’t mean you should give up on them. So what if the world can’t support that many ballerinas? It doesn’t mean we should stop dancing.

  30. darchole*

    On a separate but related track, I wish people in general would value what I do. I don’t need to get paid lots of money, but just a realization that what I do is helfpful to society as a whole. I’m in research, and it slightly annoying when people say that what I do isn’t worthwhile, and I should be working on something else. I’m working to cure disease, and even if that disease doesn’t effect the US, d*mn it, it is important.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it helps, you’re not alone. Whenever you’re working to make the world a better place in some way, you often get people who think you should pick a different issue — even though they themselves aren’t doing much to help the world at all. I mean, I bet the people telling you that your work isn’t worthwhile aren’t all solving world hunger, right?

      When I worked on animal protection issues, I used to hear “why aren’t you spending your time helping people?” Of course, no one ever asks this of, say, a pro football player or a public relations person or a bank teller.

      1. Aja*

        UGH, AAM, my pet peeve, no pun. I volunteer my time for animals and you’re absolutely right that people make judgements about that. In general, these judgements are from people who do not voluneer their time for anything.

      2. Heather*

        I think if someone asked me that, I’d tell them it’s because I never met an animal who was an ungrateful a-hole ;) And it’s true!

        1. KellyK*

          I like your answer! I do animal-related volunteering too (dog rescue and advocacy), and although I’ve never had anyone directly say to *me* “You should be helping people,” there are definitely overtones of it whenever people try to get a law changed or criticize a celebrity for saying something patently horrible related to animal issues. (Never mind that laws regarding pet ownership *are* people issues. Who do they think owns all these pets?)

          1. Jamie*

            I’m pretty sure my pets own me, and not the other way around.

            I’m with both of you. I’ve never met an animal I didn’t love…definitely can’t say the same about people.

            Besides, the animals can’t speak for themselves. Until they get the right to vote, or the ability to raise funds on their own behalf they need a little assistance from their friends with opposable thumbs and credit cards.

    2. Jen*

      I hear you. My husband helps people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, PTSD etc. get jobs. His brother came over for coffee and started this big debate over weather or not mental illness exists! Holy moly. (His brother teaches ESL part time, and has gone back to finish his bachelor’s in math.) His other brother makes tactless cracks about “retards” etc.

      We also took some time to work on organic farms – talk passionately about health, ecology, community, food access etc. and geeeeeez. We just quit talking about it entirely -even when asked- because so many people were defensive and argumentative about it before finally dismissing everything you say because you’re a “hippie”. Ugh. You’re definitely NOT ALONE. I also don’t talk about photography any more (I majored in it) – everyone’s a photographer, and no one wants anything but to be told how good they are…

      And BTW – thank you for researching the disease – double thanks since it doesn’t effect the US =) =)

    3. Xay*

      I completely understand. I’m in public health and had the dual stigma of being a state employee and working in a disease area that primarily impacts intravenous drug users so I got used to being told that a) I was just sucking on the taxpayer teat and b) why would I want to help “those” people. I love public health because preventing the spread of disease is important not matter who the most affected group of people is.

      1. Ariancita*

        Wow, lots of responses on this and I’m really really surprised. I also work in research, at the intersection of social justice and disease (not public health/epidemiology, but related), and I’ve never encountered this sentiment. I did, however, encounter it when I worked in design and print media. Lots of people liked to tell me I was wasting my talents on something so meaningless that had nothing to offer society. But I’ve never seen that in nonprofit work, animal rights work (which I have volunteered quite a bit in the past), and such. Such a shame.

      2. Emma*

        I also work in public health, dealing with communicable diseases and disenfranchised groups, and am a government employee. I feel your pain about how we’re overpaid chumps who do nothing all day (I dunno, I think preventing the introduction and spread of infectious diseases among people is pretty frackin’ important!). While I’m not passionate about my job, I pursued the field because of how practical and action-oriented it is. That’s good enough for me! There are aspects of my work that I really enjoy and of course there are bits that bore me to tears, frustrate me, etc..but overall, it’s a field that lets me help people and work with my strengths without consuming my life.

  31. Just Me*

    The other side of this is topic… are you really GOOD at what your passion is?
    How many of us have gone to a party, BBQ, potluck and Wilma says she makes great meatloaf or cookies or cheese dip and when you taste it you are like… really? OK that is your preference but when it lays there barely been touched something is up. And has happened serveral times? Lets say she wants to cater now? And asks you for your opinion. What now?

    I have a friend that loves communication . She has majored in it, got a masters, wants to teach it, teach other stuff. I have worked with her and I would not recommend her at all. She talks too big and ” talks ” the philosophy of what she has learned but never quite gets to the point of the particular subject or issue.

    We were talking about an issue at work once and by the time she was done with her take on it, I looked at her and said.. ” so bottom line is the whole order was messed up because dept A didn’t E-mail dept B about a delivery date “. Yep.. that was the issue.

    People have to be realistic about what they like to do and decide will it actually transform into a job or something that people will buy into. Adn be ready to take any negitive feedback.

    Just food for thought…..

  32. littlemoose*

    Alison’s advice was spot-on, as usual. The difference between a hobby and a career or a small business is vast. Far more important is finding a good fit, both with your work tasks and your work environment. I do love my job, both because I like the work and because the work-life balance/perks are nice. As many others said, I will still have frustrating or bad days at work, even though I love my job. No job is a bed of roses. Fit is so important, whether the field is related to your passions or not. And sometimes, especially in a crappy job market, having a job that meets your financial needs and lets you pursue your hobbies is really a good situation to be in. Best of luck to you, OP.

  33. Anonymous*

    My passion is to have a stable, well paying job that I don hate. I want to come home after that, kick back, make some dinner, and hang out with my family.
    Some people might think that’s boring, but with this whole ” Facebook/ look at me generation,” I think a lot of people have lost sight of what normal is.
    I’m at the point where I have a good job that pays me well and in a few more months I’ll be on the road to financial stability ie not living paycheck to paycheck. I do what the heck I want after work and that’swhy passion and that’s good enough for me.

    1. Just Me*

      + 1
      I am trying to get to that point now. I just want work, know that I will have the normal ups and downs at a job, go home and not stress about it.

      1. Anonymous*

        exactly. everyone’s so “i love my job because its so unique where i get to combine rockclimbing with physics. then i go home and can my own organic vegetables. plus i posted it on facebook.”
        honestly, can we all just admit most of us go to work, sit around for 8 hours a day, go home and watch american idol while drinking cheap box wine? im so sick of all the special snowflake business these days. and im 25, not a crotchety old man beaten down by time.
        (shakes fist and yells at kids to get off my lawn)

        1. Jamie*

          “honestly, can we all just admit most of us go to work, sit around for 8 hours a day, go home and watch american idol while drinking cheap box wine?”

          If that is what makes you happy, that’s fine – but that’s definitely not how everyone approaches their jobs and life.

          1. Anonymous*

            I’m just saying. It’s okay to be “normal” in response to the original post. You’re not lazy if you go to work and go home, if you don’t feel “PASSION” or “LOVE WHAT YOU DO!”

            1. Jamie*

              I absolutely agree. As long as you do a good job while you’re at work, that’s all that matters.

              I just think it’s easy for people to project how they feel onto others at large instead of allowing for the fact that for some people work will be a huge part of their lives and not leave room for hobbies or a social life and for others work is a means to an end – a way to earn money to do other things you enjoy.

              They are both totally acceptable ways to live – but neither is right for everyone. I’d be willing to bet that even amongst readers here there are people on every point of that spectrum.

  34. GeekChic*

    I very much agree with AAM’s advice. I’d also like to point out another danger of the “do what you love” advice – what happens when you can no longer do it anymore for reasons outside of your control?

    I’ve had several careers over the course of my life and have been extremely fortunate that two were of the “what I love” variety: soldiering and music. I was employed in both separately for several years. Unfortunately for me, illness and injury shelved both careers – to the extent that I can no longer play music as a hobby (soldiering is not exactly hobby material…).

    It took quite some time for me to recover mentally from the loss of my calling. I’ve seen the same thing play out with a number of friends who are professional athletes and I know that most pro leagues now have “life after baseball/football/basketball/etc.” courses.

    “Do what you love” is great if you are wired that way, can make it work and can keep it up in the face of outside factors. “Do what doesn’t drive you crazy” is more practical and realistic over the long term. Good luck to you OP.

    1. Rana*

      Yes. Yes yes yes.

      As I noted above, for a brief moment I had this perfect combination of interest, work environment, and talent. I was good at what I did, it inspired me and kept me working at odd hours because I was so engaged with it, and my colleagues thought I hung the moon, and my friends and family honored what I did… and then there were no jobs, unless you were both talented and lucky. I wasn’t lucky.

      I’m mostly recovered from that trauma, but odd things will sometimes pop up to remind me of what I lost, and then I’m right back there in the sadness and the anger. *sigh*

      1. GeekChic*

        Rana: My condolences on your loss. It may sound like an odd phrase but it is a loss – and one that is worth grieving.

        I was fortunate that when I left the military I had counseling services available to me to help me transition to the civilian world that my regimental commander insisted I use. It was very helpful then and I was able to call on what I learned when I lost my music career.

        Nonetheless, I too still get twinges every so often when I think of what might have been.

  35. Sara*

    I’m the OP by the way (I was the one who mentioned Hank Med!).

    I’m so pleased to see that so many people are in agreement here…..there’s nothing here that I haven’t thought of before, but I was just afraid that I’d be seen as making excuses or being, like I sadi in my letter, un-ambitious or a loser…I wrote to Alison b/c lately I’ve had several conversations with various people and they are completely in favor of going into business. Nothing wrong wtih that, but like most have said, that doesn’t mean I want to do it as a business. I definitely don’t judge those who go into business for themselves (rather I admire them but not in the “I want to be like you” kind of way), and I wish I wouldn’t have to give justifications and have my answers judged negatively for wanting to do 9-5.

    1. NewReader*

      Those people who are completely in favor of going into business… uhhh… are they in business, now, themselves?? Why do I get the idea that some of them probably are not? Or not able to let go of their jobs “just yet”?

      I hope everyone who works at the company I buy power from does not decide to all quit and go into their own separate businesses. That would leave no one left to run the company. I would end up with no power. This is a problem.

      There is always someone who has to let us know that we could be doing something else. If you went into business someone would have to rush up to you and ask, “What will you do if your business fails? Will you get a real job?”

      1. Sara*

        Yeah….some of them are in business actually….now that I think about it, majority of the people I’m surrounded by are the type who aren’t into working 9-5 corporate jobs.

      2. Sara*

        “There is always someone who has to let us know that we could be doing something else.”

        totally agree with this, and I thikn it transcends into almost every area of life, not just with regards to making a living.

        1. Sandrine*

          I almost went into “business” for myself as a freelance translator, as I LOVE English and as far as I can tell, I speak it rather well.

          In France there is a status for that, and I got it and even though I had everything I needed, all of a sudden I knew I couldn’t do it because I have nowhere near the organisational skills my translator friend has. Helping her out every now and then while I was out of work was ok (she saved my broke behind) but actually setting the whole thing up myself… naah.

          I think some people see businesses as big money makers and don’t realize everything you have to do to “make it” in any way, shape or form.

  36. Elizabeth West*

    Starting a business takes a very specific type of person, and not everyone is cut out for it. (And it annoys the crap out of me when people suggest it as a cure-all for anyone who can’t find a job or who’s unhappy in their current one.)

    Gah! I can’t stand this either! If I wanted to do this, or could do all the financials, I would have done it already. What would be perfect for me is to do something I like doing, and have someone else worry about that part of it.

    What other posters said about deciding you like your job is a lot easier if you find an employer who not only expects you to do well, but wants you to. By that I mean a company that values its employees and treats them like adult people, not like a third grade classroom that might erupt into chaos at any moment.

    If you’re not doing what you love, maybe find tasks you do enjoy at work and take those on.

    1. Vicki*

      > By that I mean a company that values its employees and treats them like adult people, not like a third grade classroom that might erupt into chaos at any moment.


    2. Kelly O*

      I totally agree with this.

      I cannot tell you how many people have said “well just become a virtual assistant” or “just start your own personal assistant business.” Okay, are you going to file my taxes, find my insurance company, handle my childcare, and keep my apartment from looking like a pigsty while I make all those awesome clients appear from thin air?

      And totally agreed with the way your employer treats you contributing greatly to your feeling of fulfillment at work, or lack thereof. There is really little more damaging to your self-worth than to feel like you’re in third grade again, constantly fearing the next time the ruler smacks across the back of your hand.

      1. Ariancita*

        Heh, I actually did this as a favor for a few creative colleagues of mine (not the household stuff): helped them establish their business, get started on the financial aspects, develop new business leads, introduce them to great vendors and potential clients, helped with setting up the paperwork and insurance and taxes. I actually didn’t mind doing it because it was easy for me (and I already had a lot of those vendor/client/potential staff relationships in place to make easy referrals). It was a lot of fun. One of my colleague’s mom bought me the biggest box of chocolate she could find as a thank you. It was a 15lb box! I was happy!

  37. Teresa*

    Cal Newport, a computer scientist and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, addresses just this. He runs a fascinating blog that discounts the “do what you love” piece of advice that’s doled out and posts case studies of people as diverse as computer scientists, pianists, and mathematicians. Have a look here: http://calnewport.com/blog/

      1. Anon*

        Life requires math. Computer scientists, musicians, and mathematicians do vastly different things on a day to day basis.

      2. Teresa*

        I got some more clarification from Cal’s recent blog post: “I met with organic farmers, venture capitalists, computer programers, college professors, med school residents, and globe-trotting tech entrepreneurs, among many others” and “During this chapter I spend time with a professional guitar player, television writer, and venture capitalist, among others, in my quest to understand how people get really good at what they do.” I think you’ll agree with me that this is a diverse bunch of people!

  38. Lindsay H*

    People needto be realistic about plugging their loves into the job equation, too. I love eating cheese puffs and watching Reno 911 reruns. I’m not gonna get paid for it. Be passionate about doing good work no matter what kind if work you’re doing.

  39. Vicki*

    Even when you get lucky, it’s not al wine and roses. I loved my most recent job — enough that I fought to hold onto it several times when management tried to take it away. When the manager who gave me the most support left the company, I got laid off.

    Silly me; I wish I had that job back (or one like it). That makes looking for the next one a lot harder, I’m afraid.

  40. Andrew*

    I haven’t read through the comments yet, so forgive me if I’m repeating someone else:

    This is one of the most important things you’ve ever written. Thank you.

  41. Rosemarine*

    As a former “gifted and talented” kid who loved to write and draw, and who had a number of passions (many of which I still hold), I just wish that people like me could get realistic career-planning advice at a time when they can make good decisions about their future (i.e., well before they hit the midlife crisis state). As others have said, being good at writing doesn’t mean you need to be a novelist in your career (though that’s what many well-meaning advice-givers seem to think).

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Interesting comment. . .I’m curious what state you’re at in your career/life.

      In my post-college early-to-mid twenties, I often had the same frustration you mention. In high school, I remembered having 15 things listed for prospective majors when requesting information from universities. My PSATs (which I found recently when moving – I didn’t remember this) had Linguistics listed as my first career choice, but by senior year I was headed into engineering.

      I didn’t feel like my engineering jobs fit me that well, but now in my mid thirties I’ve moved to a role that fits great, although it took a while to settle in and realize how great it really was. There was never a clear, defining moment where I figured out what to do. Instead, I just shifted through different positions in the company until I found one that I loved.

      In general, I think the advice to “do what you love” is not great simply because people don’t know what’s out there. The pool of people doing what I do now is very, very small. It doesn’t show up on a career interest test, and I could have never planned for this. Expecting high school or college guidance counselors with very limited knowledge of any industry to provide good advice isn’t realistic given the complexity of the real world.

      1. Rosemarine*

        @AnotherAlison thanks for your response. For context, I’m in my 40s. I had a stable job in my 20s-30s, then lost it in a layoff and have spent most of the last 10 years trying to recover from that; I’m currently mired in a so-far unsuccessful career change after going back to school for a graduate degree. I’ve had a couple of “bad fit” jobs in the interim. It’s very frustrating and depressing.

        On one hand, I wish someone could have been able to give me some useful guidance when I was younger about how to capitalize on my skills and talents in a way that would lead to having a stable occupation. On the other hand, when I look at how the world has changed between the time I was in school and now, there’s no way anyone could have foreseen it and planned for it. In some ways, it’s great; there are all sorts of fascinating jobs and projects out there that would’ve been unimaginable when I was growing up. Connecting with one of those opportunities is the hard part (so far), though.

    2. TL*

      I would have appreciated this, too. While I’m the sort of person who might do very well as an entrepreneur or artist at some point, starting such a venture is complicated and expensive. It would have been nice to learn more about niche industry positions that you never hear about on a career interests test, like AnotherAlison mentioned. Jobs that would utilize my talents and skills, that I could reasonably enjoy–without requiring that I become a business owner in order to put them to any use.

      Because the flip side of “Do what you love” is “Oh, come off it, who do you think you are to want a job that you really enjoy?”

  42. Mike*

    It’s a lot like what that Strengths Finder book by Gallup says – finding the skills you are good and you enjoy using and then fitting that into the many industries. I like teaching, but that doesn’t mean I have to teach at a school. I can work in HR in corporate training, I can work in community centers in community education, I can be a training manager at certain companies, I can write training manuals, etc.

    The hard part is convincing that when you’ve worked as a theatre teacher for 5 years that you can lead and educate people in other areas as well . . . that’s me :)

    1. Rana*

      That last bit is a really good point. It’s particularly tricky when you have the skills needed to do a particular job, but they don’t come with in-field experience. If the skills don’t come in the standard package, you’re going to have to work harder to persuade people that you’d be worth taking a risk on.

  43. Anonymous*

    [i]And last, entrepreneurship is really a totally separate question from all this. Starting a business takes a very specific type of person, and not everyone is cut out for it. (And it annoys the crap out of me when people suggest it as a cure-all for anyone who can’t find a job or who’s unhappy in their current one.) There’s absolutely nothing unambitious about not wanting to start your own business — it’s pretty normal, in fact.[/i]

    Exactly! Every time someone posts an article about the bad job market, people who are unemployed or underemployed, or about abysmal job growth, someone will always pop up with the “if you don’t like it, start a business!” I also hate the “if you don’t like your job, quit” mantra that some people throw out there, usually at topics concerning underemployed workers in customer service positions (which tend to have a high proportion or the job growth) who don’t find particular joy in working with customers at that pay. If it was that easy, I would, and I am looking for another job, but I need to feed myself and pay my bills. I think quite a few people forget just how hard the market is right now, especially if they are fortunate enough to not be hurt by it.

  44. Frieda*

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet, but the BEST career advice I’ve ever gotten is sort of in response to this…and I learned about it from this blog :) https://www.askamanager.org/2007/08/steve-at-all-things-workplace-makes.html

    I actually go back and read that post like once every month or two.

    Thinking of my career this way has made a HUGE impression on me. Coming from a creative/liberal arts background, it was hard for me to realize that I actually thrive crunching numbers in a corporate office environment–but once I embraced this, I started impressing the hell out of my bosses with suggestions for increased efficiency and data analysis, and now I’m pursuing a graduate degree in that field with the support (and tuition reimbursement!) of my current job. It’s really exciting that after many years of feeling like I was flailing around, I now feel like I have an exciting direction for my career doing something that I really can see myself doing for the rest of my working years. But I never would have gotten here if I hadn’t given up on the idea of needing to find a way to “do what I love” to be fulfilled in my professional life.

  45. Kelly O*

    I have to chime in on this, because for a period of time I completely bought that you should LOVE what you do and be passionate about it, and if you didn’t love what you did and weren’t absolutely passionate about it, then you deserved to move on and find something new. I had been through a rough period, had two jobs that lasted a little less than a year apiece, and had just moved back home.

    So I bought it. I decided to jump around from place to place – six months here, six months there. I didn’t feel passionate about things. I didn’t just love going into work. I didn’t feel like what I did mattered and just kept hopping around and moving on.

    Killed my resume. I mean, completely killed it. Dead as a doornail. Now I’m in a new place, looking for a new job after nearly three years here at this job that was supposed to just get me through until I could find something better. And while I’m looking for something better, I keep running into having to explain those two years over and over and over. I can come up with a reasonable discussion point – every new job I took also paid more, and my husband was unemployed at the time – but that’s just more band-aids on the problem.

    Now? Now I realize that while I can like my job, I don’t have to be in love with it. What I look for now is a job that I like. I want a company that pays well, has decent benefits, understands its employees are human and offers reasonable vacation time, and possibly the opportunity to move into an area of more interest as time goes by, or up the assistant chain if that is an option. I’m not obsessed with finding exactly perfect, because it doesn’t exist. I’ve recently figured out I’m going to have to take a longer commute than I’d like just to get these things. But that’s not going to be a deterrent or an excuse, it just is.

    I wish I could go to everyone dealing with hearing this “you should LOVE what you do” and take them for coffee and just talk about it. Please, learn from my mistake.

    Also, you may find that the things you love doing bleed over into your work. I may be a freak, but I get a lot of joy out of bringing order to chaos. I’m the dork that spends time making my organized closets look pretty. In my mind I make my baking experiments into science projects and try to measure things perfectly. I got a sewing machine for Christmas one year, and it’s turned into a game for me.

    That bleeds over into work. My job may not be the best in the world, but I can take pride in my organization and keeping my desk just the way I like it. I can take every possible opportunity to write – whether it’s the procedures manual or just coming up with a great email template for this or that.

    I just mentioned this in another post, but the real thing I’ve taken away from all this – the job hopping and the stuck in hell – is that what I really want is to feel like I’m valued and that I contribute value. In the past I depended on someone else to do that for me. Now I understand that it’s entirely up to me to find that value. Will a good workplace provide it? Sure. But people are imperfect, and if I can’t find my own value, I can’t expect someone else to do it for me.

    A hard lesson for sure. It’s something I share because I don’t want someone else to make the same mistakes I did.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Don’t feel bad! I think this happens to a lot of people when they’re starting out. I didn’t feel settled into something that fit until my current position, and I was 2+ years in this before I felt like I could even say that. I started off with 4.5 solid years in one position, then an internal move for 9 months, then a new job for 15 months, then an internal move for 3 months, another internal move for 18 months, finally another internal move to a role I’ve had for 4 years. Fortunately, since I’ve only been with two companies and those other roles are fading into the past, I can gloss over it now, but I did feel pathetic that I couldn’t find “the one” for a long time. Now I’ve realized that it’s really more of a natural process to find a career match. Stop trying to force it. Spend more than 5 minutes learning about a job, industry, and company, and a nice relationship will develop — maybe not the love of your life, but at least a good friend.

  46. another tax nerd*

    I’m from a liberal arts/creative background too–was always into the arts (have a degree in Creative Writing/English!) but for some reason I liked doing taxes, not so much for helping people but entering data, interpreting tax codes, etc…I’m doing an internship for the next couple of weeks in a completely unrelated field because Im still looking for a job and didn’t want my “skills” to atrophy…but I’ve been finding so many parallels between what I did there and what I’m doing right now (the attention to detail, interpreting data and processing it and following through on it).,…. someone mentioned finding out what your strengths are and seeing if you have the personality traits that are required in most fields….I know aside from Customer service (which is pretty much part of almost.every.single.job.out.there) what are the other personality/character traits that would go into being a great tax accountant??

  47. Catherine*

    This is a great website! It’s wonderful reading all the posts….but I would like to offer a comment about “working your passion” or “doing what you love to do”. Years ago, as a single mother of 3 young children, I was getting ready to move to my upper level classes. I was going into education (after switching minors twice) and I wanted to become a history teacher. That’s what I really wanted to do….however, I listened to someone else explain that history teachers are abundant, but special ed. teachers are in great demand and always will be (so I’d be able to take care of my family.) At the time this no-nonsense approach seemed logical….years progressed, different jobs came and went (I was unemployed several times, even though I was licensed in two shortage areas), and I feel like I’ve been “type” cast. I enjoyed the work at first, but it went downhill after several years. What do I want to do?? Teach history….still! I’m currently in grad school (again), earning my second masters degree in history. I’m hoping that someone recognizes my passion and my true desires…and hires me! I’m a good teacher, but a great history teacher. Moral of this story….listen to what your “gut” tells you….it’s the reason you are here! Thanks for listening….I hope this helps someone avoid years of feeling “stuck”!

  48. Ann Onymous*

    I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life trying to “do what I love.” The only thing I’ve ever cared about is books. As an adult student, I majored in English, and was lucky to find a position as a features writer at a local paper. After 9/11, my position was eliminated, and I ended up in PR for a small college. Hated it for 7 years, but felt the money was too good to leave. That job was also eliminated and I had a mini-breakdown. It took me two years to find my current job, in a library. I thought I wanted to work with books. I found out librarianship really isn’t about that anymore.
    I’m 50 years old, and I just don’t know if “what I love” is in the cards. What I do is tolerable, and sometimes I enjoy it. I wish it paid more. I wish it was more interesting and diverse. I’m kind of lost, to be honest.
    I always enjoyed writing, but there’s a helluva difference between writing fiction for your own pleasure and writing PR releases about the senior class production of “My Fair Lady” and about that politician coming to speak on campus. You know?

  49. Laura*

    Everyone who has commented pretty much agrees with the advice but I thoroughly disagree. As someone who knew when she was 9 what she wanted to do (film industry) and at 29, has yet to even get close to the dream career and has had to work in a field she loathes just to pay crappy bills (technology), I don’t think “start with loving what you do” is any better advice.

    If you read the biographies of people who have, say, actually made stellar contributions to the world as opposed to working a 9-5 just to fund their happy hours, they worked diligently on things they were incredibly passionate about.

    I’d say the better response would be that everyone is different and “do what you love” is as personal a choice as “learn to love what you do.” Both, one, or neither can apply to a person depending on who they are and their station in life.

  50. BreadGirl*

    I find these posts so interesting. Sometimes in our own minds we think we are alone but reading all these posts I fully realize that developing a true career path is not necessarily a linear process. Rather, for many of us, its this strange tangle with dips and turns. I went towards health and science for my graduate degree in physical therapy never heeding my internal signals that I truly did not enjoy the internships and volunteer hours and education required to even enter a MSPT program. Imagine! So after two years and many loans and many hours studying in a private graduate school I just dropped out and said ‘enough’.

    This decision led me into a career of sorts in inside sales jobs that I barely tolerated but paid the bills. Thirteen or so years of this.

    I am now 42 and still searching for what now feels like the Holy Grail of careers. I am not going to leave this earth without creating a career doing something I am a) proud of b) am creative within c) am surrounded by an empowering work environment.

    In my journey to find a career that suits me I have learned this about myself: I am not interested in any kind of sales budget, I am not interested in working in a lab or in the sciences, I am not interested in sports massage nor personal training (I am a competitive trail runner so it would fit *on paper* to do something in the fitness realm. Um no thanks.) I am not interested in teaching.

    In fact the only things I am interested in at this point in my life revolve around making things with my hands. As a former art student and just a person who tends to sit quiety for hours making things or writing (I find it calming/therapeutic and the end product is quite satisfying) I now plan to never sit at a desk 8 hours a day again in front of a computer wearing a headset nor will I sit in a heated massage room and deliver back to back 80 minute deep tissue massages. I love workign with my hands to make things not to soothe sore muscles. There is no end product. There is no perfection in bodywork. At least not for me.

    So in sum, I have actually decided to pursue the art of making bread. Yep, am interviewing to be a baker at a local bakery. But its milling the wheat and baking a wide variety of artisan breads from scratch every morning. Will “baker’s hours” get old? Yes, I am sure I will need a coffee maker and loud music many mornings to keep me awake. Will I get tired of kneeding dough and washing out gigantic mixing bowls. Of course. Will there by days when the last thing I want to do is make more dough or smell the scent of another ciabatta loaf? Probably. But in the end, its a pure art. Making bread the right way, from making our own pre-ferments, to milling our own wheat shipped in from Montana has a kind of poetry to it. It, for me, brings me back to the basics. It takes me back in history to earliest man. Its akin to making wine except our vehicle is wheat versus grapes. Dough is alive much like wine. And each loaf is unique, just like each bottle of wine. Pretty darn beautiful if you ask me :)

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      Good for you! I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

  51. Rama*

    Although I do agree that “doing what you love” blindly is not the key to job satisfaction I think it depends on your level of interest. If something is an interest amongst many interests then I agree. However, for the few people who truly do have an all-consuming passion maybe following it is the path. Take for example the person who likes to bake. There is a difference between the person who likes to bake on their freetime versus the person who’s mind is constantly on creating new baked products. Meaning to the point where you wake up at 2 am sometimes with an idea for a new pie that you absolutely must write down and then you must figure out how to make. People with this all – encompassing passion or interest in something are probably better off following it.

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