“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” they cry.
From the online memes to the seminar halls, our fractured marriage with working life has an alleged cure. If only we could find that one true working love. That passion project that can sustain us is waiting in the fields of happiness.
It’s blossoming without us, just waiting to be plucked.
But what if I told you it wasn’t an issue of what we are passionate about not being our central focus? What if there was more to the problem of work-life balance than merely not liking the work?
Could it be the ‘do what you love’ movement is the enemy of self-care?
Overwork and the passionate working life
Startups, white collar professionals, freelancers and small business owners right across Australia. They are all working more hours than they should. We’re sold this wonderful idea that our efforts will be rewarded. If only we can work long enough and hard enough at success.
Effort is sold to us as success, packaged with brown paper and beautiful ribbons. To climb that corporate ladder or to prove the worth of your ideas you must be at it, day and night. Leading by example and taking the world by storm.
But this is not the truth.
Overwork is not a by-product of passion or the desire to move upwards and onwards. First of all, it’s a counterintuitive notion as we already know working too hard fails to produce good work. Overwork can also lead to stress, mental health issues and even death.
The medical facts are there, but somehow we can separate this as anomaly. Or that more people would be dead if it wasn’t a freak act. Or that it’ll be worth it in the end.
But psychologically, chances are what is working on you is the idea of scarcity. When we think we’re going to miss out, we pay silly amounts for auction items. Or we can be tricked into thinking we want things we don’t really need.
We don’t want to miss out on food. Now, we don’t want to miss out on the opportunities and the jobs. We don’t want to miss out on the money or the comfortable lifestyle that comes as an end of reward to hard work.
And we don’t want to be insecure in our jobs and end up on the societal discard pile.
In essence, our relationship with overwork is born out of anxiety. Anxiety about where money comes from, how much debt we’re in and what will happen if we don’t play the game. We’ve got Australian households earning $200K or more that are living pay-to-pay. Enormous personal debt through mortgages and over-spending haunt us. Usually because we spend to make ourselves feel better about the hours we spend working our lives away.
We’re alienated from the things we want in life. The dreams have left us behind and now it’s measured in credit and career. And it’s this desire to prove yourself through work that is used against you. Your desire for the passionate life is driving you to work more, spend more and work more again to make up for it.
We ignore the impact working too much has on our mental and physical health to remain in debt and away from our family longer.
Hyper-connected and hyper-competitive
There is your opponent, your nemesis, the person who has the life you want. And they’re staring at you from Facebook, their website and their all-star speaking gig. We’ve moved past the age old trick of breaking out the company sales awards into completely new territory.
Ten years of Facebook and other social media has taught us that visibility is king. Gone are the days of the obscure labourer, tucked in the back of their workshop space, creating. Now you need to exceedingly visible to prove leadership in the field.
People Google you and want to trawl you on social media. So you better have the articles and blogs to show for it!
But this public over-exposure is not good for a private creature such as the human. We survived through blending into the natural environment.
Yet we’ve created a measurement that means we have to be online to ignore old school friends.
Or put our CV for everyone to see and collect public admiration for our work and skills.
Our acumen is shared in 140 character bursts, we huddle into collections of skill and area of interest.
And we photograph every inch of our day, looking for hearts and followers.
Too much exposure results in social anxiety. It means small moments, drunken arguments and complete failures happen publicly for almost every one of us. Countless stories of people who have become career ruining memes or internet famous and suffered litter the internet.
Yet most of us are ill-equipped to handle such a revealing relationship with the world. As we seek to be connected, we open parts of us that make us far too vulnerable.
And we become envious of others who blindly go about their day and their internet fame without the filter we place on ourselves. We’re annoyed with their trivial, banal acts before sharing our own. And resentful of their successes, even if their success has no real substance.
Do what you love and the cultural luxury
Looking at the pages of history and then back at our times, it’s hard to see how ages decay over time. Yet the Greeks, Romans and the Egyptians all had their thinkers and tinkerers who believed they were on the crest of the wave.
The people of the Renaissance shook off medieval church dogma and social conformity. They ushered in an era of highly individualised culture. They gave us the self portrait, the autobiography and the diary. They shaped their identity through personal letter seals and grand speeches.
And they did so on the backs of the poor, the abused and of the economically challenged. The well to do contemplated their face and place in history. All while others had little time to contemplate passion and art sunk into slavery.
Surely, this sounds eerily familiar?
In Australia, we have a scandal of 7-eleven workers being paid 47 cents in the dollar for work. We still have an indigenous population that is underemployed and is failed by our education and health systems.
Women still receive 18.8% less pay. The NDIS has only just begun the crucial work to remove the under employment in the disability sector.
And the idea of ‘no Australian child living in poverty’ is relegated to trivia questions in the “silly things politicians say” category.
The poor, exploited and raggy doll society members of course are already excluded from attempting to enter the passion race.
But that doesn’t stop us from buying in on the myth and giving it a red-hot go.
Enter the true contestants of the DWYL set. In no particular order, they are:
- The 53% of women in business who don’t pay themselves yet call themselves self employed
- Women who carry the majority of domestic chores and child rearing due to their passion for motherhood
- Most of the interns found in Australia, who by the way are illegal interns in most instances
- The while collar professional paid a handsome salary to work longer hours than that salary allows for on a regular basis
- The startup founder who has a 5% chance of success
- The freelancers stretched across multiple roles in their business
- The small business owner who hopes to make it past that first year of operation while the other 60% fail
- The farmer who has worked the land for generationsfending off everything from mother nature to supermarket duopoly to gas companies for the privilege of working long hours
Do what you love is a monumental cultural control. It makes us work for no money. Or less money than we should. Or money stretched so thin against the hour even kids washing cars could make better scratch.
If you DWYL and still fail, what does that make you?
Do what you love makes us anxious, alienated, envious, underpaid, unhealthy and incredibly tired. But we keep coming back for more because we want to be able to spend that 40 to 120 hours doing something that means something. We want purpose and we want to have demonstrations of why this makes sense.
But if you do what you love and you still fail, what kind of person does that make you?
Work in itself gives satisfaction. Overwork does not. Work gives us meaning and purpose. We end up with something to admire. But working to break ourselves down is not worthwhile.
Making it seem like someone who hasn’t got on the DWYL treadmill has somehow failed at life doesn’t help.
Nor does it help us if we do everything we’re supposed to do for our slice of success pie and it doesn’t result.
You are not a broken person if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Yet now, we’re not only meant to be completely clued into our destiny, we have to run at it with teddy bear arms and passionate all night kisses.
Isn’t their enough inherent pressure within the working identity without adding love to the mix?
Passion for your work is not a bad thing. But creating the idea that love abounds for work is something previous generations won’t understand. And it’s the stuff of mythology for many people in the world.
Let’s stop persecuting ourselves and others for being unable to stoke the passion fire we think they should have.
And recognise that the extra work will always be there.
There is always something more to be produced and more profit to be made in a capitalist economy. But that doesn’t mean we should let scarcity rule us. Not to the point where we devalue time, relationships and our own personal wellbeing in favour of currency.
And let’s stop using passion as a means to exploit others. Because any exploitation, whether by it’s by our boss, our own ideals or society on the whole is not an act in self-care. And it’s not fair.
It’s an act of self-destruction. And it’s harmful to others. How can that be love?