You’ve heard it before, the beloved aphorism from the ever-intriguing Confucius;
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I’ve also heard it attributed to Albert Einstein, but the internet tells me that Confucius coined it, so we’ll go with that. Regardless, you’ve probably seen it in the form of a meme, pinned a thousand times on Pinterest, shared on Facebook, tweeted on twitter, etc…
^stuff like this^
I understand why the quote is so popular. There is something inspiring, something hopeful about it. It is just poetic enough to sound reasonable, just vague enough to withstand any serious scrutiny.
The only problem, of course, is that it is almost entirely false.
If the phrase was not so oft-quoted, if I did not think it influenced people’s decisions, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But from where I stand, this Confucian concept is ubiquitous in today’s culture. And it’s a problem.
Case in point: a recent study from Brookings found that 64% of Millennials would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 at a job they found boring. Now, it isn’t the response that worries me. I would take a lower paying job that I loved over a high-paying boring job any day.
The problem is that this job, the one you love, probably doesn’t exist. And if you make it your primary goal to find a job that you love, you will be unemployed for a very long time.
Before everyone freaks out, lets make a distinction; loving your job is not the same as loving its end. Just because you are passionate about your children’s well-being doesn’t mean you love changing their diapers. And yet, most people would agree that a clean diaper is essential to a child’s well-being. No parent who loves his child allows him to stew in his own feces for too long. And any parent who says he loves wiping poop out of all the crevices of his squirmy, crying infant at 4 in the morning is a liar.
Here’s the thing: All of these “passions” (or vocations, or loves, or whatever you’d like to call them) involve metaphorical diaper changing—actions that we don’t love doing in and of themselves but are willing to do for the sake of something we do love. In fact, many of them involve doing things we hate—things we wouldn’t do but for the sake of the thing we love. Some are less challenging than others, some involve less fecal matter than others, but they all require the doing of boring, mundane, frustrating, tedious tasks. All of them require sacrifice.
Cooking requires chopping, and measuring, and waiting for the stove to heat up, and standing around, and sweating in a hot kitchen. To be great at cooking requires research, persistence, trial and error, failure. A devoted chef will accept failure as a stepping stone on his path to success, but he doesn’t love it in and of itself. If he did, he would be just as content to continue failing as he is to succeed. He loves producing delicious food and is willing to chop onions, sweat, try and fail in order to do so.
Which brings me to my next point: Not only do all of the things we love require the doing of work we don’t love, the things we love often require more work than things we don’t.
When you are passionate about something, you hold yourself to a higher standard than if you simply like it. If you like writing then you will write, and as long as what you write generally communicates what you intend to say, you will be content. If you love writing, you will strive to perfect what you write, to say what you mean to say in the best possible way. Striving for perfection requires more work than settling for mediocrity. As such, if you are passionate about something you will likely do far more work for its cause than if you aren’t.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life?
I doubt it.
Find something that you truly love, and you will likely work for it relentlessly.
Now the obvious response to my claims is that I am incorrectly interpreting the aphorism—that Confucius did not mean that a life spent in pursuit of one’s passion is a life without work. Rather, he meant that when you are passionate about something, the work you do for it feels less like work. The quote ought to be interpreted as such: “If you find a pursuit for which you are truly passionate, you won’t ever feel like you’re working even when you are working.”
To which I respectfully respond, “bull.”
^She probably doesn’t even feel it.^
Yes, being passionate about something may motivate you to complete the work it requires, but the work required remains. Yes, your love for something may make the work it requires more rewarding, but the work required remains. And if you asked people who pursued their passions, I’d be willing to bet they’d say that, a lot of the time, the work still felt like work. Maybe not all the time—but a lot of the time.
This is my main issue with the proverb in question: it is a misleading measure of one’s love for something. However interpreted, it suggests that if you have found a pursuit for which you are passionate, you won’t really feel like you’re working as you pursue it.
It follows from this that if you feel like you’re working, then you haven’t found your passion.
Can you think of anything more destructive to the achievement of one’s goals than to be convinced that it shouldn’t require work that feels like work?
I thought that writing was my passion but, based on how work-like it feels, I guess I was wrong. I guess I should try something new—and then abandon it when it starts to feel too much like work, of course.
Imagine if we applied this reasoning to, say, anything else.
“Marry a person you love, and you won’t fight a day in your life. And even if you do fight, the fighting won’t feel like fighting.”
I hate to break it to you, kids. From what I’m told, if you fall in love and get married, you will fight with your spouse from time to time, and the fighting will make you feel exactly as crappy as fighting usually does. To stick it out and work through your marital troubles is well worth your time, but the fighting still feels like fighting.
The same is true of all passions, all loves.
And that’s okay.
Because you do not measure your love for something by how easy it is for you to accomplish it, or how easy it feels to work for it.
Your passion is not that for which you do not have to work, or that for which the work doesn’t feel like work, but that for which you are willing to work—even when the work is grueling.Tweets by @baleighscotttt