If You Haven’t Worked a Day in Your Life, You Probably Don’t Love Anything

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…

Confucius2

 ^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.

kitchenlingo_atala

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.”

35fef60c95ac26cb2d95393048fc5a22

^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.

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199 Comments

  1. A brilliantly written argument! It’s definitely food for thought for someone like myself who dreams of ‘giving up’ the day job to persue a passion (travel) as a career! Although the post of ‘National Geographic Emerging Explorer’ does apparently exist…so maybe there’s hope yet!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much. My blog is about me quitting my job to become a freelance artist, but it didn’t pay the bills and now I am a waitress part time. I was very upset about my situation until I read this, realizing that I am just working towards something that will be more work but very worth it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on 39°N: An Adventure Journal and commented:
    Ever now and again I come across a post that I really connect with…. “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.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Why would anyone want to ruin what they love by turning it into a job!?! You don’t really need much motivation… it’s the gutter or the pay cheque. Depending on the season, the pay cheque seems to be the way to go.

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  5. I have often looked at that very quote and thought to myself some of the same things. Work is work, and although one may love certain aspects of their job, I do not entirely believe anyone loves their job entirely, ALL the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Apropos marriage or love, I think it was Bob Marley who said that everyone gives you pain, it is a question of deciding who you it’s worth it for. And I’ll take Kahil Gibran’s words on work because romantic as it is, it has a sweep that makes it easier to like work:

    “You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree but disagree. I agree with the sentiment. Too many use that quote to the end of laziness. But I disagree, simply because I have my dream job, and it does not feel like work at all. The absolute worst thing about my job is still something I enjoy doing. See, I’m a songwriter. I write music for bands and musicians. Even the most boring and tedious parts of this work are things I absolutely love to do.
    So I agree and disagree at the same time.
    My favorite quote regarding work was this:
    “Anything worth having is worth working for”
    -My dad, and whoever he heard it from.
    I am quite passionate, and it took years of unenjoyable work to get here,
    But in the end, I am doing something I love, and it doesn’t feel like work.
    One can find that quote to be true,
    But one must be willing to work toward it, as you said.
    It doesn’t mean that it’s complete bull, though.
    There are a lot of professions,
    And there are many people with varying levels of passion for their work.
    I’d imagine a chef working her dream job may not agree with the quote as much as a pro gamer. Lol
    Your end point is one I definitely agree on, though.
    Don’t let your dream be “doing less work”.
    I interpret the quote this way:
    “Let your dream fuel your passion,
    Let your passion fuel your will to work hard toward that dream,
    And one day, after you have gotten your hands dirty,
    You may just be able to do work you enjoy, instead of work that you hate.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been trying to verbalize my struggle with my generation’s mantra of “do what you love, love what you do” and you’ve done it so well! Like the Confucius quote, it sounds nice, but those jobs probably don’t exist and our endless search for it leads us to become frustrated and discontent. “Find something that you truly love, and you will likely work for it relentlessly.” You hit it on the nail.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can see your point. I believe that the hunt to be a super star in this society where we glorify certain people for traits I don’t think are that fantastic…is damaging. We are given mixed messages constantly. You can be anything you want–but if you want to make money and have a decent quality of life you can only be option a, b or c.

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but applying yourself and working toward something is actually a great feeling. If you have ever read Danielle LaPorte, she talks about using ease as a measurement of success. She ain’t talking about NOT working. That lady works and hustles her ass off. But she is talking about alignment. Sometimes what we consider just “hard work” is actually NOT the right kind of work for us.

    Toxic, bad relationships are not hard work, they are just not right. Some jobs are just not right. I don’t think it’s about finding something “easy” in the sense of not putting in effort and skating by. I think it’s about finding something you love so much that the work, even though it can be challenging still feels good.

    I am not ready to give up on my work soulmate. But I do acknowledge it’s going to take time and work to get where I want to go. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In defense of Confucius (without ascribing to his philosophy) I am not sure that the quote you refer to is in fact coined by him. According to James R. Ware author of The Sayings of Confucius, “it was Confucius who inspired a defense against these sophistic innovations by reasserting confidence in older principles and practices.” A “Sophist” is defined as a person belonging to any class of professional teachers that base their arguments on rhetoric rather than sound reasoning essentially. This would suggest either an ill translation of Confucius on the part of wiki-quotes and dental hygienist inspirationals and or that perhaps Albert Einstein was the dreamy one who came up with the quote. Which very well could be… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. 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.
    UNTIL WE KEEP THE DEEPER PERSPECTIVE OF WHY WE ARE DOING THIS OR THAT WORK

    Like

  12. I never thought of it like this before, but it makes perfect sense. For me, writing is my passion, but if I had things my way, I’d write all day, working more than ever on improving my work and my skills. It would feel like work. But it’s not reality. All writers need their “day jobs.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is an excellent post. I’m sure Confucius, or whoever said this, had something in mind when he said it, but that something was distorted – he probably meant “work” as “toil at something you hate”.

    For me, work and study are the only things that distract me from the complete mess that is my personal life, and so I love them.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. If we are not able to get a job of our liking for the time being despite our best efforts, it means there is something lacking in us or may be time is not ripe for us for our coveted job. In such contingencies, we should just explore the possibility of having our second preference and work for our first preference from day one of the job -while paying full attention to the job at hand.

    It should never be forgotten that no job is bad only our thinking makes it so. Love what you have otherwise we shall rue to day.

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  15. I reall enjoyed reading this blog! I agree and disagree at the same time. (Is that even possible?) Anyway, I think when you find and do what you love, it’s the 80/20 rule. You’ll love it 80% and dislike 20%, because nothing is perfect, and that 80% love and passion carries you through the 20%. There are many people I’ve met who do what they love and feel like they’ve never worked a day and therefore retirement isn’t an option. I agree that your passion means you’ll end up working more. When you put it into the relationship context, you were spot on. However, even in a marriage those good outweigh or impress upon us more greatly than bad. So, I’m still a believer in the quote. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I agree until an extent. Yes even our passion sometimes will feel like work, but you don’t mind it. For example I have a full time job that I used to hate. I now like it more. I still hate management, but I like my salary. I Love writing and all the work it comes with it. I hate when I write something it makes no sense and I’ll start again. I love the process and I love the results once I have finished a story. That’s what passion is. That’s what it means to love your work.

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  17. Reblogged this on victoriew1's Blog and commented:
    Thought provoking and eye opening. I always wondered why people jumped at that quote at every opportunity. Loving something (or someone aswell) doesnt necessarily mean that you’ll glide through without bumps in the road. Love is what keeps you going and from dropping the ball 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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