“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
That’s one of those syrupy, motivational statements you see floating about the Internet. It’s often plastered on a photo of someone standing on a vista overlooking a mountain range, the ocean, a unicorn or all three if you happen to live in the Pacific Northwest where those items are all found.
Is it true though?
If you find something you love doing, will you never work a day in your life?
If you discover a passion that fills you up, will you ever have to work again?
If you dig up your calling from the millions of options and find the “one,” does your sense of work end?
The short answer, for the population of people who are no longer reading long blogs, is no.
The long answer, for those who like long form ideas, is still no.
I spent 15 years working in corporate America. Twenty-one months ago, I had a huge Do Over and ended up writing full time. I secretly believed that since I loved writing, I would never have to work again. I thought that any sort of drudgery or disappointment or hard work was behind me.
I did it! I chased my dreams. Forget chase, I caught them! The hope I first found in the third grade of writing for a living had been realized. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a writer, but now I was one. I assumed it came with a lot of scarves, coffee and ink stained hands. I might have to apply myself to my writing, but my days of working were over.
Imagine my surprise, when on the other side of the largest career transition I’ve ever known I found a tremendous amount of work waiting for me.
This was a supreme disappointment that took me a solid year to grapple with. (My wife Jenny might argue I am still struggling with it.)
I don’t know whether to call what I experienced entitlement or disillusionment but either way, I was overwhelmed by the sharp needle of reality that burst my bubble of dream chasing.
I am here, with work weary hands, to say that I’ve tested the theory “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” And it’s not true.
It’s actually quite terrible and the reason is that it encourages people to quit their pursuits much sooner than they should have. What happens is that you buy into the lie that chasing a dream will be one long parade of butterscotch rainbows.
The only way you’ll know when you made the right decision is that you’ll encounter a never ending assembly line of joyful tasks in your day.
When this doesn’t happen, when some part of your dream sucks, and it will, you start to feel like you failed.
When faced with the inevitable work, struggle and hardship that accompanies anything you do in life, you will question yourself.
Did I choose the wrong passion? Did I pick the wrong thing? Surely it wouldn’t be this hard if I had made the right decision!
Then you’ll quit or pick something new to do. Until that new thing gets difficult too and then you’ll switch again, forever chasing a work free dream. (A lot of marriages crumble this way, as we get addicted to the myth that real relationships don’t take real work.)
In Chapter 21 of my new book Do Over, which is titled “Grit is a choice not a feeling,” there’s a specific action plan to deal with the work your dream generates. I wanted to make sure you had some real steps to follow.
If you don’t have the book yet though, I’ll still leave you with a bit of good news.
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is not true, but something even better is. That statement should be edited. It should read:
“Do what you love and you’ll love the work you do.”
You’ll work harder than you ever have before in your life.
You’ll scale mountains that are in the way of your dream.
You’ll make phone calls that make you want to throw up a little bit.
You’ll put your pride aside and ask for help in ways that make you feel uncomfortable.
You’ll work and it will be difficult, but it will be meaningful.
You will see that each step has value. Even the busywork, even the stuff that is just flat out miserable matters in the light of the bigger story.
Don’t believe the motivational hype the Internet tries to serve you.
Big dreams and hard work are not enemies. They’re actually best friends and you don’t get one without the other.