A stupid lie I believed when I quit my last job. (And why you shouldn’t believe it.)

“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.

  • Fran Caeona
    Posted at 07:24h, 16 June Reply

    So true, Jon! My first book is now in press. The fun part was writing it. The hard part came next. It was like working on my dissertation all over again. And now comes marketing! But I am committed to do what it takes!

    • Liz H. Alexander
      Posted at 08:07h, 16 June Reply

      This is why freelancing my novels just isn’t appealing to me anymore. I’ve also realized recently that it’s okay to write a magnum opus….and NOT publish it for the masses. 🙂

      There’s a *lot* of personal stuff in what I write (despite the fantasy angle) that I just don’t want to answer questions about from friends or family. I could deal with everything else….but those questions are the most terrifying thing that keeps me from publishing…but also keeps me writing.

  • Mark Cooper
    Posted at 07:50h, 16 June Reply

    Jon, thanks for your honesty.

  • Keri
    Posted at 07:54h, 16 June Reply

    Yup. I always say my work is like raising children- 60% of the time, it’s a wet-noodle beating, but that 40%…when it’s smiling you in the face with its twinkling eyes…makes it ALL worth it!
    Great post, Jon!

  • Liz H. Alexander
    Posted at 08:05h, 16 June Reply

    I’m actually relieved to hear you say this. I’ve loved both your blogs for years, but recently, I was finding myself frustrated with the motivational stuff that went counter to everything logic (and some of your own written material) said.

    I’m pursuing my (career) dream now, but it’s very touch-and-go, and it’s easy to get discouraged. However, knowing that there’s others out there that struggle helps the journey a little bit. 🙂 Also, I’ve realized that my own dreams – whatever they may be – are useless without God there to guide me. Literally, if He’s not there, then the struggle is just ten times harder. Gotta remember that, when this life passes away, all my earthly “dreams” won’t mean jack squat if I’m not in it for the right reasons. 🙂

    (Wow. That came out preachy! Oh well. lol)

  • Aimee
    Posted at 08:24h, 16 June Reply

    I absolutely love this article; thank you! I, too, have dreamed of being a writer since the third grade, but it is only now, at 40 years of age, that I am pursuing it in earnest. As a newer blogger, it has been disillusioning to find that growing an audience and an income (mine is still $0) is not as easy as it first seemed upon starting. And yet, I love it, and, even if no one reads my posts, I still get excited to write them. It takes so much more time than I thought, more than I really have time for with five kids. I need to find the right balance, but I am determined to keep writing AND loving on my children while I do it.
    I am also learning about the hardship of asking, asking for support, for feedback, for anything. I have to swallow my pride each time I ask, believing that it will be worth it in the long term. Asking is teaching me to give to others; I comment more and encourage more, understanding that we are all in this together, the hard journey of chasing our dreams with the utmost vulnerability.

  • Adam A
    Posted at 08:51h, 16 June Reply

    I think this is exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve been getting discouraged by how much work I see coming from getting my first customer. I’ve been doing projects, which is no big deal because when they’re done, the relationship is essentially done until the next project comes along. In this case, the customer will be around and using my product for potentially a long time, with me supporting it and providing enhancements. One customer is nice, but it’s still just the start – not enough for me to quit my job to support them (I’d need probably 15-20 for that), but still a huge commitment on my part and their part. I see the work and think “Is it worth it? Shouldn’t it be easier if this is my dream?” This confirms for me that this may just be the start of something bigger and better, and that while hard work will likely be there, but that’s okay!

  • Daron Dickens
    Posted at 09:00h, 16 June Reply

    I like longform ideas! Thank you for writing this blog. As a counselor at something that I face with a lot of people. You can really be something that gets people stop.

  • Gabriel Aviles
    Posted at 09:29h, 16 June Reply

    Jon, great insight. I just quit my job a couple of weeks ago, so this is a timely reminder. Yes, it’s hard work 🙂 All the best

  • Rosanne
    Posted at 09:42h, 16 June Reply

    This is just what I needed to read this morning (as I stare at my long to do list). Easy and dream should not be in the same sentence!

  • Jason Young Guy
    Posted at 10:24h, 16 June Reply

    I’ve always stated as a philosopher, ” Do what you love, and your work will be happily tolerated until you’ve reached the age that your mind and body can no longer sustain the work, thus you either retire or die.” _Jason Young Guy

  • Bryan Truex
    Posted at 10:27h, 16 June Reply

    Butterscotch rainbows. LOL!

    True “Grit” (the John Wayne kind, not the Jeff Bridges kind) is what gets me through the rough patches. Just stay in the saddle and ride that pony and things will happen for you!

  • Pam Richards Watts
    Posted at 16:11h, 16 June Reply

    This is fabulous! Love both your style and your wisdom. Makes me want to ask you to pop by and split a (beverage of your choice) with dear husband and myself–who, by the way, are both currently working our way through our own career do-overs. (Just added a copy of that particular title to my Amazon cart.)
    I’m a big believer in do-overs, period, so that title grabbed me right away.

    Can’t wait to read more of your stuff–thanks for keeping it so real!

  • Michelle
    Posted at 18:56h, 16 June Reply

    THANK YOU!! That BIG LIE has messed with many a young head!! I’ve always told my kids it is a bunch of hogwash! Pursue a job you can LIVE and SERVE with – you know pay the bills, feed your family, hopefully take a vacation or two, tithe to your church, give to charity, serve in your community. Use the gifts and talents God has given you. Doesn’t mean we will all be super stars. Most people soon realize that they aren’t going to love every little thing about their jobs or careers. Fine – reevaluate, make adjustments where necessary (usually the proverbial attitude adjustment), and keep on trucking! Pursue those dreams and passions on the weekends! I loved being a Registrar at a community college but there were definitely tasks I didn’t enjoy. Over 16 years ago I got my dream job – stay at home Mom! Still – there are tasks I don’t love! I hate laundry – but I love seeing my family in clean, nice smelling clothes – so – I do laundry! I serve in student ministry and have an 18 year old son and I hear “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life” so many times! Take the next step and start figuring it out. Go to college, tech school, or get a job and get some experience (trial and error). This is the age of exploration before you have all those commitments! Don’t stress! It usually works out the way it’s supposed to! In the mean time – DO SOMETHING! Ok off my soapbox!

  • Christian Ahlmann
    Posted at 22:45h, 16 June Reply

    Good word Jon. It reminds me of training for bike races; I may love cycling, but training to become competitive is still hard work.

  • Jeanne Fiocca
    Posted at 01:39h, 17 June Reply

    Wise words, and great font for this form I’m filing out too, btw.

    I am following my dream and recently gained some wisdom as to why I’ve found some success where others haven’t. It’s likely why you have as well. Here’s the link:

    My son saw you last summer at HSCamp. I’ve followed you on social media since. Came to your site tonight to track down the DO Summer info. Thanks so much!

  • Aaron Dicer
    Posted at 09:16h, 17 June Reply


    About a year ago I transitioned from doing radio in a studio environment as an employee to doing my syndicated show and movie reviews from home. It has been the hardest working year of my life.

    What I will say is what I have told many who have asked how it’s going. “I’ve never worked this hard, but hard work has never felt this amazing.”

    Good stuff again Jon!

  • KC
    Posted at 17:33h, 17 June Reply

    Nailed it. Thank you for calling out misguided inspirational memes. Great dreams require great work. The journey makes it worthwhile.

    P.S. I can vouch for the mountain ranges, ocean views, and unicorns. #Seattle

  • June Baker
    Posted at 09:05h, 18 June Reply

    Man – am I learning that now! This post is extremely encouraging. I think my greatest source of frustration is hearing, “What do you do with yourself all day now that you’re not working?” Thanks for the post.

  • Lisa
    Posted at 12:34h, 21 June Reply

    The truth is: nothing is achieved without hard work. Sometimes, writing isn’t fun. Editing is never fun. Sometimes, you just want to crawl in bed with a book or a good movie. Often, you have to force yourself to get back (again!) to that chapter that just isn’t working, for the life of it. But you find it in yourself to overcome all obstacles because you do what you love, and it fills you with a sense of purpose and meaning that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

  • Mel
    Posted at 10:32h, 22 June Reply

    Thank you! This is one of those lines that makes me roll my eyes! I LOVE doing certain things but they DO require that I put in the work. Sometimes it’s exhausting and takes hours, but the end results are awesome!

  • Jack
    Posted at 16:38h, 28 June Reply

    I don’t think it’s a lie, I just think you and some other people took it too literally. Work is unavoidable but doing what you love might make the work that much more palatable.

    You got the gist of it in your last paragraph by saying “Do what you love and you’ll love the work you do.” However, I maintain that that’s always been the idea behind the original saying.

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