I was on a panel discussion for a coding bootcamp with an old friend and mentor of mine. While answering one of the questions, he pulled out a quote that’s always made my skin crawl – “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I have always hated this saying for a number of reasons. It’s a promotion of the harmful Protestant Work Ethic. It sets people up for abuse and exploitation because it’s used to devalue the work itself and try to guilt the person into working much longer hours than they should all so someone else can profit off of it. It even becomes a form of self-brainwashing where you think there’s something wrong with you because work feels like, well, work.
On top of that, it’s just plain not true.
You can enjoy what you do for a living, but that doesn’t make it any less work. You are doing something, for someone else, to fulfil the wants/needs of someone who is making a profit off of it, so that you can acquire the money you need in order to pay for food, shelter, medical care, and a whole host of other necessities. Do you know what we call that? A job.
Passion has absolutely nothing to do with that arrangement. You’re doing it as a job. It’s work (honestly, even if you aren’t doing it as a job, it’s still work. It’s just a different category of work). The fact that you generally enjoy what you do may make it suck somewhat less to do it on a daily basis, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s work.
I’ll use myself as an example. I enjoy programming and solving problems that positively impact the lives of others. I’m even generally pretty good at it – certainly good enough that I get paid well to do so. But, at the end of the day, the work that I do on a daily basis is just that – work. It fulfils the needs of companies that use it to make a metric boatload of money.
If I were to win the lottery, yes I would probably still spend some of my time writing code because I enjoy it. However, it would be on things that I choose to work on. At the moment, that would probably include writing code to program robots (which is just plain fun), doing things to solve my own problems, and possibly do some limited work on open source projects that I think are worth contributing to.
However, I wouldn’t do it for 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week. I have far more interests than just writing code.
I’d spend time going on walks and traveling. I’d train more often. I’d do more crafting (I do leather work, woodwork, and used to do blacksmithing). I’d read more. I’d spend more time sitting at the lake and watching the world go by. I’d spend more time with friends.
The list goes on.
On the upside, while I used to hear this saying all the time growing up, I almost never hear it now. It may be that I’m just around a different set of people than I used to be, but when I add that item to the other changes I’ve seen happening with the latest generation, I have hope that it’s because people are finally starting to fight against the exploitation.
Some people would say that “kids these days just don’t work as hard as we did,” to which I would respond GOOD, because they shouldn’t have to. If it’s a sign that things are changing to be better for the average person, I’ll applaud it because it’s been far too long in coming.
The work you do is work. No matter if you “love” what you do or not. You’re doing it because you have bills to pay. Don’t let someone feed you the lie that it isn’t work, because that’s a very short hop away from people trying to not pay you for it while they reap the rewards.