The Elite Career Blog

Do What You Love. Wise Words or Terrible Career Advice?

Adriana Modersitzki
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May 18, 2018
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8 minute read

Do what you love; love what you do

As far as career advice goes, this is one of the most common phrases you will hear trotted out: do what you love. But just because you hear it all the time, doesn’t mean it’s useful or even true.

Is “do what you love” a realistic goal? Or is it a lie perpetuated by people who want to sell you a lifestyle (and make a lot of money off you in the process)?

Some people CAN do what they love

I treated myself to a lovely pregnancy massage this morning. The masseuse and I talked about how she started out as a masseuse and how she loved giving massages even as a child. It made perfect sense for her to follow this career path. She’s been doing it for years and she LOVES it.

So, some people CAN do what they love. For my masseuse it was clear cut:

  • She knew from a young age that she loved giving massages
  • She has natural talent
  • She could easily pursue further training
  • People are willing to pay her for the service
  • The job requirements fit around her family life
  • People value her amazing massages because they bring comfort and relief, and that works because making people FEEL good is what makes her heart happy

Perhaps you’re on a similar journey. You’re blessed enough to have your gifts, lifestyle, and career all fit together in a neat little box. You KNOW what you love and it’s a viable career path. You can pursue further development and secure a role in your field or start your own business. If so, that’s wonderful! It's like these Venn diagrams you see where people find their purpose in life. A few circles later and everything comes together.

But for most people, it’s a little more complex.  Sure, things might work out this simply and perfectly  for some people but what about the people who do “unsexy jobs”? I can promise you that many of those people are happy working where they are, even if they don’t love every minute of it.

Most people won’t end up in a career that ticks all the boxes.

For example, I doubt anyone would pay me to browse Pinterest and drink gin, but I’m pretty good at it and it makes me happy!

You might not be able to do what you love for a career because:

  • You might not have figured out what it is yet
  • If you have figured it out, you might not be able to get paid for it
  • It might not be something you can realistically develop
  • Training might not be an option because it’s too expensive or far away
  • It might be a niche field and hard to get into
  • It might not fit with your lifestyle
  • It might not be useful or needed right now
  • You’d just rather a secure and predictable income, and work during hours that allow you to do the school pickup

3 problems with “do what you love”

When you don’t fit that mould, the “do what you love” advice can cause a LOT of problems. So, I’m going to talk a bit about:

  • What those problems might be
  • How to avoid them, and
  • What to do if you feel like you’re in a job that you don’t love

1: “Do what you love” causes confusion

In my experience, when you tell someone they need to do what they love, it leaves them confused and directionless. It makes them question their career choices, and a lot of things that are out of their control.

Some people are perfectly content working in a job that pays the bills. They don’t want to chase a dream during working hours.

Gotta love Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It demonstrates things nicely here. For some people, if their basic safety/physiological needs are met (some degree of physical comfort, a secure and safe environment, appropriate resources, a healthy workplace, and a secure job) they’re happy to come to work, do the work, and go home again. They don’t need to go all the way through to self-actualisation between 9am-5pm every weekday.

If you tell these people that they are supposed to “do what they love”, they’ll either be confused or start to feel discontent with a situation that’s actually perfectly fine.

2: “Do what you love” adds a lot of pressure

There is far too much pressure put on people to have it all and do it all. Especially on women who have had children and are returning to the workforce. There’s an expectation that you:

  • Be an amazing mother
  • Manage an exciting and high-earning career
  • Get kids to a variety of after school activities
  • Put a healthy, nutritious meal on the table for dinner
  • And don’t forget the coconut oil – there’s something we’re meant to do with coconut oil...

So, somehow, on top of all those things (which adds up to 5 full time jobs already), we’re also supposed to also love what we’re doing?

Nobody needs that kind of pressure.

3: “Do what you love” overlooks most roles out there

Time for another reality check. Not every job is a “sexy job”. By that I mean, a job that:

  • Sounds glamourous
  • Pays you incredibly well
  • Gives you a level of autonomy
  • Leaves you feeling fulfilled at the end of every day

Most roles that are available out there just aren’t that sexy. Most jobs are quite normal, uninteresting, useful, and necessary functions in society. There are SO many jobs out there that we don’t even think of when we think of career paths.

What if I don’t love my job?

What if you don’t jump right out of bed every morning, pumped to get to work? What if your job is just average and isn’t something you absolutely love?

First, you should know that you’re not the only one! It’s normal to feel that way about your job. Second, what you do at work doesn’t have to define your whole purpose and self-worth (not even close). Allow me to explain…

You might be happier in an 'unsexy' job

From my past experience as a recruiter (and now as a career coach), I've met and spoken to a lot of different people in different roles. So, I can tell you two things with confidence:

  1. A sexy job or “doing what you love” doesn’t guarantee happiness or life satisfaction
  2. A career change might be the best decision you ever make, even if it seems like a downgrade from where you are now

Case in point…

  • I’ve spoken to a woman who had an extremely sucessful career in law enforcement but it was wearing her down. She left to pursue work in a completely unrelated field that brings her joy, and she's smashing it.
  • I know an electrician who, at 45 decided to go back to uni and become a high school teacher. He’s been in that role for almost 10 years now, and loves it.
  • I’ve spoken to men who were warehouse managers in big name businesses. They were burnt out and simply wanted a job driving a forklift where they didn’t have to make the decisions or be responsible for a while.
  • I’ve spoken to HR managers who have hired white collar middle management professionals to do repetitive meter reading jobs, and it works for them. Why? Because THAT is what the individual was genuinely after.

All these stories might sound like odd tangents off a standard career path, but they all have something in common. These people are happy and established in their new careers because their new job meets a need that was previously unmet.

Do things you love outside of work

Work doesn’t have to provide your whole identity, purpose, and needs. There is, after all, a lot more to life than just working!

Perhaps you can be happy with your job because of what it allows you to achieve outside of work. Because you can certainly “do what you love” when you’re not at work!

Your job brings you meaning…

Perhaps for you, being available to ferry your children to after school activities is a priority. Or perhaps being a soccer mum or teaching a dance class is what makes your heart sing.

Your job brings you value…

Maybe what motivates you is progressing in your career. In the moment, it might seem like you’re stuck in a bit of a loop, with every day the same. BUT you’re working with a highly respected leader in your field and receiving a lot of on the job training that will allow you to advance your career. Soon enough, you’ll get a position that you really want.

Your job aligns with your why…

Perhaps you crave structure in your life, and having a job provides you with an identity. It might be all about interacting with other adults and finding yourself again outside of being a mum.

Your job brings you joy…

For you, perhaps job security is one of the most important factors. Knowing that your job is predictable and secure gives you the confidence to do things that are important to you. Like put a deposit on your first home, book a family holiday, or take time off for the birth of your grandchild.

So even if your job isn’t sexy, and the work itself isn’t something you love to do, you can still find joy and purpose because of how it helps you achieve your goals.

The best way to choose your career

*warning* self-reflection piece coming up in 3, 2, 1… 😉

Career decisions are best if you make them around the kind of lifestyle you want, not just around doing what you love. In other words – focus on achieving the things that are most important to you in life, not just at work. So, ask yourself:

  1. What ways can I achieve purpose and meaning in my life outside of work?
  2. What makes my heart sing and reenergises me?
  3. What factors about the job are most important to me?
  4. Is there an industry I know I want to work in?
  5. What kind of role do I want?
  6. What job or career fits in with these wants and needs to fulfil me professionally, personally, or both?

I’ve put these questions into a fillable worksheet, with suggestions to help you come up with some answers that fit your situation. Want the worksheet? Shoot me an email and I'll get it over to you. One day, I'm going to work out how to make a clickable 'Download now' link, I promise! 

Here’s the thing… doing what you love will absolutely bring joy and fulfilment to your life. But it doesn’t need to come in the form of your 9 – 5. Because your joy and fulfilment should come from who you are, not what you do.

Look at the full picture – are you doing what you love?

Doing what you love for your career is all well and good – if that works for you. Fortunately, for the rest of us who can’t create a career from doing what we love (ahem, Pinterest and gin), we can find our joy and fulfillment elsewhere.

So, reframe the question. Are you doing things you enjoy? Are you getting joy and fulfillment from your life – whether it’s at your job or not?

You might not love your profession, but it might allow you to do the things that you love outside of work, at home, on holidays, or with your kids. At the end of the day, even the best job in the world exists to support your lifestyle and personal goals.

Over to you…

It’s been another long (but hopefully useful) blog. But before you go, I want to make sure you DO something. Because that’s the whole point here!

If you’re in that space right now where you’re not sure if you love what you’re doing, I encourage you to get in touch to get the (obligation free!) worksheet with the questions and fill it out. Do some self-reflection.

And if you’re ready to make a change, find a job that caters to your strengths and gives you what you NEED… whether that’s a sense of achievement, security, money, education, or something else. And actually MAKE the change.

What’s the worst that can happen? At worst, you’ll rule out something that you absolutely don’t want to do ever again… but at best, you’ll figure out what you LOVE and do it for the rest of your life.

Finally, if you want an extra helping hand to get through this transition period or even just figure out what the heck you want to do next, I’m here to help! I offer support with career coaching, planning, and resume writing to help you find (and get) the right job.

Here’s to doing what we love in life – whether that's at work or not!

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