Do What You Love, Love What You Do – The Challenges of the Mantra

Written by Jenni Chadick, Assistant Director of Residence Life

Recently, I’ve read a few articles (here and here) regarding the “Do What You Love” (aka DWYL) movement, and they have shaken my perspective on a mantra I myself have espoused at times. These articles challenge the common mantra which idolizes if you are doing what you love as a career, work will no longer feel like work.  The authors argue that this mentality is in fact dangerous for us – and devalue the economic value of hard work.

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class.” – Miya Tokumitsu

The goal of so many students, 20-somethings, baby-boomers and millennial alike seems these days to be to find a way to make a living that does not actually feel like work. How many times have I told students “find your passion.” Res Life’s own motto is “Passion Lives Here.” These articles challenged me to think of how I’m contributing to this myth that work shouldn’t ever feel like work.  The concept of “DWYL” is ubiquitous with “the pursuit of happiness” that is part of the modern American dream, and what does that mean for those of us that either are working jobs that do not feel like we are living our passion, or for those of us who do find meaning in our career – but not every minute of the day-job?

Don’t get me wrong – I do love the idea of what I do. I like working with students (generally). I like working on large projects (generally). I enjoy the moments where a student tells me the impact they have had on their development. But do I love every educational conversation I have with a student about why we have our alcohol policy? Do I love telling students that maybe they do not have what it takes to be on our staff? Do I love all the paperwork, the politics, the minutia of every day tasks? Not always. And I am priviledged to even be in the position to love the idea of what I do. Many Americans, and many citizens of our global economy, are forced into  jobs out of necessity and not from pure passion. Does this make their contributions less valuable or meaningful? Do their contributions define who they are? And should those contributions only be looked at as “temporary” on the way to finding our true calling? It’s a very privileged perch to be on to say “when you find what you love, you’ll get paid to do it.” That ignores systematic oppression, systems that oppress and marginalize millions.

What troubles me is I am not sure I have this honest conversation with my peer professionals, let alone with the students I work with. It seems a disservice to model and emulate this idea that “I love every component of my job” for students who are in that critical stage of discovering what brings them the most meaning. Note, a career is only a sliver of who we truly are. If we begin to wrap up our whole identity in our career, we fall into a dangerous trap that ignores the complexity of meaning making, ignoring needs and values outside of career and work. Needs that often speak to a bigger contribution outside of ourselves – family, society, citizenship.

Bringing the conversation down to a micro level, at a recent professional conference I attended I found myself in conversation with other mid-level professional who sheepishly admitted not being sure if residence life, or higher education in general, is where they see their professional career in 10 years. It’s a secret that seems important to keep cloaked. Admitting that a job (one that all of these professionals were exceptional at) was not necessarily their best fit, or where they saw themselves in the future, seemed to be a betrayal. Like admitting we’re in a relationship that has no future. “Seek counseling!” We might exclaim, in the form that it’s maybe just a challenge that needs slight adjustment and not a total role reversal. As if a relationship with a career is the same as choosing a life partner. I find the same issue at play in the current RA interviews we are conducting on our campus. There is an inherent distaste for the response to the question “why are you applying for this position” that focuses on the economic benefits of the position. Too many of my peers are too quick to write off the student who focuses on room and board compensation, when the reality is these students are facing skyrocketing costs of higher education and student loans. Is it so unreasonable to expect that for some that’s what gets them into our office in the first place? And the student who is motivated by a paycheck to remain a student on our campus just may put the most effort into the job, because it yields such economic benefits?

I’m not sure where exactly I stand on the DWYL movement. I see challenges, and I also see value in the discernment process of finding what you love in life. I think more than anything these articles have challenged me to think of how this movement represents privilege and power in ways I had not thought of before.

Most of us have to work for a living. And a few of us are lucky enough to find meaning in our jobs. Let’s be careful then to acknowledge the privilege, and the systems, that allowed us to be so lucky. And let’s not turn our nose up to the “real work” that does come across our desk when (and if) it does – it’s a small price to pay.



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