An argument against In The Name of Love (or, why I wanna encourage you to Do What You Love)

il_570xN.262075740Do What You Love poster set by The Ink Society

A poster set like the one above set it all off.

When I finally got around to reading the article “In the Name of Love“, I knew why I put off clicking on it the first dozen times it came around on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

The sub-title of the article states, “Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.” And that’s the gist of the opinion that was shared here.

“(Do What You Love) is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”

Of course, as a career coach whose main goal in life is to help creative women discover & achieve their passionate careers (my tagline is “I wanna love what I do”, after all) – and as someone who went through this process myself (from pursuing an acting career and then finding & pursuing my next passion, life and career coaching) – I felt attacked.

The author goes on to call those following and heading the Do What You Love call as narcissistic, privileged, and anti-worker. But here’s the thing:

Doing What You Love – and encouraging others to do the same – does not mean you don’t acknowledge, care, or look down on those with “unglamorous work”.

I remember working as an apartment show-er (not shower!) in a luxury building in the Financial District back in ’00. I leased apartments to 22 year olds (same age as me back then) whose finance jobs right outta college gave them 6 figure salaries.

I was making $100/day.

Was I envious of the money they were making? Sure!

Did I ever for a second want their jobs on Wall Street? Hell no!

The apartment show-er job for me was a “dream job”, in a way.

It allowed me to make $12.50/hr (well above minimum wage), pick the 3-4 days each work I wanted to work around auditions I had lined up,  utilize my communication and interpersonal skills, and not wait tables (which was torturous to me personally). That is what was important to me at the time, and allowed me to pursue my ultimate “dream job”: being a musical theater performer.

Did the finance people and NYU students and celebrities who I helped lease apartments to look down on me?

Was I less than them because my paycheck, responsibilities, and dreams were different than theirs?

I have no idea, actually. As my role model Judge Judy says, that would require me to look into the inner working of their mind, and I couldn’t do that.

Thankfully, I can’t remember an incident where I was made to feel stupid by anyone I was working with or for – in regards to my “menial” job or my “stupid” and “unrealistic” dream of being an actor.

I think the key is not assuming that a “dream job” for you is a “dream job” for anyone else. 

Just because you can’t stand working in an office doesn’t mean that your brother can’t.

Just because you ultimately wanna work for yourself doesn’t mean that your colleague does.

Just because you want to open your own shop doesn’t mean that your bestie dreams of it.

So please, for the love of all that’s holy, find out what it is that’ll allow you to Do What You Love and go do it. Loving what you do is the surefire way to enjoy the time you spend on this planet, both working (the 86,000 hours of it!) and playing.

But along the way,  be kind and generous to those whose dreams (and values! and priorities! and education! and skill set! and passions! and interests! and family situation!) are different than yours.

I can bottom-line this by quoting my 10 months ago self, “If you don’t care about what you’re doing, then you’re not gonna be happyCase closed.”

That’ll allow us all to Do What We Love as well as Love What We Do – and each other.

Did you agree with that article? Are you following the Do What You Love mantra? I’d love to know in the comments!



  1. Tina Fussell says

    Amen! The more you love your chosen path, the more you will be able to influence others in positive ways and the happier you will be with yourself. Life is short! I am 50 and quit my job to go to nursing school. I loved that job for a time and then I hated it. Now I want to be a nurse and have time to quilt. I may one day change my mind again about what I want to be when I grow up. But along the way, I’ll be sure that I’m happy every day!

    • michelle says

      Such big props to you, Tina! I know that is not the usual choice, but you know it’s best for you…which does NOT make you elitist or narcissistic!

      My favorite: “The more you love your chosen path, the more you will be able to influence others in positive ways and the happier you will be with yourself.” Agreed!

  2. Emme says

    I have not read the original article, however, I agree fully with your argument/ point. It may be ‘easier’ for people from privileged backgrounds to do what they love, but there are also plenty of people who have worked their bums off to get to a point where they can enjoy the work (something, as you said, we spend the majority of time doing) that they do. It is offensive to call those people idealistic or elitist. I dislike the attitude that work must be boring and hard to be worthwhile and that you can ‘have fun when you retire’. I personally think the world would be a much better place if everyone who is able (whether as their main job or on the side) did what they loved, whatever that may be, instead of what they believe/ are told is the ‘right’ thing to do.

  3. says

    Michelle, I could not agree with you more. Some of my best jobs were my lowest paid ones (child care, retail, etc.). The reason I loved them (even more at times than my 6-figure job) is the flexibility.

    I feel stuck when I’m forced to work 40+ hours for someone else. I just couldn’t even finish the article – some of the worst assumptions ever by that author.

  4. laura sinnott says

    The article on Slate is silly and ridiculous. I commented on their site that I believe this article was written just to generate controversy and web traffic. It’s hate filled and there’s no real argument or substance. The strangest part is that to me, the author is demeaning the very people he/she purports to give a voice to. Weird!

    • michelle says

      YES! I’m hating that “news” outlets are doing things like this…I see it more and more. Did you see the article about the woman who put down stay at home Moms just because she didn’t wanna be one? Ridiculous! (And no, I won’t link to it)

  5. says

    Thanks for this sane, loving response to the original article.

    I read it a couple of weeks ago and didn’t bristle as much as a lot of the people who shared it, but some of the implications that people with “menial” jobs couldn’t enjoy them definitely felt wrong. You’ve put your finger on the reason!

    Work is about more than just the actual labor. MaryJane Butters told a story in one of her books that’s stuck with me for a long, long time. It’s about a woman who became a manicurist, not because she loved (or even really cared about) nails, but because she loved being with people and talking with them, and enjoyed detail work. She’s happy and makes other people happy, and yet lots of people would call it “menial.”

    • michelle says

      YES! Yes yes yes – so true. Love stories like this. If we all find work that aligns with our personal values/passions/priorities our world would be a much better place.

  6. says

    Michelle, this is perfect. What the author doesn’t quite get is that different people love different things. I knew a guy who loooved to clean. The restaurant he worked in loved the fact that he was so great at it. They bought him the special mop he requested and paid him well. The reason I know this is because they told their patrons how awesome he was and how much they appreciated him. Kid had his dream job, and they had their dream employee.

    But truly, I think the author is just one of those people who’s not happy unless they’re unhappy. And since they made other people unhappy as well, they now have their dream job.

    Michelle, your work is proven. Even the malcontents can love what they do!

    • michelle says

      Ohmygosh, I love that story. And why was the guy so good at his job? Because he loved it! (The only person who’s claiming it’s menial is the author of this article!)

  7. Keith Kehrer says

    Yeah, I think the author of that article missed the whole point. I guess if there were no janitors, who would clean up after us elitists. I make no apologies for being a narcissist. I am an artist and it expected of me anyway. I just want to get paid for what people love about me.

  8. says

    (Apologies for the very long comment!)

    I really love your analysis of this issue! I think one of the main problems that the article faces is that it takes one interpretation of ‘do what you love’ and just assumes that we all understand that slogan or mantra to mean the same thing, when it can be used as inspiration or aspiration in many different ways.

    When I first saw a link to that article a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time arguing with myself about the argument it is making, because I do think it has a point, but I don’t think that the point it is making about the split in the modern world of work has anything to do with ‘do what you love’. And I definitely agree with your point that people have different dreams and not everyone wants to have the kind of dream job often held up as the epitome of ‘do what you love’.

    I do think that there are certain jobs that are very unlikely to be anyone’s dream job (say, for example, I doubt the woman in my office building who cleans our toilets throughout the day loves what she does or someone doing laundry at a large hotel or other similar jobs), but I don’t think that me not trying to do what I love will make the situation of those in low-wage, low-skill, demanding and unfulfilling jobs any better. And I also don’t think that me trying to find something that I love makes me automatically devalue those who have jobs that they don’t love.

    There are other things anyone who is in the (potentially privileged) position to choose to do what he or she loves can do (and may even have an obligation to do) to help those in menial, low-wage, demanding jobs (including, I guess, helping to create a society where such work is paid appropriately and valued as essential to society), including being respectful when dealing with people who hold such jobs (and not ignoring those people or being rude to them the way a surprising number of people tend to be would be a start).

    I do see the article’s point that ‘do what you love’ (yes, I am refusing to use the silly DWYL abbreviation) can be used as a ploy to get people to work more for less pay in certain industries like journalism, design or academia (jobs that seem to have an inherent ‘dream job’ factor), but I would turn the argument on its head – these jobs have been demanding long hours for low pay long before ‘do what you love’ became totally ubiquitous (l remember when I first discovered your blog in 2011 it wasn’t something that was discussed on every career site like it is now) and perhaps (I have no evidence for this idea, by the way) the ‘do what you love’ idea has gained traction precisely because for some, it’s a way to justify the amount work that is required of them (as in, ‘well, I shouldn’t complain, after all, I am doing what I love’). But again, me not doing what I love won’t change that.

    I’m not sure I have a nice tidy concluding point on this, but I did want to comment, as I have been thinking about this a lot recently.

    Thanks for making me think!

    • michelle says

      No apologies at all…I wanted a discussion just like this! Thanks so much for adding your voice here, and everything to back it up. You’re such a smartie and I’m glad to see that we share our perspective here.

      I so agree with the new point you brought up, and it goes further into proving that “me not doing what I love won’t change that.” Ugh, the author really boils my blood!

  9. says

    Hi Michelle!
    I just quit my job to follow my dream and FINALLY do what really makes me happy. I am not elite at all. I’m simply tired of working a hamster wheel to barely make enough money to survive and not have time to pursue what I truly love.

    The thing about this article that left me sighing, was that this person who wrote the article was clearly following an art he/she loved, called writing. Nothing is more elite than a writer criticizing others, when they’ve probably spent their own lives pursing their love of writing. So I read it and moved on.

    Thanks for the awesome opinion though! It needed to be said. :)

    • michelle says

      Ooh, I LOVE your site/work, Sara. Mazel Tov on being a Woman of the World!

      You bring up such a good point – that the choices we each make do not then automatically devalue anyone else’s choices. By quitting our jobs, we are not saying that everyone should quit their jobs.

      And thanks for pointing out that hypocrisy! So true.

  10. Michelle says

    I can certainly see both sides of this coin. I grew up very creative and yet with parents that told me I had to go to college, study and get a “real job”, they told me being creative was a nice “hobby”. I worked retail all through high school and college and I certainly didn’t want to do that forever, so I listened to the folks, put away my “toys” aka: poetry, singing, painting, etc., ad nauseum, and studied psychology right out of high school. Became a psychotherapist and over time got these strange, health issues, until they got SO bad I had to close my practice and get on Social Security Disability (thank goodness for those teen retail years, or I wouldn’t have had any $ paid in ;)and while on SSDI (because I knew I had to figure out a plan B) I too fell in love with life coaching. At first it was to get my CEU’s “in case” I wanted to return to counseling as my profession when I got healthier. But instead, I got totally psyched about coaching entered a great life coach training program. I’m still on SSDI hoping to shift out of it all in this coming year, and I’m certified as a life coach (BCC, the new one from NBCC) and I just let my counseling license lapse, yippeeee! Even being on disability with only a grand a month in income, married to an amazing pianist (who certainly knew how to follow his passions)he performs for retirement communities for a living, I STILL say, follow your passion! Yes, we all have to pay the bills, but you know what? If you live your life according to your values (time with partner, vital health,etc.) working a 40 plus hour a week job no matter the $$ just might not be worth it. I pursued coaching so I could create a job where I can work from home on my terms while honoring my health, SSDI or not. I think you’ve got to give yourself permission first to simply imagine..what if?? What if I did something that was connected in some way to what I love?? And whatever we do for work, it’s never a waste! All those years in retail combined with my love of all things visual is certainly going to come in handy as I create my website and blog this year! I say, feel the love no matter what you do!! :)

    • michelle says

      Spoken like a true life coach! :) I agree that even my “menial” day jobs I did as I was acting (can we say Dressed Up as a 1800Flowers Gift Box and Stood In Front Of The Today Show For 3 Hours in The Bitter Cold?) has brought me to where I am today – and I don’t regret it at all.

      When you feel the love, you’re able to give it in return. Glad there’s people like us to keep perpetuating it!

  11. says

    Hmmm. Tokumitsu needs to remember THIS one old adage: When you point a finger, how many are pointing back at you? Her article shows that she is every bit as elitist as those she criticizes. Yes, we do have the laborers. Yes, they have to bring in the money. I’ve been poor and I’ve cleaned houses and put up with shit jobs so I could eat (and sometimes barely at that). But I am doing what I love, and that is owning and running my center, The Owl’s Lantern. I don’t know where my next dollar is coming from – and that’s okay. But I paid my dues, damn it, and she is not going to tell me that I’m elitist or living in a dream world.

    • michelle says

      Preach! Thanks for sharing your story, Sue. I didn’t think of it as “paying your dues”, but that’s a great way to put it.

      (And The Owl’s Lantern looks amazeballs!)

  12. says

    Absolutely agreeing with you 110% there Michelle. And way to go for your eloquent + passionate argument to the cause of staying in “YOUR TRUTH.”

    I’ve always been a massive fan of using passion in your work. Heck in everything you do in life.

    If we cannot “feel” passion for the time we spend creating, living, experiencing, connecting, and working… how CAN we feel alive + fulfilled?

  13. says

    Wow, has the author of the original piece missed the point or what?! As someone who doesn’t believe we get multiple shots at life, this is it. Why would I waste most of the week of most of my adult weeks not feeling fulfilled, being unhappy or just without the drive and passion for the way I’m spending my time? Isn’t that a waste of this gift called living?

    Perhaps this gets rammed home to me a bit harder because I have a genetic illness that forces me to rest and brings with it illness and pain regularly – the yearning to be well, to be joining in, to be contributing is pretty strong at those times I’m least able. Isn’t it a slap in the face to all those who don’t get the chance to be alive, or who do but in pretty awful circumstances to not make the best of it? And if the author thinks the best of life is muddling your way through a 9-5 to just pay the bills, I’d say they’ve had a pretty sad existence.

    • michelle says

      It IS a waste, yes! (Although that’s not to say that those who work jobs “simply” to provide for themselves and their families are doing anything wrong)

      So glad to hear that you’re taking good care of yourself by making time to pursue your passion, Jenna. Yes!

  14. says

    This is AMAZING!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and challenging this ludicrous idea. We were born to live passionately – it is our purpose. I guess an idea such as ‘Doing what you love’, requiring you to step out your comfort zone, is bound to confront those who choose to settle for less than their best. Where they went so wrong in their article though is when they linked profit with passion – for me, it’s taking my eyes off profit for a while, taking a step back & really analyzing what makes me happy. However big or small our career dreams are – they are all different and that’s beautiful! Thanks for being my role model Michelle!!

    • michelle says

      YES! Such a great point, and a perspective that most of us soulpreneurs (if I can use that term) agree with. Obviously, we wanna be able to make a grown-up living and pay our bills and go on vacations and have a grown-up savings account…but we all don’t share the same dreams, goals, or priorities. If we all make time – and pursue! – what makes us happy individually, the world would absolutely be a better place. Solidarity!

  15. says

    Oh, Michelle, I really do appreciate hearing that other people take jobs that pay enough but allows them to do what they want! You see, I work full time as an administrative employee in a government-ish job. My degrees are not in this field and while my other Masters cohort-mates are off doing what we all set out to do, I’m here. But you know what? Once 5:00 hits, I’m off the clock. I don’t have any weekend responsibilities, and I don’t have my work email on my phone. I get every other Friday off, and really great benefits — I’m able to travel, run a business, and not use too much decision-making power during the day so I can just leave my job at my desk and go home to do my own thing! Not many people understand why I would stick with a job like this if I have a Masters, but they aren’t walking the same road as me and what they want out of life isn’t what I necessarily want. Thank you for sharing your story :)

  16. says

    I am so glad you wrote this. I was horrified by that article and wanted to say how much I felt it was bass ackwards, but knew I’d just get all worked up if I sat down to write a reply (and where would I even have posted it?). I frankly found the author’s tone elitist in its own right, which was awfully ironic considering what she was saying.

  17. says

    Oh I love this juicy topic! I spent 20 years working for ‘the man’ and my colleagues were smart, dedicated, passionate peeps.

    I spent many years leading change projects in the public sector and the level of commitment of many probation officers and social workers was gob-smackingly beautiful. Don’t get me started on the salary they receive.

    And scientists who were researching cancer protocols and treatments – who would (once the project I was leading had completed) move from their dingy basement labs to the most sophisticated research facility in Europe. There’s a lot you can learn from being the only person in the room without a PhD.
    And again, those super-brainy scientists were doing it for relatively low wages.

    We all have our callings and thank goodness they are different. I am so grateful for my experience – I call them the Wilderness Years because I couldn’t understand why, when I was ‘successful’ I still had this longing, this sense that I was in the wrong job.

    Once I worked out what I wanted to do, it took a few years of training and practising and saving my tits off to make it all happen. These days I work for myself – as a Ladypreneur – bringing my own flavour of awesome to the world.

    I have deep reverence for anyone who is doing what they love – there is nothing more compelling that talking with someone who is passionate about their work. It seems a bit bland and reductionist to say that one context is better than another.


    • michelle says

      I LOVE The Wilderness Years…I wish they were encouraged (even mandatory!) for teens post-high school. And now that we’re doing what *we* love we see how our path brought us here…but I know it’s tough to see at the time.

      And man oh man, how I wish those officers, scientists and teachers got paid what they’re worth! But it doesn’t negate that they’re doing what they love, too.

  18. Carrie Lamanna says

    Slate’s agenda is to spark controversy in order to increase its page views, so it doesn’t surprise me that this article is full of hyperbolic statements. The example of adjunct faculty is way off the mark. I have worked in academia for the past 16 years, first running a writing center and teaching writing classes while a graduate student and now as a tenure track professor. Colleges and universities have been phasing out full time teaching positions since the 1970s—decades before the DWYL movement. What is happening in higher education isn’t the result of people throwing caution to the wind and getting PhDs out of love without thinking about the extremely weak academic job market. The adjunct crisis is the result of many complex factors including, but not limited to, drastic reductions in funding for public universities; an unprecedented increase in the number of administrators (and their salaries) that suck up the dollars that are available; and the corporatization of the university in which cheap, disposable part-time labor is preferred over paying benefits and living wages.

    That said, I wish the article had focused more on something that I do think gets overlooked in the DWYL movement: not everyone can literally afford to follow their passion. This is a movement primarily (but not entirely) of the middle and upper classes and therefore it is overwhelmingly white. I’m not saying that those who have the option to follow their passion should feel guilty or not do it because others cannot. I would like to see those who have followed our dreams successfully do something to help those who cannot do so without financial help. And I think it is especially important for women to help each other in this way. Micro-loan programs, scholarships for art or music classes, coaching school, etc., free childcare programs…

    Economics is a factor here. If you are a single mom working two jobs in order to pay the bills, you don’t have the option to DWYL. I don’t think the movement devalues “unglamorous” work, but I’m not sure it fully recognizes that its members are economically privileged. I don’t have an answer to this problem—its just something that nags at me every time I work on my escape plan from my job and lament how hard it is because I know I should feel lucky to even have the choice.

  19. says

    Very late response but…
    This is a really good addition to what that old article said. The original article is correct in that it is a bit problematic to presume that everyone can and should “do what they love” 24/7.

    And many people do use the expression “do what you love” in a mean-spirited way, as the author suggests… for instance, many use it to imply that people who perform less glamorous jobs are failures for not “doing what they love” all the time. And many people do use the expression to encourage people to work themselves to the bone. “You don’t want to teach kids 12 hours a day? What’s the matter, you love your job, don’t you?” To many, so-called love is an excuse to disregard your well-being.

    But but but! Many people also use it in a way that that author doesn’t acknowledge. Many people who say “do what you love” don’t mean “Do what you love full-time for $100k a year.” They just mean “Do what you love, and build the rest of your life around it.”

    And most of the time, that doesn’t even mean “Do what you love for a living.” Sometimes it means “base your life around what you love.”

    To base your life around what you love, you really do need to know yourself. In many ways, that’s harder than utterly throwing yourself into the thing you love, regardless of what it does to your well-being. But it’s probably a more realistic way to make yourself happy, and it’s worth it!


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