From Pinterest to posters to countless high school valedictorian speeches, the mantra "do what you love; love what you do" is everywhere, but it's not necessarily what we need. This week, Slate ran a piece about how the oft-repeated phrase hurts workers. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some key sections:
One consequence ... is the division that DWYL [Do What You Love] creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society's racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.
We have a tendency to treat not-so-lovable jobs as less-than, or worse, as punishment. The fact that kids may not dream of becoming garbage collectors or DMV staffers or housekeepers doesn't make those jobs less important. Do some people with those jobs love them? Probably. Do some hate them? Probably. But either way, they're jobs that serve to put food on the table and keep society functioning. Treating these jobs—and by extension, those who hold them—like they're worthless simply because they're not "well-loved" just reinforces the classism in our society. And DWYL hurts those in "lovable" jobs too:
Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions, where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to pin and tweet on weekends, the 46 percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.
One thing I've realized since coming to France is just how deeply-ingrained American work culture is. While there are certainly people here who work like Americans, the majority of people seem to treat their jobs as, well, jobs—no matter how much they enjoy them. My host mom is a psychologist, but she works from home and takes time to make cookies with her daughter every week. My host dad is an architect, but every day he still comes home during his two-hour lunch break to eat a proper meal and fall asleep in front of the television. Try going to any government or university office, the bank, or even many stores between the hours of 12 and 2 and you'll see that people are putting having a good life in front of working nonstop.
By comparison, of course, we have the US, where you're expected to love what you do. And even if you don't love it, you're still expected to make it your life—responding to email after hours, eating lunch at your desk, going out with coworkers for "bonding". The expectation is that if you want to be successful, you'll work for it—unpaid internships, underpaid entry gigs, 70-hour weeks when you're only getting paid for 40. That's the American dream, right? That you'll work for the title, for the potential promotion, and of course, for love. And when you complain, well, "I thought you liked doing this."
There's nothing inherently wrong with loving your job. I know if I'm going to be spending 40+ hours a week doing something, I'd like to enjoy it. But in a country that puts so much emphasis on working for what you get, why aren't we getting what we work for?