Paul Jarvis

Do we have to love our work?

When employers are looking to hire, they always seem to want people that are passionate about the company's mission. Is that necessary?

When we work for ourselves, we're expected to wake up each day (#riseandgrind) elated to start our work, especially if it's a Monday. But do we have to love what we do?

After all, if you love what you do, it no longer feels like work. Right?

Work seems to have taken on an almost religious-like meaning, where the ethos of happily grinding it out most hours of most days is thought of as "good" and "just". As a result, we feel guilt and shame if we aren't working, or aren't working enough.

To make matters worse, we've set this expectation that we haven't really "made it" unless we have a meaningful, fulfilling job to do, and if we just keep telling ourselves it's meaningful and fulfilling, it's ok that it also consumes most of our lives.

To be totally honest though, my work still feels like... work most of the time. Sometimes it's enjoyable, but sometimes it's tremendously stressful and tiresome and even so taxing it affects other non-work related relationships in my life.

Overall, I enjoy the work I do and feel pretty darn lucky to do it. But that doesn't mean I'm going to work 16 hours a day and tell myself to be happy because my work is so fulfilling. Nor will I feel shame if I wake up on Monday morning and feel less than cheery knowing I've got to spend the next 4 hours on a computer instead of in my garden.

Most of my work is quite boring: answering support emails, doing interviews, rewriting an article for the eighteenth time because it's just not quite right. I'm not passionate about any of those things (especially interviews), but it's what pays the bills, helps others, and keeps my business profitable – so I gladly do them. Not because I love them, but because they're part of my job. Thankfully, I don't have to love them to do them. Just like I don't have to be super passionate about a company to work for them.

Passion or love doesn't have to be part of the work/job equation

The value of work is that you get paid to do it, not that you'd do it even if you didn't get paid. It even bothers a lot of other writers that my main reason for being a writer is that I get paid to write. Sure I like it, but I don't like it more than my other hobbies. Writing can be difficult, exhausting when it's done well, and leaves you a little beaten up (or at least it does to me).

I work to get work done. I work hard for short bursts so that I can finish my work, not so that I can pile more onto my plate (and be happy it’s full like the first round of an overzealous buffet-goer). I work to the best of my abilities because I want people to feel like they get real value from what they buy from me. And I don't have to love every aspect of my work to accomplish that.

I work mostly because it pays the bills. It serves my purpose (or ego) that I help people do better. And I mostly enjoy it. But really I work not because it's super-happy-fun-time each and every time I turn on my computer, but because if I do a bit of work first, then I have the freedom to not work later. Sometimes I feel shame and guilt for not working, but I also feel shame and guilt sometimes when I am working because there are other non-work things I should be doing...

There’s a darker side of finding passion in our work that thought leaders and college professors neglect to tell us. The part where our passion consumes us. The part where it becomes like Shiva, the destroyer of worlds, and worlds are our relationships and contentment. The part where even knowing that, knowing its penchant for utter obliteration of everything else, we can’t trade it away or find balance. The part where we can know how consumed we are by it, and still do nothing to fix or salvage other aspects of our lives. The part where it becomes who we are, full stop.

I’ve both known people like this and fallen victim to it for a little while myself. Where we’re finally doing the thing we feel like we’ve wanted to do and end up working every day until 10pm, wondering where the day’s gone, why it’s dark out or how we’ve missed 14 text messages. And why is there still nothing in the fridge?

Passion can kill and we can become petulant children, knowing the stove element is hot but reaching for it anyway, even though our other hand is bandaged.

Which is why I have no idea why passion lauded as the pinnacle of work. Why can’t society show us that doing work which doesn’t suck and provides some sort of value for money is better? Passion about work leads us to forsake other aspects of our lives like interacting with other people or having things like hobbies and free-time.

Instead, I like treating work as work and leaving passion out of it. Success in our work may not actually be about finding and following our true purpose. That feels unsustainable and fickle. Instead, maybe success is finding something we care about just enough to do well, and don’t care about enough to keep doing it past the point of balance with the rest of our lives. Success then becomes passion about every aspect of our lives, not just one part.

I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers—