Do What You Love?

A lot has been written and a lot has been said about choosing a career you love. "Do what you love and the money will follow." This is advice I have given and received. It is best demonstrated by the Jerky Boys. A couple of guys from Queens, New York whose passion is making prank phone calls. They dial random numbers, and create comedic situations with re-occurring characters. After practicing this craft for countless hours, they made some rudimentary recordings which circulated around the country. Through hard work and good marketing, they parlayed these seemingly worthless talents into a lucrative recording career and even a movie deal. Now you can pick up their DVDs and CDs at Blockbuster and truck stop kiosks all across this great land of ours. The Jerky Boys are probably sitting fat, dumb, and happy on a beach with a cell phone in each hand. This "doing what you love" thing sounds like a good philosophy for developing that personal career plan or vision statement.

Here is where a 30-something bureaucrat like me, who has had numerous jobs that were barely tolerable much less enjoyable, sees a few holes in this principle.

First, the odds of the supply of people's passions matching the demand for…well, everything, is so astronomical that it is safe to say that it could not possibly occur. This means not everyone will get to live out their dreams no matter what the magazines tell you. There just aren’t enough people who aspire to be dish washers or farm laborers, and there aren’t enough roles in movies to accommodate all the would-be actors in Hollywood. There will be people who pursue their passion and are rewarded with success. Then there are those whose pursuit is exemplary, but their goals remain unrealized. I have to ask myself, "Of the six billion or so people alive, why should I be one who gets to make a living doing something I love?"

The second problem, which runs rampant in American culture, is the confusion of happiness and pleasure. Though not official allow me to define each as simply as possible. Pleasure is the physical or emotional response derived from an enjoyable experience or activity. Happiness is a sense of well-being or contentment. To further clarify, for me, it would be pleasurable to sleep in and eat biscuits for breakfast tomorrow. I could obtain happiness from getting up an hour early exercising and eating two bananas. I recently read an essay by Paul Graham called "How to Do What You Love", and he hits very close to the mark when he writes:

"…almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Caribbean,
or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The
rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time."
The bottom line is that pleasure only leads us to the desire for more pleasure, but properly focused discipline is an ingredient to happiness in the long term.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). The third problem I see with doing what you love is that many people do not know what it is they truly love. They create an ideal or a fantasy that that even if fulfilled wouldn’t bring the happiness that was imagined. Although I don’t claim to know her motivations, as my wife was finishing her bachelors degree she decided to pursue a career in archaeology. After spending a long, hot summer sifting dirt and cataloging tiny shards of pottery or glass, she realized it wasn’t the career she thought it was. To often people see the lure of red carpets, big games, book tours, and adoring fans. They miss the painful failures, the mind-numbing repetitions, the frustrating hours of study, and most of all the hand of the creator (or randomness of chance) required to reach the end of glory road.

So, where does this leave us? In futility, chasing an elusive and deceptive goal? Or maybe with the old Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young line, "if you can't be with the one you love; love the one your with." There is failure, success, disappointment, and contentment no matter which cross-section of individuals is sampled. At this point, the only advice I can muster is…Lay aside unproductive fantasies, and keep the vision before you. Hear the words of Jim Elliott, a man who lived a life of excellence and suffered to true contentment:

"Wherever you are - be all there."

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