Do what makes you ___
July 19, 2012 9:11 AM   Subscribe

"Do what makes you happy" - awful career advice?

If they exist, I'm looking for good links and articles that attempt - through facts, examples, reality checks etc. - to subversively puncture holes in the common wisdom of "do what makes you happy" as advice for choosing a career path. (not looking for chatfilter-y arguments about why the wisdom is correct after all)

Examples of advice that may be preferable:
-Do what makes you hungry
-Do what you consider intensely challenging but fulfilling
-Do what doesn't bother you
-Do what won't compromise your vision/values when you need to make a living from it
-Do whatever doesn't combine your heartfelt passion with a desperate need to make money at all costs
-Do what makes you miserable if it ultimately leads to something truly worthwhile
-Do what genuinely improves the world / your neighborhood
-Do what pays the bills and leads to a reasonably comfortable life
-Do what isn't a rapidly disappearing job in your country's work sector
-Do what leads to stability
-Do something unselfish
posted by naju to Work & Money (25 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
“It’s okay to suffer for your art, but it’s chickenshit to make your wife and kids suffer for your art.” From Steve Barnes, quoted on Mike Resnick's blog. Although that is more about the price you should put on your work as a writer, so it assumes it's OK to be a writer.
posted by BibiRose at 9:27 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's no one right answer, of course, and many of these would be hard to quantify/support with facts.

One thing that sticks out in my mind is the research often quoted about how after, I think, around a $50,000 salary, an increase in money doesn't really make a difference in how happy you are in your job of life. (I've heard this quoted a lot and you can probably google-fu it to find it.)

So, maybe do what will give you at least a $50,000 salary per year...
posted by shortyJBot at 9:29 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Overjustification Effect
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 9:30 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

But sometimes a person will have no idea what makes her/him happy until actually doing it. I never thought I'd like the cut and parry of negotiation, but that's now just about my favorite part of my job. Who knew? I sure didn't, not at 17, 25 or even 30.

Put on your own oxygen mask first is my choice for a motto.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:43 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Well, it can be awful career advice if what you love is something which is highly competitive to get into and you aren't at the very top (eg arts, certain academic fields). Going for an unfunded PhD, for example, is a really, really bad idea - even if you do love what you are doing.

Also: we're often given advice like that when we're about 18 or maybe 22. Heck, I went to university late (ages 21-25), and I had no idea what I "loved" to do when I finished, nor did I understand what the different professions actually involved. I thought I "loved" one thing (history), but it turns out I might have been happier being trained as a database programmer.
posted by jb at 9:44 AM on July 19, 2012

Best answer: You may want to check out Mike Rowe's TED Talk about dirty jobs. It's an awesome talk, but he starts in on misconceptions about work at around 10:40, and starts in on the "follow your passion" advice at around 11:20.
posted by alphanerd at 9:46 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think you'd find this article incredibly interesting. It opens like this:

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We've got it down to four words: "Do what you love." But it's not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.
posted by kitkatcathy at 9:47 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is sort of anti-"do what you love" but it's Do What You Can't Not Do.
posted by mathowie at 9:51 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think, around a $50,000 salary

The figure is actually $75k.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:59 AM on July 19, 2012

My goal is not to wake up at age 40 with the bitter realization that I have wasted my life on a job I hate because I was forced to deside on a career in my teens. ~ Daria

So much of the problem in choosing what you think will make you happy (or make you whatever, in this case) if when you must choose your career you have no idea what yourl ife will be like in 10-20 years, and this is when your career will matter most. "Do what makes you happy" is awful career advice. Choose a career based on things like freedom, respect, pay, flexibility and longevity.
posted by Blake at 10:17 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

The appropriate anti-aphorism would be "work to live, don't live to work." That is, find a job that allows you to do what you want in your off time, rather than make your job the center of your life.
posted by theodolite at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Self linking, the basic idea of the article is to treat your future self as a player in the game of life. The goal of this game is to optimize both your own and your future self's happiness.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:38 AM on July 19, 2012

I would look at stats for schools. There were recently a number of scandals involving schools having inflated the numbers of students that got jobs after getting their degrees, particularly in law. There is a music school near where I live that regularly discusses whether or not it is ethical to teach more students when there will be no jobs for them...
posted by xammerboy at 10:51 AM on July 19, 2012

Hey, Ideefixe—put on your own oxygen mask first is also my go-to piece of advice—a lifetime of wisdom in one easy to deliver line. Unfortunately, since about 2008 it's been conjuring up visions of people securing their own masks then grabbing every available mask within reach, including those already attached to other passengers. If you come up with a graceful way of adding "then turn to helping others" or at the very least "don't do evil", let me know.

Any piece of career advice that can be delivered in a sound bite is likely to be trite, useless, or just bad (e.g., if it were up to me, anyone who advises someone to "do what you love and the money will follow" could be held criminally liable). Everyone needs to pay bills and everyone has interests and passions, which are likely to change over a lifetime. Sometimes (i.e., rarely) you can do the former with the latter, but I certainly wouldn't make this a career goal.

Note: I haven't read the book with this title, I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that title does not do justice to the contents.

On preview: "work to live - don't live to work" is a soundbite that is neither trite, useless, or bad. I'm adding it to my arsenal of advice, i.e., if anyone asks my opinion, I now have 2 pieces of wisdom to pass along.
posted by she's not there at 10:51 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Its been my experience that I'd rather get paid 50k to do something I love than 100k to do something I hate. Hating something you spend all the good hours of the day doing will poison the groundwater of your existence.

That said, it could be worth it to hate your gig if it makes your family happy and you're way into family. It's a matter of balance.
posted by GilloD at 11:32 AM on July 19, 2012

Love what you find, not find what you love : link
posted by teg4rvn at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2012

Words of wisdom from one of the best motorcycle mechanics I've ever known, about working as a mechanic: "It's a great way to ruin a perfectly good hobby."
posted by workerant at 11:41 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not quite a match to "Do what you want and the money will follow" but apparently people new to the work force are currently encouraged to "just be yourself." The first part of Megan Hustad's fascinating How To Be Useful pokes holes in this advice.
posted by Rash at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2012

From an economist's prospective, Steven Levitt has said:
Make sure that whatever you love doing is something other people don’t love to do. The worst thing in the world is to find some kind of job that everybody wants to do – like being a rock star. Stephen, you’ve tried to be a rock star, it’s hard work. Or a movie star. You have to find something that is idiosyncratically something you love but everyone else despises. So if your dream is to be a garbage man, for instance, you’re guaranteed to have success in life.
posted by General Malaise at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Robert Townsend said this in Up The Organization: "If you don't do it excellently, don't do it at all. Because if it's not excellent, it won't be profitable or fun, and if you're not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?”

This doesn't say that you should do what you love, but it does suggest that if you aren't doing what you love, make sure it pays well (sadly, not all of us have that option, but that's a different matter).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2012

Best answer: There's a blog called Study Hacks with dozens of posts about "the passion trap" and the fallacy of "do what you love." In fact, the author, Cal Newport, has a book soon to be released "which lays out my detailed case why “follow your passion” is bad advice, and what you should do instead."
posted by the foreground at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah I saw Cal Newport speak a couple of weeks ago and it was interesting. He said 20-30 year old Americans are the least "happy" with working life of any group surveyed in history. He went into when "follow your passion" became common career advice and why, despite it being appealing advice, the research suggests that's wrong. He also said literature suggests the longer you do something the more likely you are to feel it is your calling.

Newport's recipe for career satisfaction was: get very good at something rare-ish/valuable, use this value as leverage to get what you want out of life (felxibility, autonomy, simplicity, whatever). The person who plugged away at something there weren't mad about and got really good at an element of it is better off than the person who bounces from job to job looking for "passion" or "happiness". He also made the point that being of value doing whatever it is difficult to get off a set path so most don't use the leverage they have.
posted by jamesonandwater at 3:00 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

How about: "Examine your work history and determine which types of tasks seemed to put you in a state of flow. Now try to find a job that entails a high proportion of these types of tasks."

Less optimistic, perhaps, but more realistic, would be to say: "Free yourself from the illusion that your job will feed your passion. Regard your job for what it can be, e.g., a source of money to pay for necessities and benefits such as health insurance. Then, working from that basis of security, feel free to seek your passion outside of work hours."
posted by La Cieca at 3:03 PM on July 19, 2012

Well, coming from someone who makes their living in the arts(can't say more then that for privacy reasons) but I get to do what I love every day...and get paid for it. So in effort to respond to the phrase "do what makes you happy", I'd say I agree with this but add...."and what pays the bills". We live in a world where it costs money to live. So IF and I stress IF you can make a living doing what you it. But know that it may be challenging to get there and you may have to suffer a bit doing something you don't like to do in order to pay the bills until your passion has turned into a money maker. Also know that pursuing a job that's highly competitive and very few people make it comes with the risk that at any given time your career can tank even though for years before that you were making a lot of money. So it can be stressful. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. One piece of advice I was given as a teenager..."Find something that you're really good at and that not many other people can do. Then get better at it until your the best in world. Then you'll always make a living". I dunno. You have to decide your own path.
posted by ljs30 at 5:06 PM on July 19, 2012

If you can't do what you love, hope at least that your crappy job has
some awesome people surrounding you.
posted by CathyG at 9:01 PM on July 19, 2012

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