Friday, January 17, 2014

Love What You Do?

The DWYL-inspired apartment of designer Jessica Walsh. Slate Magazine article.
Do you love what you do? Love may be a strong word- do you enjoy your work?

I got a little torn up this morning reading this article in Slate Magazine and wanted to see what your thoughts are. The title along, "Stop Saying 'Do What you Love, Love What you Do,' It Devalues Actual Work" was the first thing that set me off. "Actual work" or "real job" are pessimistic terms applied to the work people sometimes do to support their "other jobs" such as in the field of the arts, but perhaps all of the jobs they do are enjoyable in some manner or another?

This article is, in my opinion, not well written or researched (it reads like a well-intentioned class assignment that is all over the charts- can we say THESIS?), and biased. I'm going to leave out a rant on internships, because I don't think they should have tacked on something about it at the end after a long diatribe of too many other things. I'm also going to not go into the flustering smack in the face to people in academia who don't pursue high-paying careers such as law. However, I do want to share some of my thoughts related to other components of the article.

I agree with the component that people at the top of high-paying jobs say they enjoy their jobs and possibly overlook those lower down the chain of command who support their happiness. Exploitation is not cool, but here are a few things I took major issue with:

This passage-

"“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class. Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and co-sign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can bestow DWYL as career advice upon those covetous of her success."

- implies that only elitist individuals, or those with a certain class status pursue work that they enjoy. As a potter and co-owner of a farm, I can tell you that we enjoy what we do, are not high class, and don't make a lot of money. The article also implies a racial division, which I also disagree with, particularly on the level of farming. We have met more people of more nationalities and color in the low-wage profession of farming. I have been told on numerous occasions to pursue what I love and find a way to do what I enjoy, and though the process has been frustrating at times, it certainly has its rewards. I grew up being told in various capacities that being an artist was not a way to make a living- that it didn't make money, that bums were artists, or that it wasn't "respectable." It took me over 20 years of pursuing various things to fall right back where I wanted to be - an artist and a potter. I may also be able to wax eloquently on the various intricacies of historic pottery or decorative arts, but that has become a part of my art and my career.

This passage-

"Yet arduous, low-wage work is what ever more Americans do and will be doing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest-growing occupations projected until 2020 are “personal care aide” and “home care aide,” with average salaries in 2010 of $19,640 per year and $20,560 per year, respectively. Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning, especially the crucial work of caregivers."

 - had me charged in a number of ways. How dare they imply that care giving, though sometimes of low wage, is not an enjoyable profession?! I have to wonder if the author ever stooped (and I say stooped because I think the author is biased and perhaps elitist themselves) to talking to a low-wage worker in many professions. Some may like the low-wage work on a different level with just being able to have weekends, perhaps be at home in the evenings, etc. We cannot assume that because someone does not have a high-paying job that they are lazy or unmotivated, or even that they do not like what they do to some degree. Someone told me the other day about a friend who took a long time to find what they really enjoyed doing. When they did find what they enjoyed, it turned out to be a garbage man. Why? Because they had the chance to find treasures that people threw out, and that was rewarding and enjoyable to them.  

The final passage-

"Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Before succumbing to the intoxicating warmth of that promise, it’s critical to ask, “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.
And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love"

- this whole paragraph is all over the place. Again, I agree that exploitation is not cool (that could have been a whole separate article on its own), but I don't know that making work feel like nonwork is the point. I know I am working by the strain of muscles, the lack of sleep, and the long days, but my work feels rewarding to me. If everyone enjoyed their work in the same capacity, or all enjoyed the same work, we'd be screwed out of jobs!

Perhaps I am reading into all of this a little far, but I think the author needs to redraft and spend some time looking over professions and the absurd emphasis that money is happiness, and only work that makes a lot of money could be rewarding.

What do you think? 


Dennis Allen said...

For many years Tina and I taught for Warren Co. MRDD. We got a new Superintendent who wanted employees to have competitive wages based on a formula built around what other areas around us were doing. The commissioners went nuts and rallied their no tax friends and had them screaming at public meetings that people should teach because they love it and love the kids, It was an ugly ugly mess. There is nothing wrong with loving what you do( we did) but it doesn't mean you don't work very hard and deserve a living wage. People who think potters have an idyllic life haven't seen your woodpile. As for the farming , has anyone invented carrots that jump out of the ground and land in the truck yet?

Liberty Stoneware said...

Dennis, I can only imagine the mess that was, and the mess that same conversation seems to be today. It's nice to know you worked for the Warren County MRDD, some friends of mine used to work there as well with the adult programs.

You have a very valid point about a living wage being a deserving factor, particularly for those who excel at their profession because they thoroughly enjoy it- perhaps they are the quiet leaders in professions that are needed! "Idyllic" is a whole 'nother can of worms! When I find that carrot variety, you'll be sure to know we'll plant it!

As an addition, I wanted to share what Carter Gillies had to say in a conversation we had on his blog the other day in reaction to this article:

"I also enjoyed your taking that article on “do what you love” to task on your blog. I absolutely loathe the point of view that the workplace environment defines us and always acts as a given. I think we need to act as human beings first, and nurture the values we have as living creatures before we get categorized into the tidy boxes of professional this or that. The amazing thing about being human is that we can find enjoyment in so many places. And its not wrong that we should aim ourselves in this way. I think its our human responsibility to find the things we enjoy doing, and employment is not excluded from that.

An interesting fact of Psychology is that we don’t just do what we already like, but that doing a thing also often leads to our liking it. That’s just amazing! And that includes work situations. We find things to enjoy as we experience new things about the world. We grow and evolve. There may be no inherently unlikeable ‘jobs’ if people can learn to find the aspects that make it rewarding for them. Sometimes it can be as simple as believing in what you are doing, finding fulfillment in that, or even who you get to work alongside. Sometimes your co-workers can be all the positive incentive needed to make what you are doing enjoyable.

A job description can only capture what one does, not how one feels about doing it. The jobs themselves don’t define whether they are liked or not. Sometimes a great sounding job with a bad boss or co-worker can be all it takes to ruin it. Shouldn’t we want to have rewarding and enjoyable employment? And isn’t it up to us to decide what that will be?

That author just sounds like she thinks she has it all figured out and is willing to make that determination for the rest of us. She’s telling a group of people that they are not even entitled to dream of a better life. They won’t like what they are doing, so they’d better get used to it. How incomprehensibly wrong that is. How sad to live in her world…..

Work isn’t an isolated fact about the universe, its a context. Perhaps it can be more challenging in some circumstances, and there can be conflicts with other aspects of our being, like doing things we already have negative opinions/beliefs about or ethical complications with. And maybe sometimes you don’t have a choice. Not every job will be nurturing to every person in the same ways. But we can always look for that nourishment.. We are not crazy to like doing what we do, and we are not crazy to aim ourselves at the things that we do like. That’s my take on it, at least….."

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