Love the one you're with.
August 23, 2014 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Don't do what you love. "We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America."

I hope we will all read the essay before commenting.
posted by mecran01 (76 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite

I wish the essay was about how our fucked-up, murderous health care system ruins lives, instead of blamng the victim, our dreams.

Disclaimer: I have the incredible good fortune to be paid generously for doing my dream job. I can scarcely believe it myself.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:58 AM on August 23, 2014 [58 favorites]

I think the essay is okay, but really confusing. I mean, she says: "But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.

To me, that's sort of just saying that she wasn't that great at doing something that she loved, for one reason or another. But she is a great web developer, and she loves that, too, so she should do that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:00 AM on August 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think the advice to "don't do what you hate" is an excellent one. There are plenty of people whose jobs are just jobs, and whose real passion is in something not-work. They don't do what they love, but they do what they like or at least tolerate. It sounds like the author was lucky enough to find another field where she could love or at least like her work.

For some people, even "don't do what you hate" is a luxury, due to the economy, lack of education, necessity of providing for a family or whatever.

Part of the problem is that, as Nabors alluded to in her article, that many of us love the same few (usually artistic) pursuits. And I also think that part of the problem is the emphasis in our culture on youth and early success. So many people feel the need to be on that Hot Under 25 list, and young successful people are showered with so much more praise and positive attention than late bloomers. Witness the parade of questions on the green which are some version of "I'm 27 OMG I should be more successful than I am!"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:06 AM on August 23, 2014 [25 favorites]

I think that she's right that the money doesn't always (or even often) follow but I don't think that negates the original advise.

We could amend it to this:
Do what you love and the money might follow or might not but if you don't at least give it a sincere shot, you're going to regret that for the rest of your life
posted by octothorpe at 6:07 AM on August 23, 2014 [15 favorites]

It sounds like she doesn't regret her time spent cartooning and in fact thinks that it helped her develop the skills she uses to pull in $$$$ now. Although I guess "Do what you love wholeheartedly, but think of it as experience and be open to switching gears when you need to" makes for a less grabby title.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:19 AM on August 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

no, you've simply got to realize that what you do for money and what you do for love may be two different things, no matter how hard you try
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 AM on August 23, 2014 [18 favorites]

When I was a young man, I enjoyed programming; this was back in the day when "hackers" were considered a badge of honor. I got really good at it, and made a wad of money during the Internet boom, and leveraged that into a nice solid job where I get to design bio-mechanical research systems coupled with virtual reality.

I used to love programming, now it's just another day at the office (a phrase I got from a family friend who used to be first violin at the CSO), and I don't do it at home any more on my pet projects like I used to do, because it's not fun - it's work.

In the last ten years, I've turned to woodworking as a hobby and general stress relief, and my wife does weaving and quilting. We both started doing craft shows a few years back in order to get rid of some of the many things we've made, and have now fallen into a trap where the hobby (which was started as fun and hey-look-at-this-thing-I-made) is now a secondary job, making things for craft shows, scheduling which ones we will attended. etc.

Again, it's switched from fun into work, and it's no longer fun - I actually no longer do anything spontaneous in the shop any more, because I'm always thinking "will this sell? will that sell better?"

When my daughter was choosing which college to go to, and sorting through which scholarship she would accept, she eventually settled on where she would get an English degree instead of the one for Art (both at different schools). When asked, she said that she could always do art for fun, and that if she needed to do that to make rent, then it was just work.

tl;dr: work is what you do for money, fun is what you do with money.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:20 AM on August 23, 2014 [105 favorites]

Actually her full advice is to do multiple things, because if all you do is one thing -- whether it's the thing you love or the thing that ends up paying the bills -- you'll be worse at it than you would be with other experiences.

So it's not that you shouldn't do what you love, it's more that you should also do other things and find the money where you can. Which doesn't seem like terrible advice.
posted by localroger at 6:22 AM on August 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think the advice to "don't do what you hate" is an excellent one.

So do I. However, this advice shares the same gaping hole with its "do what you love" sibling. Many, many, many, many people simply have never had the luxury to find what they love (or hate) in the first place. A great many people (most? Maybe.) never find themselves in an environment where they are allowed that indulgence, or given exposure to possibilities.

As for "don't do what you hate", while great advice, its other failing is that most of us won't be able to identify what we "hate" until we're hip-deep in it. And, in this day and age, that is often too late to do anything about it.

As for the essay itself...I, too, found a bit confusing. What I ended up taking from it was the impression that, in reading between the lines, the most important thing is to have a keen head for business, promotion and belief in yourself.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

The whole "Do what you love and the money will follow. " thing falls into a category of advice I like to call "Sounds great on a coffee mug but...". It's a nice sentiment and all but just a bit out of touch with most people's day to day reality. Unless somebody is willing to pay me to fall asleep in my recliner listening to audiobooks. Anyone? Bueller?
posted by MikeMc at 6:29 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

To me, that's sort of just saying that she wasn't that great at doing something that she loved
If there are 500,000 people who are better than me at computer programming, as a programmer I can still have a career that will pay six figures and see me through to retirement.

If there are 500,000 people who are better than me at ballet, as a ballet dancer I probably couldn't get an entry-level job in a ballet company, let alone have a long or well paid career.

Being skilled is only one part of the equation; the supply and demand for equally skilled workers and the ability of employers to make extra money with more employees is also immensely important.
posted by Mike1024 at 6:30 AM on August 23, 2014 [76 favorites]

The article is kind of a rant but that's OK. It is a conversation starter and I welcome the attempt and the FPP.

There was an assumption I think on the part of the author that doing what you love will translate into security rather than contentment or a passionate drive that would render broken bones or poverty down to minor annoyances. I think that is a valid point, that "do what you love" needs qualifiers.

What bubbles up for me in the article is the 'no college/no trade/no large employer = no real healthcare for you' that is a harsh reality in the USA. If that changes then so does the love vs income part of the complex equation.

On prev: I hope Old'nBusted's comment gets nominated for the sidebar.
posted by drowsy at 6:31 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think she's saying she wasn't that great at doing something she loved. She seems to have had some success in her first "passion career" (caveat: comics are not my bag so I don't know much about the industry). Rather, her main point seems to be that there may be multiple jobs/careers that a person can love--or at least like--and all else being equal, one should pick the one that has the better odds of leading to financial stability.

I've found myself at this kind of decision point a few times in my life. When I was in high school, I would definitely say that my greatest love was music. But my mom was/is a working musician/music educator and of course I knew a lot of other working musicians and music educators, and I knew how hard it was to make a decent living that way, and the most likely future JOB outcomes didn't particularly appeal to me, much as I enjoyed MAKING MUSIC. Again when I was graduated from undergrad and thinking about grad school, I weighed my two undergrad majors (creative writing, poetry emphasis vs. anthropology) against one another and decided that the likely job outcomes of those two grad school paths (mostly teaching poetry to pay the bills, writing poetry during the summers/in the interstices vs. mostly teaching anthropology with "doing anthropology" during the summers/interstices) I would much rather teach anthropology than teach poetry, even if I possibly liked doing poetry a tiny bit more than doing anthropology.

Come forward to the present. When even anthropology "didn't love me" as a career, I eventually found myself picking up a career as a translator. I really like my career, and I think I'm really good at it. And I really LOVE the fact that I earn twice as much as I would be earning if I were a tenured anthro professor, and probably 3 times what I might be earning if I'd pursued music as a career. But if you gave me a choice of sitting at my desk translating vs. being at the barn riding horses, IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT I would in a heartbeat pick being out at the barn. I occasionally fantasize about how to ease into a horse-related career. But it's really just fantasy, because money is an object.

When young people ask me about how to chose a college major or career, I advise them to think not only about what kind of classes they like taking or what activities they like doing, but also what kind of end-point jobs and careers emerge out of those interests. It's great if you love to read and analyze novels and want to major in English in college. But the number of people who get paid to read and analyze novels after their four years is up is vanishingly small. Do you envision yourself enjoying writing ad copy, or copyediting, or one of the tangentially related pursuits that English majors wind up in after completing their degree? No? Then maybe it would be good to think about the sort of JOB you would find enjoyable as an end point, put together a program to get you to that place, and continue to enjoy reading and analyzing novels through some elective classes, independent reading and participation in book discussion forums, etc.
posted by drlith at 6:33 AM on August 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

The best advice is the title of this post.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:41 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's obviously a huge amount of middle-class privilege packed into the original saying; most people in the world don't get much of a choice of what they do for a living. For me, as the son of a heavy equipment mechanic, I love my desk job because it pays well and my chance of death or dismemberment at the workplace is vanishingly low. For my kid, who's the son of a programmer and a psychologist, the choices in life are much different.
posted by octothorpe at 6:42 AM on August 23, 2014 [30 favorites]

But if you gave me a choice of sitting at my desk translating vs. being at the barn riding horses, IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT I would in a heartbeat pick being out at the barn.

I'm good at my job, I enjoy my job a lot, I have done many different jobs in my career and at times I've loved them and one had informed the next one. But if suddenly money wasn't a concern, you'll find me on skis.
posted by arcticseal at 6:43 AM on August 23, 2014

The day job is super handy.

Because for some reason we decided to live in America we need the insurance it gives us, and because comics don't pay all that much it pays for a house and food and all of that stuff. Also, TBH, there is probably a ceiling on the amount of time I could spend writing a week - working in bursts with time inbetween to think seems to suit me, if I tried writing for an 8 hour stretch I'd grind to a halt.

That's somewhat academic as I'm lucky to get 4 hours of writing in a week since kid 2 came along. Kids are a job too, or at least come with obligatory tasks that are equivalent to an unpaid job, so you could say I have 3 jobs these days. And I have to spend *some* time unwinding and watching a dumb show or something, though that's squeezed into a smaller and smaller part if the day just before sleep.

It all kind of works, but more and more I wish I had the option of ditching the day job as things take off, and I don't really think I can: it's making me more money than it ever has before, but I don't know that it will ever make enough to replace the day job. And if I just stopped dead on the day job to try and find out we'd fall into a financial chasm before I used the extra available hours to find out.

So instead I just do what I can in the limited time I have available.

So "do what you live but have a day job" can work, but it can also be a bit of a trap.
posted by Artw at 6:46 AM on August 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think there are a lot of people for whom this rant isn't hugely relevant. There are a lot of people for whom a job is just a job, and they were never in any danger of sticking with a career they love even though it was not paying the bills. As others have said, there are a lot of people who will never have the luxury of needing this advice.

But I still think it's really good advice for a relatively small group of people, some of whom are students with whom I work. She's basically telling creative people that they're not sell-outs if they take into account practical considerations and that they should be open to the possibility that there is more than one job they could love. And that seems like good advice.
When young people ask me about how to chose a college major or career, I advise them to think not only about what kind of classes they like taking or what activities they like doing, but also what kind of end-point jobs and careers emerge out of those interests.
Ok, so this seems like good advice, but it's actually not super helpful, because the average first-year college student knows nothing about how to plan a career. What this leads to is students declaring not-very-useful Psychology majors, because they want to help people, or totally bullshit Business majors, because they want to work in the for-profit sector and that's the name of the major. I think that US society does a particularly lousy job helping young people envision career paths, and so advising them to be practical can be unhelpful unless you also give them resources to make solid practical decisions. And I feel like those resources are seriously lacking, even among people who are there to provide them, like college career centers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:01 AM on August 23, 2014 [17 favorites]

It's basically the much needed anti-advice to that stupid Zen Pencils comic with the Bill Watterson quote.
posted by Artw at 7:03 AM on August 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have to say though - her day job looks amazing.
posted by Artw at 7:05 AM on August 23, 2014

"Don't do what you love" would make more sense if the fallback "not what you love" job weren't web development. We hear constantly from tech employers that they won't hire anyone who isn't as passionate about programming as she was about comics. These days, the only decent advice is, "Love what you don't love (or go into one of the rapidly dwindling areas where you will still be treated as a professional)."
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:07 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the bigger point (which she kind of alludes to) is that the things you love change over time. At 18, you might have a certain conception of yourself, and believe that you would love a certain career, even without having much idea of the day to day realities of that career. For example, my husband's young cousin is great at speaking and writing and has been saying that she wants to be a lawyer. She probably doesn't have much idea what the actual day-to-day of that role would be (maybe I should send her that Quora answer linked earlier). Similarly I was sure that I wanted to be a professor growing up, but that was before I realized what a grueling slog the academic track is, with a very uncertain prize at the end (and then you just spend all your time writing grant applications anyway).

I think to some extent we just love the things we're good at doing, which often translates to just spending more time doing it. If we spend enough time honing a certain skill, we get more autonomy and authority and are able to shape our careers to give us more of what we want. This is much easier to do in an area which is in demand than one where only the tippy-top of people get enough to live on. Cal Newport over at Study Hacks says most of this better than I can.
posted by peacheater at 7:07 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I used to love programming, now it's just another day at the office, and I don't do it at home any more on my pet projects like I used to do, because it's not fun - it's work.

I wanted to be a musician. I let my parents talk me into programming instead, which was probably a smart move.

Programming is interesting and frustrating. It can pay well or not well at all. It can be in workplaces you love or workplaces you hate. You can work for (and with) decent people or horrible people, smart people or not-so-smart people. But it's a grind no matter what.

Most of my career was in the computer gaming industry. That was both blessing and curse. It was still routine anyway. I was always one lottery ticket away from quitting it forever. I'm in the engineering industry now, and I'm getting paid much better and management is far saner, but I buy more lottery tickets and invest more foolish hope in them.

I'm also a musician, but on my own time. If it ever starts getting routine I stop for a while and do something else. I love that part of my life.

Up until recently, programming was something I did at work only; I didn't want to go home and think about it, or learn new programming languages or read books on programming or any of the things my colleagues said every programmer should do. Work was for the office, home was for living.

But in the last couple of months I've been writing experimental VST audio plugins, gleefully not following my employer's coding standards. I'm just trying some weird ideas to see what happens and sharing the best of the results at the music forum I hang around in. If it's ever not fun, I will stop.
posted by Foosnark at 7:16 AM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Foosnark, where can we find your plugins?
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:32 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to love animation. But I didn't love it with the obsessive, self-destructing love that it requires before it'll love you back. I got financially lucky and now I draw weird comics; stuff like Kickstarter and Patreon are there to help me hopefully turn it into a decent living before the money runs out.

But the elephant in the room of this article is the way decent healthcare is linked to your workplace in America.
posted by egypturnash at 7:44 AM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know, when most people tell you to do something that makes you happy, they mean "not miserable".
posted by maryr at 7:46 AM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

TBH it's amazing that anyone does any kind of freelancing in Anerica, loving it or not, with the whole healthcare thing.
posted by Artw at 7:47 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I doing career days, etc., the big thing I say is "Do what you objectively know you're really good at." Ambitions not supported by talents are basically rowing the canoe upstream, not down stream.

As a distinctly secondary piece of advice, I say "Take chances, but make sure the reward is proportionate to the risk, and that your fall back if you fail is either already in place, or is being cultivated in parallel. 'Do or die' is more often an epitaph than a precursor to triumph."
posted by MattD at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's basically the much needed anti-advice to that stupid Zen Pencils comic with the Bill Watterson quote.

YES. This.

This is actually making me feel a bit better about a conversation I had the other day with a friend - I was talking about how I'm gradually able to carve out more time to write again, after having had a long strong of bad luck; I said that "for a while, I was too zonked after work."

And he interrupted and said that giving up the day job was the best move he ever made, because he had the energy to pursue his photography and lighting design; he's now pulling in $5 grand a year from stock photography after a couple years of dedicated work, and he also is slowly building a following at local craft fairs and such.

And yesterday, the day after our talk, I was really bitter about that - and on the verge of calling him and saying "you know, I don't have that choice to give up my day job, and it feels like you were telling me I should do that. But dude, you and your girlfriend are splitting expenses and you have parents that give you money and you own two properties you rent out on vacation rental sites. I don't have that, so I have to have a day job."

But reading this just reminds me of something else he said - that he hasn't had any lighting work in months, and won't until December, and has been out of work so long that his unemployment insurance has run out. His girlfriend has been paying the bulk of the bills for the last couple months, and the money he made from the last craft fair was only enough to meet his expenses FOR that fair. He won't have health insurance again until 2015.

And now the day job isn't lookin' so bad.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

When young people ask me about how to chose a college major or career, I advise them to think not only about what kind of classes they like taking or what activities they like doing, but also what kind of end-point jobs and careers emerge out of those interests.

I"m over 40 and I still keep meeting people who have jobs I didn't even know existed; I'm not sure this advice would work for me now and at twenty I was beyond clueless. Sometimes you just have to pick the best option from the limited choice right in front of you and hope that over time it will work out at least ok.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think suggesting that she just wasn't "good enough" at comics is both unfair and minimizes the point she's trying to make. She was, by basically any modern measure, a successful cartoonist. But it's a really, really difficult occupation to make a living at. And just because you love something, that's ... not enough. It also has to make ends meet and let you achieve your other goals in life, which might include things like having a full set of teeth.

I think the most interesting part of the essay, though, is:
Also consider that many of us grow up loving things from childhood: playing games, making art, dancing. Rarely do you meet a teenager who “loves” plumbing or animal husbandry. But there are plenty of adults who do (at least care enough to keep society functioning). If we all did what we love without trying the things we don’t, imagine all the cross pollination that the human race would miss out on.
This is something I've seen both in myself and my friends. If I had tried to "do what I loved" directly out of highschool, I'm not even sure what I would have ended up doing. But it would have been one of a very limited number of things, because there just isn't much that I would have been exposed to. It's not like highschool students are particularly exposed to project management or international logistics or contract law or COBOL programming or TIG welding or any number of entirely valuable, satisfying, and also very remunerative occupations.

And her point about there not being just one thing that you can be happy doing in life is also well taken. Too often, people who have an entirely realistic view of interpersonal relationships nonetheless have a Cinderella view when it comes to work, believing that there is only one possible occupation, among everything that they could put themselves to, that will make them happy. That, while it may be true for some unfortunate minority of people, doesn't seem to match how a lot of happy people end up doing whatever it is they do. And you really don't want to be that person, who can only ever be happy doing one thing; it's like being the sort of person who can only ever be happy when they're with one (potentially hostile) lover. It's pretty limiting.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:04 AM on August 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

I think the elves are right on this one.
posted by Segundus at 8:05 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Of course, advice about career choice implies that you have a choice. That is OK. Like advice about love, there are surely people who do not have options. It is worth calling out the lack of options in some lives, but that doesn't invalidate the advice for everyone.

*caution: grossness ahead*

Just out of high school, I had a job as a meat slicer. I worked in a deli at a grocery store slicing meat. It was vile.

We had a union, and our union kept the health inspector away. (in spite of this I'm still pro union. They aren't perfect but they are better than unfettered capitalism.) No health inspector meant there were rotting meat fluids that didn't get cleaned out often enough. It was my job as the new guy to clean them.

There was a fellow employee who drank a lot, and another one of my jobs was to keep him away from sharp things when he smelled too much like booze.

*grossness over*

From that job I learned two important things: 1) If I had a choice, it was very worthwhile to get a better job. 2) Not everyone has a choice.

Now I am a computer person by day and an artist by night. Finding balance between sculpture and career isn't always easy, but I can look back on meat slicing and know that I am very, very lucky.

If I had a kid, and I never will, I'd make them get a gross awful summer job after high school. I'd advise them to get some kind of liberal arts education that prepares them for creativity and for career. I'd tell them to try as many things as possible while also trying not to get into situations where they had no options.

I'd also hope they were lucky.
posted by poe at 8:09 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think the advice to "don't do what you hate" is an excellent one.

The best job advice I ever got was as follows: there are three axes for any job: you actually enjoy the work, it pays well enough to comfortably live the kind of life you want, and it doesn't require working 80 hour weeks. If you ever find a job that fulfills two of those three, you grab it and never let go.

I happen to have stumbled in to a job that gives me all three, and not a day goes by that I don't give thanks for my extraordinary good fortune. But even that doesn't stop me from occasionally thinking about just dropping it all and becoming a butcher. I think no matter how good stuff gets, there's always that little niggling doubt.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:11 AM on August 23, 2014 [23 favorites]

I think there's this weird thing we do in the US (and possibly other places, though I haven't lived other places long enough to know) where the question, "Who are you" can be effectively replaced with, "What do you do for money?" So people "are" teachers or construction workers or programmers, which is just silly when you think about it.

I write, produce and direct plays. My partner recently made a poster of logos he designed for all 24 plays I've had produced. Most of them were produced at festivals or short run events where I didn't receive any money, and/or I self-produced, meaning I generally lost money.

Despite that, I consider myself a playwright/theater artist. Most people, when I say I like to write and produce plays, ask how much I make from it. When I say nothing, a good number of them get dismissive of it, because I'm not a "real" playwright, since "real" = "money" here.

I also have a very good day job that I like quite a bit most of the time. The office is comfortable. I have a lot of friends there, and it pays me well. I don't consider myself as being that job, but I do like very much that the job allows me to do what I love.

I also realize that a good number of people don't have that one passion in their lives, and I often wonder if they're happier or sadder for it. Thinking about what you'd "love" to do for a job, if you asked my brothers, is about as alien as...well, as they consider me. They have things they like to do, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, but their passion goes more into their families than anything else. And that's really great, but the career advice of "do what you love" is meaningless to them, because what they love really won't ever translate into a career.
posted by xingcat at 8:30 AM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Exactly. I'm reminded of What Color Is Your Parachute which is a great book for job seekers who actually want to solve problems but kinda irrelevant if the major passion in your life is reading SF or watching TV.
posted by Rash at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think this is pretty good advice, and I was in a somewhat similar situation a couple years ago (minus the health situation) and made the same choice the author did. But before making that move, every so often, when work was slow, I would think of all the other jobs I should have gone into that would have been more stable (finance! law!) and then... 2008 happened, and almost everyone I knew, even in those stable industries, was un- or underemployed. That made me realize that doing what I loved had been the right choice for me-- because you can be in the most stable industry and still your job might vanish in an instant because of a downturn in the economy or because of outsourcing. At the end of the day I still had a job I loved, even when the work wasn't steady.

I do think creative people need to be *really* realistic, though, about their chance of success in their chosen field. There are a lot of jobs in any field; it's important to figure out as soon as possible where your strengths and weaknesses are and to find a niche for yourself.

And if you think that niche might involve freelancing, don't do it unless you're going to earn a ton of money at it (and SAVE THAT MONEY if you do!). Between the health insurance situation and self-employment tax, it's a hard, hard road-- a narrow road along a cliff with no safety net below. Because if you suddenly can't do your job because of injury or illness, there's no money coming in, there's no unemployment insurance that kicks in, there's no paid time off you can take. And if you stop being able to pay for your health insurance, that's gone too. It's a scary life and though I would never advise against it 100%, I do think it's important to go in with your eyes open.
posted by matcha action at 8:56 AM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

"by basically any modern measure, a successful cartoonist"
Well, no. Successful on the internet and successful monetarily aren't the same thing. She didn't buy health insurance because she was young, not well educated in business practices (in another place, she writes about not understanding that she'd have to pay self-employment tax), she didn't have an agent or business manager, she didn't have a book or TV deal, and so on. Not that her work wasn't good enough, but she wasn't savvy about business. I don't think following your passion means setting aside common sense.
Now she has a straight job with benefits, and that's fine. Self-employment and/or career freelancing isn't for everyone, and I certainly wouldn't recommend that path to a recent grad or someone fresh out of school. But I know a couple of art schools that require all students to take "Business for Artists" classes, which is a great idea.
Work isn't always fun, but as Noel Coward said "Work is more fun than fun." If you do it right.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:09 AM on August 23, 2014

Gist: Love the one you're with and don't do something you hate for a living.

Sure, that is good advice.

But I have had a few jobs where I loved the job/work, but hated the managers or corporate atmosphere where that work occurs. What then?
posted by CrowGoat at 9:13 AM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

> Don't do what you love.

Well, I'm not good-looking enough to go into porn, anyway.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:14 AM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hey, 16-year-old me was going to become an accountant. It seemed a good, practical choice, a step up from my father's work driving a forklift in a chemical plant. Final year I dropped art because it interfered with one of the math offerings, and I was called into the counselling office to be asked why I was dropping art. My art teacher was approaching retirement, probably grew studying Gibson girls and Leyendecker covers or anyway illustrators from the golden age, and he suggested illustration. Saying illustrator rather than artist made it sound like more like real work, a viable choice. But then I went to a university fine arts program instead of a college illustration or graphic arts program, because at the time university was thought to be the higher path. I was never comfortable being in art school, it always felt frivilous, and I graduated feeling that I learned or achieved nothing.

I don't know if I would have prospered any more as an accountant than I have as an unsuccessful illustrator. Maybe the same confidence and social issues would have impacted me there too. I know that in my years in various factories I've met many people with business or computer educations, trained in fields considered more practical, who have also ended up working assembly lines. I want no part of those jobs, the temp agencies, the autoparts factories, the warehouses, anymore. Not in this economy. I'm just cannon fodder for them - they leave me with a broken resume, no references and no where to go when they're done with me. So here I am again trying to draw. I've learned to live on very little. People think of me as an artist, and I guess I think of myself that way too, and I wish I had more to show for it. Sometimes I walk through comics or animation conferences or art shows and think these people look like they're enjoying their choices, why couldn't I do what they're doing too? If I could just get together some of the work I think I'm capable of doing, maybe I could get by from some little income there, combined with savings and maybe a small side job. But most days I can hardly draw a stick figure, just scribbling without focus, feeling like such a silly man. Worst of all I feel like a hack. Much of the time I'm thinking, if only I had learned some real skill, found myself some steady job, a grownup's career, this would have made a good hobby.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:25 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

tl;dr: work is what you do for money, fun is what you do with money.

To be clear. Employment is what you do for money. Work is that stuff you do that actually matters. If they happen to be one and the same thing, lucky you. They seldom are.

I don't know what fun is exactly -- hard to define and all that. What I do know is that those times in my life when I've had the most money have generally not coincided with my having the most "fun". Those have generally come when I'm doing the most stuff that actually matters.

Next up. How do we define what actually matters?
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think web development would be a great job, except for web browsers.
posted by thelonius at 9:37 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is this sentiment a relatively modern phenomenon? It seems to be a product of expectations that differ from that of my parents' generation (they're boomers, and old boomers at that). I don't know much about how my parents were raised, but they've never given me any indication that they ever hoped or expected to find a job that was fun/fulfilling/exciting/creative/whatever. To them, a job was something you did to fund the rest of your life, nothing more and nothing less (on the other hand, the idea that you might be expected to work outside of your actual office/factory hours was, to them, outrageous).

Meanwhile, my generation came of age during the '70s and '80s when there was more of a "you can do anything!" vibe to parenting and education, and we're living amongst the results of that ethos, with a lot of broke and/or disappointed people who tried to make it doing what they loved and, for whatever reason, failed. I don't know what the answer is...I think telling kids they can literally do anything is simplistic and sets many people up for feelings of failure and inadequacy if they don't achieve their dreams, but I'm not condoning telling grade school kids they might as well resign themselves to a life spent working in an Amazon warehouse either.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:49 AM on August 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think that it's tough to stay in love with something that is failing to keep food in your mouth (and you're hungry) or keep a roof over your head (and so you're facing losing your place to live). That's a lot of pressure to put on any craft -- for it to not only nourish your soul and be FUNNNNNN but also to bring in thousands and thousands of dollars each year and keep you from destitution.

I think it's important to do what you love, for your own health/sanity, but I think it's NOT important to force what you love pay your bills. I think it's actually much more likely to result in good work and a happy life if you try to SHIELD the things (and people!) you love from Mamon, rather than offering them up to her on an alter.

Also, I think the article writer is correct that it's really easy to falsely narrow the scope of your interests to YOUR ONE TRUE (CREATIVE OR WHATEVER) LOVE and push away all these other alternative things that you might also like really well and be able to make a good life with.
posted by rue72 at 9:55 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

> To me, that's sort of just saying that she wasn't that great at doing something that she loved, for one reason or another.

This statement is only true if you believe the value of an activity is exactly the amount of money that it makes.

The fact that she didn't make enough money to survive doing comics does not mean that she "wasn't that great" at making comics - it means she wasn't that great at making money from comics, quite a different story.

I'm a music fan (and a musician). The list of amazing "great" bands and musicians who stopped making music because they ran out of money to continue is endless. In very many cases it was medical costs that were to blame. The fact that they couldn't financially afford to continue says nothing about the "greatness" of their music.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:20 AM on August 23, 2014

I wish the essay was about how our fucked-up, murderous health care system ruins lives, instead of blamng the victim, our dreams.

Write your own damn essay
posted by IndigoJones at 10:32 AM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

...and it would be a very worthwhile essay, though probably not too hard to write.

This one has it's own merits though.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2014

A number of essayists have argued that "Do what you're good at" is much sounder advice. The real failure of people who commit their all to "doing what they love" is not discovering all the other things they could be good at - all the other people they could be and the different ways of attaining whatever passes as someone's idea of a good life.
posted by unmake at 11:54 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is this sentiment a relatively modern phenomenon?

Cal Newport (in a great talk I saw a couple of years ago) says the "follow your passion" advice became pretty common in the mid-80s and was super common by the 90s.
posted by jamesonandwater at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think education should be what you love, but you gotta keep an eye on what you're doing for work in the future. It's important to have a well-rounded foundation in critical thinking and your personal interest, so that when you wind up working for a job that sucks but has insurance, you have this identity backed up with knowledge. I mean, I'll always be an artist, and nobody can take that from me, and it's what I get to do when the chores are done. I've sold three paintings in 15 years, and I'm ok with that. My education in art fortified my dream enough to do what I do now. Since I don't love anything particularly well-paying, it's a pretty good solution. Besides which, most people kind of make their own job anyway, through sticking with their work and specializing within their environment, even if it's not an official specialization.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:35 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

This problem is familiar to me for awhile and I agree how it's not so much as a choice but lack of choice unless they are independently wealthy on their own (rarely) choose their "dream" career without ridiculous amounts of luck involved.

For many people it's not so much as liking their job but any stable job is better than a unpredictable career plan. I can only speak for myself, but when I was in HS I followed many artists online because they seemed to be living the dream life even though I still consider them to be talented in their field. I knew for the longest time how much they struggled with freelance work and working insane hours for a big project for low pay because.

Some artists I've known since the start of 7th grade and how now are almost making it as independent artists 10+ years later and although I still think they are amazing in their own way it's mildly disappointing considering how much time he/she have devoted to their craft already.

I'm not saying that I predicted them to be extremely famous or wealthy but at best I haven't really seen the kind of job stability for a relatively well-known online artist.

Yes, if I had the wherewithal, I'd definitely go to art school but until then I guess I'll just keep my normal dreams for average people for now.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 1:48 PM on August 23, 2014

Here's *hoists scotch on rocks* to all of us closet Cinderellas. We labor not in vain, though our secret pleasures are invisible. The world may little note nor long remember. Nor will it understand our Mona Lisa smiles.
posted by Twang at 2:07 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Growing up with self-absorbed, arty parents who could only function with handouts from my mother's rich parents, this was kind of obvious to me from the time I was about four.
posted by sockerpup at 2:25 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Don’t do something you hate for a living" is always good advice. I'll add to that by saying don't do something you are bad at (which quite often also turns out to be something you hate). I'll expand upon that a little more by saying don't do something you hate and/or are bad at just because it pays well, or there's a hot jobs market for that skill right now (those cycles don't necessary last), or seems stable. Every situation like this that I've seen play out has not ended well. There was no long term stability. It may have paid well for a short time but that didn't last, often resulting in a period of unemployment that negated the pay.

There's a sweet spot to finding the right job for you that is more complex than a catch phrase. It does require being realistic, but there also needs to be sufficient motivation (or at least a minimum of demotivation) to do the job well.
posted by jazzbaby at 2:34 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, it's not so much "do what you love" or "do what you're good at" so much as it is "do what is actually needed for employment." I had to make a list this week of what my skills are in life, and while it's a very long list, the only skill I have that anyone wants to pay me for is typing. I used to have a job where I typed all day in a corner and no one bothered me. I was fine with it. I kinda felt like I was wasting my other skills in life by not using them except in hobbies, but I have zero business skills (still do), but really, nobody wants those talents. They are not needed for your bare survival, period.

Unfortunately, my job has now morphed into one where I "serve and help" part-time (i.e. most of the time, I get bugged at least 20-50 times a day to drop everything and serve IMMEDIATELY) because that is what is needed and that is what I can get paid to do. It's pretty much hell. But....THAT IS WHAT IS NEEDED. There will always be jobs for service and helping because those jobs are inherently abusive. Everyone goes on about how they want to "help" people and how serving is awesome, but it's bullshit. I am there to take any and all abuse dealt out with a SMILE!!!!! because the consequences of doing otherwise will lead me to be homeless and dead on the street because I'll probably never get another job if I lose this one. Welcome to the real world, and all that. The world needs plumbers, not artists, and when everyone's disposable income is down, it's only those who can't be farmed out to India who might, just might, remain employed.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:54 PM on August 23, 2014

I think this is probably the best takeaway from the piece:
It’s easy to give little quips of advice that sound great in callout quotes or in 140 characters with a “preach it, sister!” thrown in for good measure. But reality is much more complex.
Because she talks about the fact that her programming is as successful as it is because she did this other thing first. So I don't see any reason to think she should have skipped that part of her life. And she didn't wind up poor, etc. She started out that way and then managed to overcome it.

So I don't think any of her judgy framing that "do what you love" is bad advice and all that really holds water for me. But, yeah, major life decisions are complicated and can't be readily boiled down to tweetable platitudes.
posted by Michele in California at 3:55 PM on August 23, 2014

It's interesting to me, how few discussions of work and workplace happiness dip into the considerable body of research surrounding those topics, relying instead of extremely limited - though no doubt potent - personal experience.

Because of this, I feel discussion often elides a really critical component of workplace happiness; namely the workplace itself. People can gain satisfaction from a dazzling gallimaufry of jobs, if the workplace environment satisfies a few key criteria.

Research has shown that there are three/four things that make a large different to workplace happiness:

1. A sense of autonomy - are your trusted to actually do your work and make choices about how to do things.

2. A sense of mastery - do you feel competent at your job? Do you feel like you can do it, and do it well?

3. Relatedness - Do you feel connected to others at your workplace? Part of a team, or a group?

4. Meaningfulness - Do you feel that your work is contributing to a larger goal, making the world or something else a better place?

The interesting thing is these factors pertain whichever of the three broad "worker" categories you fall into - "job", "career", or "calling".

When I thought about my own jobs, that I have really enjoyed, despite vast differences in the work performed, pay received, industry worked in etc etc, those commonalities - especially the first three - really leapt out at me.

I think a lot - too much - modern discussion about jobs mirrors romantic discussions about "The One", or "Soulmates": this kind of thinking does not reflect the reality where people will have multiple jobs (or romantic partners), even multiple careers, over the course of their lives. I think most people would accept that you can have satisfying - indeed, terrific - romantic relationships with more than one person, but feel like many still bridle against that notion as it applies to jobs or vocation.

If more of us thought about jobs as they relate to the four qualities above, I think we would be more open-minded about what kind of work could bring us happiness, and more adroit at seeking out and maintaining jobs, roles, careers that left us smiling at the end of the day.
posted by smoke at 3:59 PM on August 23, 2014 [17 favorites]

Okay, so I finished reading the calnewport link, where it says that "To be happy, your work must fulfill three universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness." I think that sounds right. A lot of why I hate my job now is that I feel like my competence has gone down (because every day people are lining up to tell me how awful I am), there is too much relatedness (dear god, people, get away from me, there are too many of you) and I have very little autonomy.

On the other hand, I don't have any rare skills that people need. Not that many people do, when you think about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:59 PM on August 23, 2014

I've tried several times to "Do what I loved'" In each case what I loved became a job, that I hated. In the 90's, in my late 30's I want back to school one more time to learn something I loved (art) and hopefully make a career of it. I had an awesome time learning art. It was so much fun, I essentially did two degrees worth of classes before they finally told me I had to stop. I would have continued too, if I'd had more money.
My last year of school, I got hired by a buddy at the campus Library. Not a dream job by any stretch but I could do it and work on my art, and get my degree. My last semester, they offered me a full time permanent position. Since I had no serious job prospects I said sure. I figured, I'd work there a year then move on to grad school.
Yes, of course I'm still there. Turns out I don't hate this job, unlike 99% of the jobs I've worked before. AND I'm making art on my time. I don't have to make money at it. I'm free to create whatever the hell I want.
So, do what you want, chase the job you love, work for big bucks at something you hate. Whatever, but find a way to be content.
posted by evilDoug at 7:37 PM on August 23, 2014

>> Is this sentiment a relatively modern phenomenon? ... [To my parents], a job was something you did to fund the rest of your life, nothing more and nothing less ... Meanwhile, my generation came of age during the '70s and '80s when there was more of a "you can do anything!" vibe to parenting and education, and we're living amongst the results of that ethos, with a lot of broke and/or disappointed people who tried to make it doing what they loved and, for whatever reason, failed.

> Cal Newport (in a great talk I saw a couple of years ago) says the "follow your passion" advice became pretty common in the mid-80s and was super common by the 90s.

I don't think it's such a new idea. Consider Thoreau's argument in Life Without Principle (1854) that for work to be valuable, it must be fulfilling, not just remunerative:
The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse. If the laborer gets no more than the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself.... The aim of the laborer should be, not to get his living, to get "a good job," but to perform well a certain work; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it would be economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that they would not feel that they were working for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, or even moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.

.... There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living. All great enterprises are self-supporting. The poet, for instance, must sustain his body by his poetry, as a steam planing-mill feeds its boilers with the shavings it makes. You must get your living by loving.
Similarly, in Two Tramps in Mud Time (1934), Frost recognizes that people have financial needs but makes the case for uniting them with one's emotional needs:
Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised if the idea that one should follow one's passions has become more common, simply because more people have educational & career opportunities that would have been totally inaccessible to them a generation or two ago. I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:14 PM on August 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

A few years ago, Mike Rowe did TED Talk about his experiences doing the show "Dirty Jobs", and one of the things I took away from that is that you don't have to "do what you love" to enjoy what you do.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Foosnark, where can we find your plugins?

(obviously a self-link)

Just wrote "Nose" last night.
posted by Foosnark at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2014

You know, my daughter, aspiring web comic artist, asked me once why so many web comic artists seem to be from Canada. Universal Health Care was the obvious answer. Lots of liberal arts people don't want to be rich, necessarily. They just cannot, in the US, afford to be poor.
posted by Malla at 11:36 AM on August 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

You know, I've been thinking about this a while and realized that there is a quote I've heard that manages to be both true, when it comes to being realistic about doing what you love, and pithy enough to be an "inspirational quote" (tm) - it was something Conan O'Brien said during his farewell monologue on his last Tonight Show:

"No one gets everything they ever wanted in life. But if you work hard and you're kind, amazing things can happen."

And dammit, that's good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:16 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

EmpressC that is a wonderful quote. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by localroger at 4:08 PM on August 24, 2014

Actually, let me get the exact wording (it struck me when I heard it and I memorized the gist, but I want to get it exactly right):
Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 PM on August 24, 2014

EmpressC that is a horrible quote. :-)

Most people who work really hard and are kind will just have normal things happen to them. Vanishingly few will have amazing things happen to them. Some number will have horrible things happen to them.
posted by clawsoon at 5:52 PM on August 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Most people who work really hard and are kind will just have normal things happen to them. Vanishingly few will have amazing things happen to them.

Setting aside temporarily the thought that you're just trying to be a Debbie Downer, lemme ask - that depends on what you think is amazing, doesn't it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

that depends on what you think is amazing, doesn't it?

In some ways, yes, since we all have different categories for "amazing".

In other ways, no, since there are plenty of people on this earth who will kindly grind through a lifetime of working in slaughterhouses or cutting sugar cane or using a stick to dig for tubers, with everything about their life tenuous and their categories for "amazing" ("this baby didn't die! finally! that's amazing! thank you Jesus!") only seeming that way in contrast to how shitty their life otherwise is. On an objective Conan-O'Brien-level-amazing scale, nothing amazing will happen in their lives.

On an objective Conan-O'Brien-level-amazing scale, nothing amazing will happen in most of our lives. Things might feel amazing to us sometimes, and thus lead us to believe that they are actually amazing, but I'd argue that that's just a broken homo sapiens cognitive shortcut.
posted by clawsoon at 6:52 PM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't believe there are people trying to pick that comment to death.

It doesn't matter what "level" of amazing Conan was talking about. Frankly, if my child was near death but then lived, I'd think that was pretty fucking amazing, even if it wasn't on the same "level of amazing" as hosting the Tonight Show.

The point was that good things will happen to us all even if they're not the specific good things we hoped for, and I cannot believe that there are people in here who are so cynical that they need that fact spelled out for them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 PM on August 24, 2014

Frankly, if my child was near death but then lived, I'd think that was pretty fucking amazing, even if it wasn't on the same "level of amazing" as hosting the Tonight Show.

If you attributed the amazing survival of your child to how kind and hard-working you were, though - as per the Conan statement - you'd be using nasty moral reasoning. (E.g. "'Rabbi,' his disciples asked him, 'why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?'")

The problem is in the connection, just as with, "Do what you love, and the money will follow." Both statements would be much less morally problematic if they said,

"Do what you love because it's good to love what you do,"

and, "Be kind and work hard because it's the right thing to do and it's a gift you can give to make the lives of others better."

But neither statement stops there; both of them go on to say, "'cause if you do, the universe will give you popsicles!" If that's your moral reasoning, anybody without popsicles mustn't have been kind enough, or hardworking enough, or passionate enough, or whatever enough, to deserve them.

The point was that good things will happen to us all even if they're not the specific good things we hoped for,

If that's all that was in the Conan quote, it wouldn't be problematic. Even if Conan said, "Be kind and work hard. Also, expect unexpected good things to happen to you," it wouldn't be problematic. But he tied the two together, just like them damn Pharisees.

and I cannot believe that there are people in here who are so cynical that they need that fact spelled out for them.

If you cannot believe it, then it seems that I have brought some amazingness to your day. :-)
posted by clawsoon at 9:19 PM on August 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Clawsoon, you seem to be going out of your way to misinterpret this quote. All I can assume is that Conan kicked your dog or something, so I'll just leave it be.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 PM on August 24, 2014

For ten years my mind went on an unannounced circular wander, a wheel of Kharnabar, through literature and philosophy and isolation and remote communities and the digital and the non-digital and the cultures of the village on the periphery, dragging its attendant body over hill and mountain and ocean, moving to an archipelago to escape the walls of noise in the city as if the life 'thing' might then be easier to hear, wandering through Lapland forests, over empty beaches on the edge of Europe, railroads across the empty midwest of America, fjords cut deep into Norwegian rock. Still the mind churned and worked and functioned and dysfunctioned and read and observed and thought and puzzled, kept trying to figure out, unlock, the meta, the meaning, the purpose.

In the end it converged, settled, on one thought:

"Do the best you can."

I'm content with that, now, and both myself and my mind can live with that primary and basic thought and urge and purpose, and with each other.
posted by Wordshore at 4:27 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, Conan didn't kick my dog. :-) To be fair to Conan, I doubt that he thought through the moral consequences of what he said, and he'd probably be horrified if he did. That's the point, though: What he dished out was sloppy, feel-good pablum, just like the "Do what you love, and the money will follow" fiasco. It's only good advice if you don't take it seriously, if you're wise enough (as you appear to be) to automatically ignore what is said for the wiser, truer thing that is meant.

Lots of people aren't that wise, though. Lots of people blindly took the advice to do what they love, and ended up poor and miserable as a result. Lots of people blindly took sayings exactly like Conan said (if not what he meant) and turned them into Tea Party morality: Clearly, all the poor, depressed people didn't work hard enough and weren't kind enough, and that's why they're poor and depressed.
posted by clawsoon at 4:37 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

A lot of the stuff people in our culture say about passion and careers would set off "abusive relationship!" alarm bells if we said it about our relationships.
posted by yarntheory at 6:03 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

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