I write math formulas, grammar tips, Bible verses, and advice in the form of inspirational quotes on our bathroom mirror. I don’t have a ton of inspirational quotes memorized, so I’m always on the lookout for those.
One of the most common quotes I run across is “Do what you love.” Every time I see this saying, I mentally add qualifiers. For instance, I add “unless you love making people feel worthless” or “unless you love embezzling… lying… or homicide.” I need you to be more specific!
Even worse is the quote “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” These quotes sound poetic and inspirational, but what kind of advice is this? I would NEVER write that quote on our bathroom mirror. That quote only inspires fear and dread in my heart. (I guess if you’re looking for fear-inspiring or dread-inspiring quotes, it’s perfect. Again, modifiers and qualifiers matter.)
You know what my kids love doing? They love sleeping late, scouring the internet for funny memes, and hanging out in coffee shops with their friends. I love those things, too, but I don’t think that’s what this quote is talking about. Unless it literally means if you do what you love (sleep late and hang out all day) you’ll never be able to hold down a job (work a day in your life). But again, I don’t think that’s what it’s getting at. I think it’s saying if you’re doing what you love, then work won’t feel like work.
Here’s the thing, in addition to sleeping late and meme-surfing my kids also love other things too. They love winning medals, competing in sports, and getting good grades. These things they love doing, the good and profitable things, all take work. And even though they love these things, the work it takes to get the medals, the grades, the degrees, and the amazing jobs all feels like work. Why? Because it is work. I want my kids to know that having something worthwhile will take work. A heaping huge ton of real work.
I also want them to understand that hard work is worthy in and of itself. Hard work is a good thing. I want them to have an excellent work ethic. This work ethic according to Merriam-Webster is “a belief in work as a moral good : a set of values centered on the importance of doing work and reflected especially in a desire or determination to work hard.” Work and the energy and effort that goes into it is important! Even—and perhaps even more so—when doing something you love.
I’m doing what I love—raising and educating my children—and I can honestly say that the work feels like work. If I believed that because this is what I’ve chosen to do and because it’s my dream job it shouldn’t feel like work, I might be very discouraged much of the time. Is it any wonder new mothers feel depressed and discouraged? Society is telling them that if they are doing what they love, then what they are doing shouldn’t feel like work. What a bunch of baloney sausage. I would imagine any stay-at-home mom, professional athlete, heart surgeon, fire fighter, or astronaut would say that they’ve worked their tails off doing work that felt like work.
I’m worried that this idea that work is something to be avoided and that work shouldn’t feel like work is actually dangerous. According to researcher and author Brené Brown, “We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.” All of these epidemics cost the individual; no one questions that, but each of these carries a cost for all of us. For example, the obesity crisis isn’t just a problem for the individual with a BMI over 28, it’s a problem that increases the expense for all of us. Overspending impacts the community as well as the individual who makes poor spending and saving decisions.
I haven’t done clinical studies in a lab with blood tests and convincing statistics to show that cross-stitching this quote and hanging it in your hallway will result in cardiovascular disease, the loss of your home, and a crippling addiction to opioids, but I’m a people-watcher and people-studier, and I can’t help but make this observation: people have a utopian idea about “doing what they love,” and at the same time people are loath to work hard consistently. It’s not surprising that this quote appeals.
Folks want to have healthy bodies, they just don’t want to eat healthy food and exercise regularly. Meal planning and preparation takes work as does exercise. It’s easy to eat prepackaged junk and sit still.
We want financial security, we just don’t want to delay gratification. It takes work to pay bills on time and come up with a budget and stick to it. It’s easy to charge items on a credit card and forget about the cost.
Parents want respectful well-behaved children, but they aren’t consistently providing good discipline. It takes a lot of work over a long time to parent a human being. It’s easy to hand children the electronic babysitters.
Of course there are many causes for obesity, debt, and all that, but I also know it’s really not popular to say that these things are a result of a poor work ethic. It’s overstepping. It’s definitely more acceptable to assign less personal explanations. We like to sugar-coat more than just our food. We tell ourselves that it’s someone else’s—the economy’s, the pharmaceutical company’s, the food industry’s—fault when things aren’t lovely.
Here are two scenarios in which my kid gets a C on an assignment. One is where the kid puts the assignment off until the last minute, doesn’t put any effort into it, throws it together sloppily, and pulls out a C. The other is where the kid works ahead of schedule night and day, implements creative ideas, and puts in a great deal of work and effort and still gets a C. In the first scenario, I’m super disappointed, in the second, I’m proud. Same grade. Because I live with my kids and have known them all their lives, I know which scenario is behind the C, and they do, too. It may not be grades, but it’ll be something… promotions, wins in important games, recognition. They will never be able to control every outcome, but they can control how hard they work.
So instead of saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” we should be telling people the truth which is “Dream of doing something worthy and honorable, then work harder than anyone else in history.” You will end up a success because hard work is its own reward, and more important, you’ll end up making the world a better place.
Or my personal favorite, “Nobody cares, work harder.” Cross-stitch that.