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6 should-be-common-sense realities about doing what you love for a living

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It seems like we’ve reached a point in our online culture where trashing the notion of doing what you love for a living has become at least popular as encouraging it. Google “Do what you love” and half the results are rants against the idea.

Having recently quit my job to do exactly that, I’m curious to know why so many people think I’ve made a terrible mistake, so I read a lot of these pieces, and I now I have fewer doubts than ever. The anti-“Do what you love” movement gained some wind recently in a popular article by Miya Tokumitsu, in which the author conflates the simple idea of loving your work with the exploitation of interns, the injustice of traditional gender roles, the globalization of food production, and the unlikable side of Steve Jobs.

The rest of the pieces I read are similarly off the point. Detractors of “Do what you love” (or DWYL) come at it from all kinds of angles, but what they have in common is that they all seem to have a very naive idea about what doing that actually means. Given that some of today’s graduates are leaving school already convinced that DWYL is “terrible career advice,” here are six points that I hope will one day be obvious to everyone.

1) “Work you love” is still work

By reading their online rants it seems like many anti-DWYL people imagine that doing what you love for a living means expecting to get paid to taste ice cream or review hot tubs. I can’t believe this clarification is necessary, but DWYL does not mean, “You should be getting paid for doing the thing you enjoy most, if you can just love it intensely enough.”

Work you love does not need to be work you would do for free. I love writing, and while there is certainly writing I would do for free, I recognize that making a career out of it requires me to do a lot of things that I don’t necessarily enjoy, such as writing sales pages, fixing inexplicable website issues, and navigating IRS paperwork. I do these things because they allow me to keep doing what I love. I never expected my dream career to spare me every instance of annoyance and tedium. Loving your children means cleaning up their vomit, but it doesn’t mean you love cleaning up vomit.

2) Your work needs to be useful to other people

Particular criticism is paid to the title of Marsha Sinetar’s famous book Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. The “…and the money will follow” part presumes you understand the basic reason that anybody makes money doing anything, which is because they create something worth paying for. The amount paid for that something is directly related to how much value it provides for people other than you, and is not necessarily related to how fulfilling it was for you to create — although the latter can certainly make the former easier. We all want other people to have an incentive to give us money, so naturally it’s more than worthwhile to find a way to provide value that doesn’t simultaneously make you dread five-sevenths of your days on earth. 

The money will follow because you are older than twelve and therefore understand that some aspect of your work must involve doing or creating something that makes people want to give you their money for it. Love for your work implies that you are determined to continue to do that work, which obviously requires you to do it in such a way that you can pay your rent. Love your work, but be aware that your love isn’t what other people are interested in paying for. 

3) Loving your work is a long-term goal (but moving towards it is immediately rewarding)

The DWYL mantra is a part of the broader pursuit we can call, “Creating a lifestyle that generates happiness and fulfillment on ordinary days.” A human life has a lot of factors that influence its level of happiness, but the income-earning part is way too big a part to ignore. The typical worker is going to spend three or four decades with their work dominating their daylight hours, so why would anyone in their right mind let that time pass without constantly trying to increase the enjoyability of those 80,000 or so hours? Yet we have Forbes Magazine urging young people to give up on the idea before they even enter the workforce.

It can take a while to learn what really does fulfill you in life, which some seem to regard as enough of a reason to resign to tedious or meaningless work. “Work you love” does not need to be your sole purpose on this planet. It doesn’t need to be your calling, it doesn’t need to change the world and it probably isn’t going to be the first thing you do out of school.

4) Doing work you love does not necessarily mean seeking an exclusive, high-paying, or glamorous profession

It’s not only rock stars and fighter pilots that love their work. It’s also auto mechanics, tour guides, police officers, researchers, salespeople, craftspeople, copywriters, chefs, entrepreneurs, pet groomers, shop owners and construction workers, to name a dozen out of thousands of possibilities.

A lot of anti-DWYL sentiment hinges on the belief that loving your work means having snagged a rare and cushy job. All it really means is that you find fulfillment and meaning in what you do at work. The love for the work has mostly to do with the worker’s belief in the value of that work in the world, and with the atmosphere of the organization they work for, rather than with the actual activities performed. The type of profession is only one factor in whether you love your work.

If people who love their work are rare, it’s not because potentially loveable jobs are especially rare. It’s because it is so normal to see work as a necessarily draining part of life, that it’s rare for a person to spend the time it takes to find something that energizes them. I’ve done five kinds of work that drain me, and only the latest one doesn’t, and five years ago I had no idea I even wanted to do it. Still, even though it seems like a no-brainer to always be moving in the direction of work you love, it is still not normal.

5) What limits most people’s work options is their wasteful spending

Let’s be clear: there are people out there who do arduous work, have no possibility of ever earning more, and cannot reduce their expenses without being out on the streets. But if you’re reading this from the industrialized world, chances are you’re not one of them, and you do make lifestyle choices that can keep you in a needlessly draining line of work.

It’s typical in many Western countries to inadvertently let your living expenses rise with your income. As you get larger paychecks you feel freer to buy things you want. But at any wage level, the closer your monthly income is to your monthly out-go, the fewer options you have for work. There are millions of everyday people who, by way of unexamined habits and untracked spending, inadvertently adopt lifestyles that cost 90-110 per cent of their income, making it out of the question to accept work that’s more fulfilling if it pays even a little bit less. Few things will give you as much flexibility as significantly reducing your living expenses.

All spending is ultimately done in the name of improving quality of life, and it is strangely common to underestimate how big an effect your work has on the enjoyability of your life. Shifting to fewer expenses and less pay in a better line of work might be the best financial decision you ever make.

6) The more people who love their work, the better off everyone is

Tokumitsu’s piece argues that the DWYL ethos is an indulgence of the super-privileged, and pursuing it somehow comes at the expense of people who must do unpleasant labor.

Not everybody can do work they love, but that’s no reason not to do it if you can. In fact, it’s exactly why you should. If I’m lucky enough to have no health problems, would it be somehow noble of me to keep myself in poor health, as an act of solidarity with the chronically ill? Or should I make use of privilege and opportunity while I have them?

Doing work solely for its compensation, when you don’t have to, is one of the developed world’s most destructive traditions. The epitome of Western privilege’s offensiveness is to have more than one needs materially, yet still fail to achieve happiness with it.

Why are we stripping and spoiling the planet at an ever-increasing rate? Because we typically care little about the value and consequences of our work aside from its compensation. The prevailing ethos is to maximize earnings (and therefore consumption) in an effort to make the time we’re not at work satisfying and meaningful. Instead, we could be scaling down our lifestyle spending, enabling us to accept work that actually contributes to our personal fulfillment, rather than merely funds our after-hours attempts to buy it.


 Photo by martijnvandalen

Mike January 29, 2014 at 12:25 am


I couldn’t agree with you more. My dream is to cut back to 3 or 4 working days per week so I can spend more time hiking and camping. I don’t see the need to bust my ass at work in order to afford consumables to sedate myself during my few free hours.

I have come to realize that what I most appreciate in life is my liberty. Life is short, why do so many of us believe in the demented view that there is no alternative but to spend the majority of it wearing a suffocating shirt and tie in an airless office? We need to do ourselves a favor and get some sun on our skin and some fresh air in our lungs. It will enliven you and it’s free!

Pura Vida Nick January 29, 2014 at 10:49 am

Well put, Mike. I like my job, but my dream is also to cut back to a few days a week so I can spend more time on what matters – family, friends, the outdoors, and enjoying my liberty. You are spot on – some of the greatest things in life truly are free!

Zaire January 29, 2014 at 2:39 am

I totally agree with what you say! While people around me agree that fulfilling work is important to them, many of them rank high pay and prestige of the brand higher than what they get to do. I like to say that we shouldn’t give up our dreams, but we shouldn’t believe that dreams are made of rainbows and unicorns. They are built on practicality. And if we are truly passionate about something, we will find a way to do it all the time we are (which means finding a way to get someone to pay for it)!

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

That’s what I find so baffling about a lot of the anti-DWYL criticism — it’s like they believe it’s meant to override practicality completely.

Cesar Roldão January 29, 2014 at 3:32 am

I guess it’s not deniable that work which is good, reliable and worth paying for demands ‘dedication’ in a sense that the word itself does not convey well enough. Loving one’s work then becomes crucial for success (gosh that sounds so obvious). I remember once needing to have my laptop fixed. The guy in the repair shop treated me like a parent who’s trusting his sick child to a doctor. He clearly loved what he did. After acknowledging that, I was ready to pay whatever he asked me, even if it was not the right price – my laptop was in good hands. I find it appalling that there is something like an ‘anti-DWYL’ current. It’s incredible to see how much suffering comes out of just not digging enough into things, not making sure one has completely grasped them before writing books and advising people about it. The young people who follow this anti-DWYL’ thinking should be ready for some good time at a shrink’s office way before they get to their 50’s.

Randall Pitts January 29, 2014 at 3:50 am

Great post!
What I find most amusing about the anti-DWYL people is that they fail to understand that doing what you love is entirely particular to each individual. Some people love working long hours in order to make a huge salary. Some don’t. I think it all has to do with society’s definition of success. Success in life should be defined by the individual not by society. Everyone should be encouraged to become aware of what makes them feel successful. Then they should pursue it. You can actually use the word useful to replace successful and it all makes more sense. When people feel like what they do is useful they get a feeling of satisfaction and they enjoy their “work”.

Jon January 29, 2014 at 4:13 am

Great post David! I wonder if a lot of people go through their entire lives never finding what their true passion is… are they, as Steve Jobs says, “Settling”? …I have a feeling that a lot of people simply don’t know where to start when it comes to “DWYL”… it’s good advice yes…certainly better advice than “Do what makes you loads of cash”… but what if you find it really difficult to accurately identify what your passion really is?

DiscoveredJoys January 29, 2014 at 4:14 am

I agree very much with the sentiment in point 4. I loved the work I was doing, but felt that the managerial environment of where I worked had become toxic – so I took early retirement.

Then I had to work out how to apply ‘Do what you love’ to my new life. Took a little while and is far more fluid…

Robert January 29, 2014 at 4:42 am

Hi David – what an amazing and long overdue post!

All points are valid, but I think the best on is: “The more people who love their work, the better off everyone is”

Yes, if everyone would start using his/her unique set of talents and do what he/she loves most, this world would be a completely different place. People would be so much happier, they would support each other, people would stop buying all those things they don’t really need, there would be much less anger, hatred…

Let’s be honest, what could be more important in life than being happy and feeling really great most of the time? People spend 40-50 hours a week on their job until the age of 65+ – it you don’t like what you do (or even hate it), isn’t this a tremendous waste of life-time?

We are here to live FULLY and not merely to exist. Life is meant to be enjoyed (by doing something you absolutely love and by helping others at the same time) right here and right NOW – and not at some point in the distant future when you retire and hopefully have enough money.

David Cain February 1, 2014 at 10:32 am

What a world that would be, if work was something that added to people’s sense of self-worth every day, as a norm.

I don’t think it’s too out-of-the-question, either. It’s just a difference in fashion. Just like today it’s normal (and therefore it seems sensible to many) to expect to take on huge amounts of debt to get a university degree, it could one day be normal to expect to take a decade or however many years it takes to find fulfilling work.

devo January 29, 2014 at 4:58 am

hi david,
thanks for writing yet another interesting post. i think i’ve figured out what bugs me about your writing style.
let me back up a bit. i like your writing. i’m a regular subscriber to your blog but not a regular blogger. i’m not a regular slogger through the maelstrom of the private opinion gone public blog scene. i maybe read three or four blogs a month & yours is the only regular. i keep coming back.
i read your stuff and find it compelling but, i’ve noticed that almost every time i have a ping in my gut that something’s bugging me about the piece. i think i’ve figured it out on this one.
your perspectives are a mix of what seem like very good, different & interesting perspectives but from the pit of pessimism.
in the above article, it seems the term “common sense reality” means “the dreams in your head a fun but the truth is even what you love sucks because life is hard no matter what. i agree that what’s common with people is the sense that their reality sucks.
i disagree that reality sucks. it’s been my experience that anything that sucks only sucks because i think it sucks. and anything that is fun and excellent is only fun and excellent because i think so. just because i can get a high number of people to agree with my opinions of “sucks” or “excellent” doesn’t make it so. it’s still only so for us. i have personally changed how i look at a lot of suckity things (that’s a technical term) and found the ability to change them into excellent things. the delineating factor is me.
i love what i do for a living, flat out love it and i’m well compensated. i love it all and i don’t test hot tubs.
this writing is full of great perspective but i absolutely disagree with the strong undertow that life is hard. life for me is a daily wake up and “woohoo!” experience. it wasn’t always but it is now.

Corinne January 29, 2014 at 5:12 am

This is my first comment, but I have been reading you for a while… This post really hit me with so much truth. I am one of the lucky ones who do what I love, and have been doing so since… 1986 ! Work has evolved, I have changed companies, but I still love my job as much as the first day, eventhough I have a very common office job. I work now very flexible but mainly school hours (that was one of my main requirement to enter this job), 10 min. away from home, with great colleagues. The income is pretty low, but in my opinion it is only one of the many parts of the equation that make my present job so attractive to me. I am more than happy to let go of the higher income I could earn to appreciate the quality of life this job gives me… and yet, all that many of my friends and family see is that I should “earn more” !

Teresa January 29, 2014 at 5:43 am

Hey David,
My take on this piece is positive and I agree with your analogy that people could be less wastful if value was placed more on consequences and less on compensation. Working just for money to spend on those objects of desire we really don’t need is not a rewarding lifestyle because no matter how much value we place on those objects they never completely fulfill those desires. But society has brainwashed us into believing this is where true happiness is. In order for the world to revolve, you must work unethical hours and spend every dime on crap you could do with out. Now the cycle begins of unfulfillment and so much unhappiness. The world truelly would be a better place if our work ethic could be revolve around work we love.

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

> But society has brainwashed us into believing this is where true happiness is.

I agree. We’re constantly being told (by both people who know better and people who don’t) that happiness is something on the other side of work. This makes work something we’re always expecting to have to power through or scramble over, and so we expect little to come from within the work itself.

BNL January 29, 2014 at 6:33 am

For me, Alan Watts said it best:

“When we finally get down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”

That idea makes me shiver. Doing things you hate (for a living), so you can afford to keep on living (doing things you hate). This is why anti-depressents exist.

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I love Alan Watts. I like this passage on a similar theme:


Noble Anarchist January 29, 2014 at 7:20 am

Hey David,

I quit my high-stress programmer job a year ago myself, and have been endeavouring ever since to find ways of surviving, but doing what I like instead. The first step was to get out of the big city and into the country where cost of living is reasonable. Always trying to spread the word as best I can while doing it.

So far it has been difficult finding ways to make money, but I’m 100% confident it will happen for me if I keep at it!

In any case, thanks for your article. It is always good to hear from others out there who feel the same way!

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Good for you. As you probably know I advocate thinking about changing the major structures of our lives (especially our work and the place we live) to see if they really suit us. Moving and changing careers can be stressful in the short term, but if they’re good ones, they make a big difference for the rest of your life.

jocelyn February 2, 2014 at 10:53 am

Really admire your writing style and throughly enjoy the replies your writing brings fourth.
Good writers encourage people to contemplate, great writers encourage action. Thank you

Tracy January 29, 2014 at 8:53 am

I could have retired 6 years ago, but loved being self-employed as a real estate broker. I always said that when I didn’t enjoy it anymore, I would stop. In October of last year, I realized that not only did I no longer enjoy it but I resented doing it. I retired at the end of December at age 49. My husband and I bought 6 rental homes over the past 5 years so that we would have a steady stream of income in retirement. We are not wealthy, but we live a great life enjoying golf, friends, family and vacations. Our kids think we are ridiculously frugal, and so do most of our friends. Our 7 homes are worth almost a million dollars, but we live in one we purchased for $141,000. We would rather do things we enjoy than have to work so that we can own just one million dollar home. Keep up the great writing!

Mike Huber January 29, 2014 at 9:08 am

If people have a problem with what you wrote, then yes, they don’t get it, so move on. One point brought up in an article I read you didn’t address is corporate America taking this DWYL mantra as a new method of getting people to work more for less “and just love it, because everyone else does”. I think young people are especially vulnerable to this brain washing without a real knowing.

Carlos January 29, 2014 at 10:58 am

Hi Mike, would you share the link to that article you mention? Sounds interesting, thank you!

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Yes, I think that’s an unfortunate misappropriation of the whole idea, because it runs the whole thing through the mud. Miya Tokumitsu’s piece aims to criticize certain business practices but instead blasts the whole idea of doing what you love, as if those institutions really are advocating it in a genuine way.

Lydia January 29, 2014 at 9:49 am

I liked Miya Tokumitsu’s article in part because of her emphasis on how employers misuse DWYL ideals to abuse workers (mentioned in the last comment) and the class issues at play in the appropriation of this slogan. You say she conflates a simple idea of DWYL with these issues, but I think she is making a keen observation on how DWYL had been employed in various ways under the guise of a “simple idea”. Nevertheless, I agree with your “common sense realities.” Thanks for the post!

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

The issues she mentions are indeed real issues, but it’s bizarre that she identifies the DWYL ethos as the culprit. Large companies will use every possible slogan to lower costs and increase production, and their appropriation of an otherwise completely sensible idea is rather predictable. Look at any corporate web page, they are plastered with smiling families and feel-good slogans. They’ll say anything to get you to buy their product or work for them for as little as possible. To respond to that by telling young people that DWYL is only bad advice from people who want to victimize you is a little bit of an overreaction? She picked the wrong bad guy. Policy allows this kind of exploitation and that’s a more appropriate target for criticism. Anybody asking college grads to work unpaid interships is not likely to be someone who believes in DWYL, no matter what they say in the interview. Don’t you think?

Britt Reints January 29, 2014 at 10:18 am

Three cheers for this post!

A friend of mine sent me Miya’s article and asked my opinion, and my gut reaction was that she missed the point entirely.

It’s not about cushy jobs or being a full-time artist. It’s about the belief that we all have a part to play and that we are all better off when we’re doing the part we were born to play!

Emma January 29, 2014 at 11:45 am


What do you think of blogger/author Cal Newport’s take on the whole topic?


David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I don’t think our views are entirely different, but he’s still content to declare “follow your passion” to be crappy advice. He appears to have a narrow view of what DWYL can mean. It sounds like he believes following your passion necessarily means declaring the thing you enjoy most to be your new “career”, with no thought towards practicalities. That’s silly and there’s no reason to dismiss the idea of seeking work you love just because it’s possible to approach it in a thoughtless and naive way.

Tony Khuon February 6, 2014 at 10:00 pm

David, I’ve had similar issues with Cal Newport’s views and his book on the subject, which I wrote about on my blog. It’s unfortunate that Newport’s gone “all-in” on this viewpoint, since his other content is otherwise interesting and useful. I think your point #2 and #3 are a bit lost on the anti-DWYL/anti-passion crowd, since they turn DWYL into a strawman in order to make their argument. Great defense of DWYL, great post.

Amelia January 29, 2014 at 12:04 pm

There is doing what you love and there is loving what you do. If I could spend my days doing what I love, I’d be a homemaker. Nothing in life is more satisfying to me than managing a home and putting effort in making it a comfortable place to be. I enjoy the cooking and the cleaning, the planning and the preparation. My projects are creating things with my own hands to improve the quality of my life and of the people who share my life. That is doing what I love. I don’t have any kids yet, but I’m finally in a position where creating a family is an actual discussion.

The problem with doing what I love is, I can’t make a monetary profit with it. I don’t want to make hand crafts for a living and have to manage my own business. I don’t want to teach or work in a daycare. I don’t want to clean other people’s houses. I want to devote my energy into making my family life everything it can be.

Getting to that point is why I get up and go to work 5 days a week. I’m lucky I can have a job where I can love what I do. I can take pride in what I’m doing. I can be on point every day and perform every task to the highest level of ability. I can hold myself to my own standard, regardless of the standard that is accepted by those around me. I happen to be in a situation where everyone around me has an equally high standard, and I realize that is a blessing, too.

I can be mindful. I can be aware in every moment. I can recognize how what I’m doing right now fits in with everything I have ever done and ever will do, so I want every moment to be a reflection of the best I can be.

So even if you can’t be living the life you want, you can learn to love the life you have.

Kenneth January 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm

What a positive person you are, Amelia. You seem to constantly be choosing the better thought, which obviously serves you well.

I was going to post something on not DWYL but rather LWYD (love what you do) as a personal choice we all make in the moment. Be here now. LWYD now. But you stated it all very elegantly.

tallgirl1204 January 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm

“Loving your children means cleaning up their vomit, but it doesn’t mean you love cleaning up vomit.”

O.k., so maybe I didn’t need that visual, but it really puts the whole thing in perspective, eh?

I’m a bureaucrat, but I love much of what I do. The way I figure it is that some days I do my job for free. Some days I would even pay them to let me do it (I sometimes get to do some pretty cool stuff, by anyone’s standards.). Some days I think “There’s a reason they call it work, and there’s a reason they have to pay me to do it.”

And some days I would pay them a whole lot to let me just go home and hang out with my kid.

There are, on average, more good days than bad– but I think I need to find ways to fire up those positive days (using your article on the 4 horsemen of procrastination seems to help) and reducing the days when I spend more time than I like cleaning up, um, virtual vomit…

Oh ugh. That visual again.

Insourcelife January 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Or you can just do what pays most for a limited amount of time, become financially independent and then do what you love for the rest of your life. It’s a lot easier for me to put in 10-15 years doing something that happens to bring most income (IT), then quit and step into something else. No one will own my time and I can pursue whatever it is my heart desires without financial worries. That’s the plan, anyway.

David Cain January 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Yes. You have to do something you don’t like for a period of time anyway, so that’s a different approach. If you can have all your necessary earning over with in your thirties, you can build any kind of life you want. You have to be able to at least tolerate it though. 10-15 years is still a long time.

John January 29, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Very down-to-earth advice and points. It seems that the anti-do what you love camp can’t get past point #1. Because people pay me to teach a skill (guitar) that I happen to love teaching doesn’t mean that I don’t have to put in the hours behind it to build the curriculum, advertise myself and network, etc. I think we’re at a crossroads in the Western World in terms of what capitalism can be. Those in the old guard don’t want to recognize people who choose fulfilling work because I think they feel they missed out and they refuse to believe it’s possible.

Tobi January 30, 2014 at 4:10 am

For some reason a certain one of the political parties thinks that we all need to be on the same level economically or else there’s a huge problem. This is not so, and it is not how capitalism works. That mentality creates these ideas you talk about, David. But it doesn’t make sense to out right say “if someone else can’t, you shouldn’t either because it’s not fair to them” so they come up with other reasons to justify what they mistakenly feel as right.

gael blanchemain January 30, 2014 at 9:17 am

While the opinions on DWYL diverge, there’s a reality looming ahead: job famine. Those who own the means of production will need workers for as long as they can’t replace them by machines, and machines will keep improving for as long as venture capital can afford to spend money on R&D. That loop isn’t too promising if you’re looking for security in the job market.
Self-employment might simply be the only option we have left in the near future, and since as a freelancer nobody will write our job description for us, we’d better create something we love. I like Seth Godin’s vision when it comes to being a cog in the system or an “artist” as he calls it.

Trixie January 30, 2014 at 9:47 am

I loved this comment: “It’s not only rock stars and fighter pilots that love their work.” My father was an accountant for most of his adult life, and even after he retired, he would whip up spreadsheets for one thing or another. He loved being an accountant, as did many of his and my accountant friends.

When I worked full-time, I tended to get restless. I am happier learning than mastering, which doesn’t pay! I envy those people who have found their calling. Now I am home with my kids, and while I do contract work, it’s hard for me. I don’t like domestic chores (cleaning the house, preparing meals, doing endless loads of laundry and getting kids where they need to be), but as grumbly as I am about being home instead of at work (where I also felt grumbly at times), I think I’d have an even harder time working a full-time job and squeezing everything else in. I’m not always doing what I love or even loving what I’m doing, but I’m doing it for the people I love, and I’m glad I can be around for my kids. I know many people would like to see their kids more than they do.

Perhaps somewhere along the way, I’ll have an “aha” moment and find my passion.

Pete January 30, 2014 at 11:31 am

Love your stuff, disagree here with point #5…I would say there are many, many people in the industrialized world that cannot easily reduce their spending to the point where it would impact their work options. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a minority of the population in the U.S. (where I am) for whom point #5 would be true.

Ottawa January 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Pete – I think the first paragraph of point #5 presents the disclaimer that there is a theoretical low to the income:spending ratio which would be a bare bones…yet comfortable lifestyle.

However, at a certain level of income (say over 15-20K) your accumulation of wealth should now take over. Hedonic adaptation as your salary increases (Jones’ syndrome) is rife, indeed normal, in both the US and Canada.

Once you step off the hedonic treadmill, you will begin accumulating wealth – which leads to the point David is making – you become more flexible and have the opportunity to improve your lot.

David Cain January 30, 2014 at 1:28 pm

I think situations of truly deadlocked expenses are much rarer than that. The moment you spend a dime on TV service, alcohol or restaurants, you are making lifestyle choices that will restrict your options. Television household ownership is more than 95% in the US so I don’t imagine it is true that a majority of people have no discretionary income.

And I didn’t say anyone can easily reduce their expenses significantly. But I do think for most households it would turn out to be easier and more liberating that they expect, and that more of their expenses are optional or reducible than they realize. In any case, even if you have to move house or even change cities, all of it is easier than doing work you hate for years.

Nick Hilden January 30, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Great post. When I first shifted into focusing solely on writing (aka “What I Love”) I had a lot of supporters, but there were just as many skeptics, cynics, and detractors. I recently read an article somewhere that talked about how when you decide to DWYL, there are many people who will ask questions that are supposed to be “helpful” or are asked out of some sense of “just looking out for you, buddy” (“Do you really think you have the experience for that?” or “Isn’t that kind of risky?”). In reality, questions like these are subtle ways of digging into your confidence in your ability to pursue DWYL, and are posed in a hope that you will answer in some way that will confirm the skeptic’s belief that playing it safe is the best way to go. I just returned to the US after spending one year abroad, and I got A LOT of those types of questions before I headed out. I just put up a post about how taking the risk to DWYL is one of the surest ways of experiencing the things you’ve always dreamed of: http://lifedonewrite.com/2014/01/19/one-year-abroad-making-changes-finding-happiness-drinking-duff/

Keep up the good work!

David Cain January 31, 2014 at 10:06 am

I feel lucky that I haven’t experienced much of that. My family was very supportive, and my friends respect that I know what I’m doing with my life and nobody that matters has told me they think it’s a bad idea. On the internet there are a ton of detractors to the whole idea of doing what you and I are doing, but I guess that’s the way it goes. Congratulations on making the big move, Nick. I love that there is a whole community of DWYLers.

Michelle T January 30, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Agreeing with everything on this post. The comments are spot on, too! Thank you for opening everyone’s eyes to the realities.

NickG January 31, 2014 at 8:05 am

My friend, you have nailed this shit on the head! I applaud your honesty and contradiction to the social norm in such an eloquent manner, and your living of said morality. The need to get a bigger place and accommodate a growing family is a palpable expectation in my life. Costs go up and I stay busy as a head of household in a job that keeps us fed while sucking away the best hours of my life. Meanwhile, my children live without their father most hours of most days. Casting away the shackles of such a life has been on the tip of my tongue for the last few years, with financial planners and the expectations of the greater community keeping me scared to walk away from comfort and consistency.

Your work proves worthwhile in your goading to take back a life never really owned by we in the first place. Thank you for your freedom and the light it shines on the corporate corners many of us consume your thoughts from. The truth shall set us all free! With a little help from our own passions and understanding.

Book suggestion (as I feel the need to give back): A Coming of Wizards by Michael Reynolds. http://earthshipstore.com/Earthship-book-a-coming-of-wizards

Zoe February 14, 2014 at 11:29 pm

What if you love lots of things, and have choices? How to choose which one to convert into work? How should the ‘valuable to others’ factor in? e.g. being a doctor (clear immediate social value – and financial stability – but also risk of being an alienated cog depending on the health system) vs., say, a film-maker (maybe less clear value, but what if there were no filmmakers? What would doctors do for fun/thought-provokation on the weekend?). I’m struggling with this.

Zoe February 14, 2014 at 11:53 pm

whoops posted this in the wrong section

Matthew Anderson February 1, 2014 at 10:44 pm


Beautiful post! You’ve summed up most of the important truths I’ve finally allowed myself to understand. It’s a tough life to be a mindless cog in the system. It’s hard to even understand we’re caught in it until we’ve had something external shed some light on it for us.

It’s also extremely difficult to watch other people you care about be lost in the pursuit of material. I think that’s my most frustrating aspect of doing what I love… Watching other people be too afraid to give it a shot.

JayP February 2, 2014 at 11:05 am

Great, thought provoking piece. I have one psychological pondering from this. You mentioned that most spending is done in the name of improving our quality of life. And yet the wasteful spending is often keeps us tied to unhappy jobs. This seems illogical, but people do it everyday. I know many people who hate their jobs and drive nice new SUVs with large homes. The only conclusion I can draw is that many folks don’t put the pieces together that they have real choices. For them, it seems like its just baked in the cake that you have to work until you’re 65 or 67. I have to admit to some of this myself(we have a larger home than we need and I’d rather do something else for a career). Sometimes its difficult to put together a plan to get from point A to point B – the absence of which causes folks to spend their money and live their lives somewhat unintentionally. Thoughts?

Craig Morantz February 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm


Well thought out, well said, well written. I recently wrote a post and it included the thought “choose your passion because if you don’t make any money at least you will be happy because you are doing something you love.” It’s a thought and like you point out these people still need to do things they may not love, like collecting money from customers. I had many replies sighting the “well, I like ice cream, so should I eat ice cream for my job?” Unfortunate. I suggest instead, commit to the reality you want and one day very soon it will come true, but it requires hard work, sacrifice and most of all dealing with detractors. I also really like this thought. “Perhaps the world isn’t giving you what you want because based on all your distractions and lack of discipline, it’s simply unclear what you are asking for” Brendon Burchard


Jonny Hung February 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Another highly enjoyable piece David (but perhaps that’s just because I agree with you)!

Most opinionated arguments are narrow minded. By having such a strong opinion you limit your perspective to a miniscule section of an enormous spectrum.

Yes, there are people who can’t do the work they love.
Yes, there are people who believe that they can’t, and can’t.
Yes, there are people who believe that they can, and persist.
Yes, there are people who don’t really care and follow whatever is loudest in their lives.

But work can be play and play can be work.
You don’t need to believe in the supernatural to experience this.

Gary Hardenbrook February 3, 2014 at 9:51 am

Beware of turning a love into a JOB, trading off options such as when, for how long, how much, how well it must be done. Discovering that much of its charm derived from its providing respite from your job. Having so much of it that in time it begins to suck. We vacation in a rural part of NH and have sat on the beach saying “wouldn’t it be nice to live here!”. Well, perhaps not. Be careful what you wish for.

Stephen Anderson February 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Work that you love is still work – exactly. And in order to get paid for it, somebody else has to value what you are doing more than they value the amount of money they are willnig to pay you to doa th for them.

No problem there, its the way the world is. i don’t want to surrender to doing things I don’t like in exchange for the money to get to do more things I don’t really like. A exchange of value right off the bat sounds pretty good to me.

I have made a living providing people with what they need to get more money into their businesses, I like doing that and people are willing to pay me to make that happen. That is a great feeling.

Partha February 8, 2014 at 8:37 am

This “DWYL” thing is an exact analogy, I would say, to what one may term “MWYL” or “BWWYL” (for the acronym-philes), which translates as “Marry Whom You Love”, or perhaps more correctly, “Be With Whom You Love”.

This concept is so very obvious today, at least in the “West”. But all through the ages, up till less than two or three centuries ago, practically all marriages used to be marriages of convenience. The love element would be an extra, often cherished, but seldom the essential element of a man and woman living together. Indeed that is still so in many parts of the world. Even in the industrialised West, it is only in the centuries following the so-called Enlightenment, with the ushering in of a culture of individuality–and especially in the last one-and-a-half or two centuries, that the concept of marrying or cohabiting for love has become so common.

Partha February 8, 2014 at 8:46 am

(Ran out of space, so I’ll continue commenting in this reply)

So today, at least in the industrialised West, an “idealistic coupling” (if I may use that term) is the norm, and anything else is considered cynical and condemnable and is NOT commonplace. However, go back to any point in time before the last century or two, and a hard-nosed, cynical and “practical” approach to marriage, coupling, cohabiting (call it what you will) was the norm.

Thus with work today. With any luck, and with enough people embracing this DWYL concept, there might come a day when people will see this, doing what one loves, as the norm, and look back with wonder at the dark ages that are our times, as an age where people, inexplicable, chose to spend their whole lives doing what they hated (or at least, did not love), just so they could have a little bit more to spend on inconsequential things.

Northmoon February 9, 2014 at 7:25 am

Great post. I think one thing that is implied but not stated is that your attitude toward your job makes a big difference. I’m a project manager and a public servant. While sometimes dealing with the public’s expectations versus the realities of the job are difficult, I chose to concentrate on the great satisfactions of my work, solving problems and getting things built for the good of all.

Also, when conditions at previous places of employment were negative, I put in the hard work to move to another job – preparing and sending out resumes, going to numerous interviews, until I got a better offer. I didn’t just put up with it and complain or quit to “follow my bliss”.

David Cain February 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Yes, this is mainly what I mean by “your line of work is only one of the determining factors in whether you love your work.” The same job can return two totally different experiences if you apply different attitudes to it. I do think that certain attitudes aren’t possible to sustain if your work is wrong for you. For example, to bring an attitude of service to the betterment of the world, you may not be able to stay in your line of work as a tobacco lobbyist. The bottom line is values, and if your livelihood contradicts your values, it’s never going to feel right.

Zoe February 14, 2014 at 11:53 pm

What if you love lots of things, and have choices? How to choose which one to convert into work? How should the ‘valuable to others’ factor in? e.g. being a doctor (clear immediate social value – and financial stability – but also risk of being an alienated cog depending on the health system) vs., say, a film-maker (maybe less clear value, but what if there were no filmmakers? What would doctors do for fun/thought-provokation on the weekend?). I’m struggling with this.

Vilx- February 15, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Well, one solution is that you could do some of both – say, work as a doctor at day, and produce movies in your free time (hobby). Or even half-time doctor, half-time producer.

If you have more than 2 choices, I’d suggest evaluating how much you really love each of them. It’s easy to like many different things, as long as you only do them occasionally and stick to the fun parts. But when you take a hobby and turn it into a full-time vocation, it gets a lot less interesting pretty fast. You must make sure that your love for the occupation is stronger than the tedious necessities of doing it full-time.

Lisa Whitlock February 18, 2014 at 2:39 pm

When I was younger, I was stuck on the idea that turning a passion (or simply something that you really enjoy) into a full time job would deprive me of any enthusiasm I’ve had about it in the first place. There are many approaches to work, but that idea I had about work was just nonsense and maybe even actual fear.
The primary goal or expectation should not be to have fun working at all times, but to make sure that what we do does not concern only ourselves – otherwise there is no worthy point of doing it.
Thanks for writing this article so carefully, I found it very interesting.

Smart Alec February 19, 2014 at 7:39 am

I mean this jokingly, of course. The idea is so preposterous that it could only be a joke, or a sarcastic attempt at trolling, right?

But then, why? I mean, let us consider this idea, laughable thought it is, if only for a nano-second.

Okay, here’s my five cents (grass-fuelled, admittedly, but an original idea) :

Right. What is it that we’re all, most of us that is, most passionate about? What is the essence of passion for most of us? Why, sex!

Right, then. You see where I’m going with this. Why should the world’s oldest profession, then, not be a legitimate option? That way we’d literally be “living our passion”.

Think about this. In the bad old days (which extends to some extent to the current bad days as well, but only to an extent), this option is unhealthy, hazardous, exploited. But you could say the same of most professions, including that of “workers”, salesmen and engineers, if you go back a century or two. Today, you can enter the “world’s oldest profession” in so many different ways (indeed some celebrities already do it, selling their sex appeal — and little else — for stupendous sums).

So, what think you of this brilliant idea of mine, of this brilliant way of literally “living your passion”?

(Like I said, I mean this half-jocularly, but only half. In a half-serious vein, I see no objections to this except social approbation — and we all know what that is worth, don’t we?)

David Cain February 19, 2014 at 11:16 am

I think you have fallen prey to the fallacy that following your passion has to be idealistic and blind to practicalities. Yes people like sex, but I don’t know how many people would enjoy being sex workers.

Smart Alec February 21, 2014 at 6:54 am

Why do you say that?

I’m only saying that if one can follow one’s passion by choosing to be a writer, for instance, then how much more would one follow one’s passion if one were to work out some way to be paid, and paid fairly well, for fornicating!

Why talk of idealism and being blind to practicalities at all? One cannot be that (unpractical) and survive at any profession under the sun, not just the profession of selling one’s mojo.

By all means work out how to do this practically (as you would with any other profession) : but what I’m saying is this : since such a huge swath of humanity are looking for perfect sex and haven’t quite found it (only a small percentage of the total are fully satisfied with their partners, I’m sure), then surely this represents a huge market, one which people with some brains (and some really nifty “technique”) can tap to carve out for themselves the dream career : making a living by making out.

I was stoned and half-joking when I’d put in my earlier comment : but I’m fully sober, and half-serious, as I write this now.

Smart Alec February 21, 2014 at 8:13 pm

I’m stoned again, but this time I’m fully serious. Thank you, David, for guiding me to this epiphany.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this today, and I believe I’ve finally found my vocation. And this idea may be the next Facebook, that’s how big this is!

Not like being a sex worker, you suggest? You get p*****, varieties of p*****, and what’s more, p***** actually pays you for the “service” : what on earth’s not to like?

Although I object to the term “sex worker”. It’s like calling a writer a hack, or a scribbler, or a pencil-pusher. True descriptor, but pejorative, if that’s the word I want. The technical term for the vocation I am considering is, I believe, Gigolo. Nice word, kind of flows off your tongue. Chief Gigolo, Associate Gigolo, Assistant Gigolo … Vice President of Gigolo Services … Nice, nice, NICE!

I have already identified two big market categories : the inexperienced and insecure chicks, and the over-the-hill (but rich) broads.

And two delivery models : consulting “services” for folks (sorry, chicks) at large, and in-house “assistance” in corporate houses.

I’ve even thought of a cool name : GI Joe. Brilliant?

This blog will merit one whole chapter, and perhaps the dedication as well, when on the eve of the IPO of GI Joe I’m sitting down dictating my autobiography to my team of secretaries. Pretty secretaries, needless to say.

Talk about “living your dream” !

Willy February 23, 2014 at 1:44 am

After wondering for a while, I think I know the reason why people are against DWYL. For many people, myself included, the word “love” has very strong connotations , and is not to be used in everyday situations. Other people on the other hand, use the word “love” much more freely, such as in “I love chocolate”.

So it makes sense that someone from the first group would say that working what you love is very rare, and therefore consider a bad advice, while someone from the second group would understand better the spirit of the advice. But that’s only because whoever came with DWYL for the first time had to be from the second group!

In other words, it’s all a matter of translation. People have different intern definitions for the same word: love.

Anyway, that’s my theory. If you happen to read it, give your opinion.

ktmack March 20, 2014 at 4:09 am

Having recently, well 7 months ago or so, quit my job to change careers and do something I love, I agree with your article. I dont feel everyone disagrees with dwyl but I feel there is some pragmatism in the posts you read and I do feel there is some value to making sure you have money to live. But I do agree it’s much better to take a pay cut to do something you love. It was very difficult for me to make the change and I felt the nagging feeling that people would criticize or that I was making a mistake. I had a secure job and I quit to go back to school… Though my career change should raise my salary if I can secure a job. I also hate how some people think it’s normal to hate your job. IMO if you hate it, it is time for either a career change or a psychological makeover. Personally I’ve always loved helping people so I found happiness in most jobs, because essentially that’s what youre doing. Though I would hate certain types of jobs where I could not excel and do not fit my talents. Eg food service, when I have a terrible short term memory and am not good at faking a hostess like attitude, and more enjoy desk job work. Anyway, thanks for the article.

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