A Rebuttal to “Stop Saying ‘Do What You Love'”

You know I’m a supporter of people doing work they love.

I firmly believe that when we do work we enjoy, we are happier and can do our part to make the world a better place.

We suddenly have a backlash against the idea that we can do work that we love.

“In the Name of Love” in Slate.com, is written Miya Tokumitsu, a woman with a PhD in art history who seems to have a bone to pick about PhD’s not being paid well to do work they love. But she throws in people who do blue collar labor as her guilt hook, hence arguing leveraging choice “devalues” those who can’t choose.

I vehemently disagree with the multiple levels she argues against DWYL (do what you love).

From my perspective, it promotes a regressive message of “Stay in your place,” career and life advice. The author has an agenda as a PhD in art history (You can’t see her bio on the Slate page. You can see it on the link to the original article).
I don’t appreciate the author lumps people who do blue collar work with PhD level academics in doing “devalued” work. Her argument is disingenuous and as a person with a PhD in art history, I think she has a broader, not clearly articulated, agenda. She is assuming that people who do less skilled work don’t have a a choice. It is also insulting to presumptively assume people who do less skilled work don’t enjoy it. Some do. Some don’t. Underpaid PhDs may not enjoy their work, but that has nothing to do with truck divers, harvesters or waitresses. We can only speak of our own experience. I know many people who do hard labor and put their heart into it. My dad’s father immigrated from Italy and was a successful farmer. My mom’s dad was a factory foreman. Both took great pride in their work and did their jobs with love and dignity.

There is also an insulting assumptionĀ  that people who choose to do work they enjoy buy into an idea that we toss confetti and clap our hands all day. Choosing work that matters means we choose to do the work. We aren’t 8 year olds who think that we get to avoid the heavy lifting, paperwork boredom or nitty gritty detail work that makes a business succeed. Doing what we love doesn’t mean we are naive or lazy. What we do is choose to focus our energies in an area of work that matters to us. We can shuffle papers for a faceless employer or dive into managing the bookkeeping for our meaningful business.
Rant aside, on a deeper level, articles like these don’t contribute positively to the bigger issue of choice and autonomy in our careers. We need more of these conversations as the corporate/institutionalized work that supports the middle class is quickly disappearing. Even those who do less-skilled work will be forced to make choices as manufacturing, harvesting and other repetitive tasks get sourced to robots. Even UPS/FedEx delievery will soon be outsourced to drones.

The idea of knowing what you are good at and what you like to do will increasingly be relevant to workers at all levels, as many of us will be self-employed by necessity during our life times.

DWYL (do what you love) is targeted to all people who empower themselves to choose. In America we used to pride ourselves on the idea that people can move up the ladder. Now we tell each other to stay in our place and “get over” the idea we can do work that we enjoy.

I’m not supportive of that message. It reinforces many stereotypes and a rigid class system. If we embrace that we all can’t DWYL then we can justify not funding higher education, job retraining, career development. It’s a regressive mindset that is classist and anti-mobility.

Also, this message comes from people of privilege, which is even more concerning. Who are we to decide who gets to choose work that they love? Especially those of us who can do work we enjoy?I fully admit I have the privilege of education, social economic status and demographics that allow me to choose how I work. I am fully aware this choice is not available for all. Rather than rail about the naivete of those who support DWYL, those of us with the means to choose should consider doing what we can to shift that option to more of the community at large.

Overall, this piece isĀ  a “keep ’em in their place” message backlash from people who have the the power to choose, but are confused and ambivalent about that privilege. She seeks the establishment to fulfill her needs. I suggest she take her skills and create her own career (which is is choosing to do by writing for Slate).

Please remember, you have the opportunity to choose. Always. The choices may not be ideal, but the choices do exist to start something new. No matter where you start. Choose wisely. Work hard. You can do work that you love.

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