Our visions for what constitutes ‘work’ may not be the same, but I’ll bet the visions are similar enough.
Taking a stab: You wish to spend your days laboring under the thrall of your passions. The afterglow of ‘good work’ transmuting your romantic relationships, your familial connections, and bestowing upon you infinite amounts of patience and compassion and good will so that your life becomes not just one trial after another but a beautiful existence suffused with meaning and purpose.
That we should be paid well for our work goes unmentioned but is assumed.
As we’ve all constructed our unique but similar visions of how we want our work to manifest itself in our lives, one of the more popular mantras we pick up along the way is this:
Do what you love, love what you do.
As if this equation is entirely up to us. As if life (or fate, if you swing that way) doesn’t have other plans for us. As if issues of class, race, education, circumstance don’t impact our choices, our options. As if reality can or should be ignored.
Miya Tokumitsu has an excellent piece in Slate where she details the dangers that the do what you love, love what you do mantra presents not only for us as individuals, but to the collective. Many of us conflate our jobs with our passions. We want to spend our time doing what we love, not doing what we need to do just to survive. And yet, many more of us work ‘just so I can survive’ jobs than we do laboring on our passion projects.
Writing is my passion, and when I completed graduate school in the mid-1990s, I had wanted to live as a writer. My rough plan was to work a job that paid me enough, provided health benefits and some retirement, while I completed my first novel – which I calculated would take two to three years. Once the novel was of course published, and I was not quite but close to being a best-selling author, I would slide out of my side-line gig and write full time.
My plan failed.
Writing my first novel took much longer than anticipated (and the pressure to complete it on my time-line instead of its time-line didn’t help). My ability to secure a stable income proved much more challenging than expected. Throw in a divorce, a new relationship and marriage, the addition of two children, a more time-consuming job, and the years just accumulate. I eventually had to abandon the first novel and liberate myself by writing a second. As many of my fellow writers know, admitting that a work isn’t gelling after months or years of effort is difficult. You failed. You failed the work, and you failed yourself. That’s a lot of shame to shoulder - the death of the lifestyle dream AND the death of the artistic dream.
And yet. Here we are. Life, as that other mantra states, goes on. Passions don’t let up, they don’t release us, and even when our visions of the perfect work and the ideal lifestyle get flushed, we have to acknowledge the reality that we are still here, still breathing, still fighting. Do what you love, love what you do works for a few. For the rest of us, it’s do what you love because you fucking have to. You’re not going to get paid what you should, you’re not going to get the acknowledgement that you deserve, and the effort required to live your passions will prove much more difficult than you could have ever expected. It won’t be easy.
But we both know that you’re going to do it, anyway.