Loving Your Job Is Overrated

The message that you can and should be wildly passionate about and totally fulfilled by your career can unintentionally promote impatience, entitlement, poor work ethic, chronic dissatisfaction, frustration, and even depression. Plus it causes huge amounts of stress.

If you are a member of Generation X or younger, you’ve probably spent your entire life trying to figure out “your passion” and turn it into a pleasant, lucrative, fulfilling, challenging-but-not-too-time-consuming career. We’ve been taught since we were toddlers that we can be anything we want to be, that we should always be happy, that we can and should find a fulfilling job that entwines all of our talents and interests.

Those promises bring extraordinary pressure and set expectations that frankly, not many people can or will ever realize. Even to those with endless resources (including time and money), it’s not wise to to endlessly encourage and promise today’s youth that they can and should LOVE their jobs. They might, and that’s great, but they don’t have to.

The message that you can and should be wildly passionate about and totally fulfilled by your career can promote impatience, entitlement mentality, poor work ethic, chronic dissatisfaction, frustration, and even depression. Over and over I hear young people lament “What do I want to DO with my life?” “What do I want to BE when I grow up?” “How do I find a job that I LOVE?” “Follow Your Dreams!” society yells back. “The Sky is Your Limit!”

So millions of idealistic youngsters seek happy, fulfilled careers out of their inevitable passions for art, theater, music, sports, volunteering, or one of the liberal arts. Some of them can do it, of course, but many will realize a little late (approximately one year after graduating from college) that a small dose of realism and practicality along with the unwavering encouragement might have prompted them to at least develop a few sales skills or pick up a minor in business that could help them figure out how to pay the bills (which is, after all, another secret to satisfaction).

Get Rich Slowly has an article about How to Find Work That You Love after which dozens of commenters offer share their frustrations with that search and offer tips on countless books, indicators, and quizzes that will help you analyze your interests and take inventory of your talents.

I grew up undergoing the same search, and I feel a lot of that effort was well spent. But then again, I enjoy self-evaluation for its own sake. And I’m a Super-Planner: I had a detailed spreadsheet of every class I was going to take throughout college to take when I started my first semester, so as to effeciently squeeze in 2 majors and 3 minors in 4 years. After all that? Yeah, I have a job, and yeah I like it, but I don’t feel like it’s my Passion or my Destiny. Does that mean I’m not fulfilling my Dreams and reaching my Full Potential like those posters in elementary school insisted I could? NO! I’m having a blast, enjoying my 20’s, traveling, blogging, writing, reading, and developing meaningful relationships. My career will unfold as it will; I’m trying not to focus on it too much.

What about encouraging people to simply pursue balanced lives? There’s nothing wrong with following your passion if you actually have one or with being motivated and career-oriented. But lets fact it: not many people are qualified or talented enough to fulfil their “passion” as a video-game tester, a fashion model, an athlete, a musician, a writer, or an internet mogul. Not everyone is smart enough to get a degree or to launch a business that will make them millions and simultaneously bringing everlasting happiness. We need to send the message that that’s OK; you’re still valuable and you can still be happy.

You can have a wonderful loving family. You can have interesting, stimulating hobbies. You can give back to your community, develop meaningful relationships, “find yourself” through travel, religion, and art rather than through the boardroom. So get a job you enjoy, one that pays the bills and has room for growth and can teach you a few things that you want to learn. And then focus on the rest of your life. There’s a lot more to it than work and even money. If people realized that before they wasted half their lives stressing about college applications and chsaing the elusive Perfect Job, then they’d probably be a lot happier.

More from Meg at The World of Wealth

35 thoughts on “Loving Your Job Is Overrated”

  1. I whole heartedly agree with you here. My thoughts were similar when I read the GRS article. You shouldn’t HATE your job, but loving it? That is a tall order to fill.

  2. I don’t do little dances when it’s time to go off to the library, but I feel pretty decent while I’m there. I think feeling decent at one’s job is most important. Loving is great.

    At my last job, I felt completely miserable almost the whole time. That was a good cue to quit.

  3. This is an excellent post and articulates my same feelings on this issue. Great read.

    I took the “safe” road in college too (acct degree). I struggled the first few years of my career with unhappiness/boredom, and I ended up flaking out on life. Allstar acheiver to dud. And most of it was because of this “I’m supposed to be happy and fulfilled” thing you mention. The other part was b/c the jobs had me working like a slave. Well, I’ve since found a job that allows me a better work/life balance, and I’ve grown up a bit and can appreciate what the job affords me. But mostly, I still work to live. Not the other way around.

  4. Holy cow, that was great. I rather like ‘what I do’ but not how I do it, in that it’s great job for a variety of reasons, but some days I spend a lot of my day looking at spreadsheets. No one wants to do that for half their waking hours, but if I enjoy the job overall, it doesn’t control me, and the other half of my waking hours are happy and fulfilling, I’m okay with it.

    Thanks Meg!

  5. Great post, Meg.

    Few people are lucky enough to find work that they love. My wife did so early on. I’m finding it now. I think that people should always be open to doing something they love, but not expect it or force it.

    In my original post at GRS — before it got edited — I discussed how it’s much more practical for a person to find fulfillment at work in other ways. (Other than finding the perfect “meaningful” job.) Here’s some text that did not make the final cut:

    *** BEGIN QUOTE ***

    I have loved three jobs in my life: Fry cook at McDonald’s, busboy at the Holiday Inn coffee shop, and writing Get Rich Slowly. I loved them because I felt like I did a good job at them. I loved them because they challenged me. It might seem crazy that a job in a fast-food restaurant can be fulfilling, but it was. I loved every minute of it.

    You can make almost any job fulfilling if you throw yourself into it with enthusiasm. But not everyone is willing (or able) to throw themselves into every job. I’m not willing to throw myself into selling boxes, and so it’s not fulfilling.

    *** END QUOTE ***

    More important than finding a job that you love, I think, is finding a job that you *like*. Nobody should stay in a job they hate. That’s a recipe for soul-sucking disaster.

    Great post.

  6. I’m so glad this topic has struck a chord with you all! I’ve never really written or even talked about it, but I have three sisters who are all in college now, and perhaps that is what has affected my perception.

    I try to encourage them to get over the angst of “What am I going to do!?” and enjoy the learning experience. I DO think it’s important to build a decent resume and learn some things that will help you make some money (or else why pay for college tuition?), but it’s so important to allow yourself to just be. Be creative, be inquisitive, be active–but don’t be freaked out if you haven’t figured out how to spend the next 50 years of your life yet. It would be a little boring if you had!

  7. Meg, you are right on. I always thought I was weird for not having a “passion” in life when everyone around me seemed to. When I was unhappy as an investment banking analyst, I thought it was because I didn’t really know what I want (turns out, the job just sucks that much). Now, I don’t wake up every day with a spring in my step, but I don’t dread going to work, either. That’s good enough for me!

  8. I see points of your argument but also see the other side. In my own personal experience, finding work that is fulfilling and suits my strengths, interests, and passions has been very worthwhile. I am not 100% there in that I am not getting paid to do what I really want to do most–for a variety of reasons–but my entire career has been spent doing jobs I love, found reward, and was passionate about.

    I have taught a subject I love to students of an age group I love. I have worked doing editing, which fits perfectly with my passion for writing and editing, and I have worked helping homeless youth pursue and complete their education and prepare for higher ed. and the work world. And I am sooo happy I did pursue worked based on my passions and my desire to contribute in ways I found meaningful. There is work even better for me and that is what I will pursue later, but these jobs have fit me well in those time periods in my lie and I am happy for the experiences.

    Many of my friends, though they have very dift. careers from me, have done the same, pursued their passions and found fulfillment. Of course we all find other aspects of our lives rewarding as well: social life, spirituality, hobbies, family, etc. all matter to us. But we spend more time at work than anything else in life pretty much, except maybe sleep? and to me it is worth finding a way to match your job and passions if you can.

    I have seen people struggle most of their lives until they finally allowed themselves to go after the type of work they really felt they were meant to do.

  9. Thank you for showing a little sanity. I remember graduating from college, and all my friends who knew exactly what they wanted to do ended up taking the job they could get. I thought it funny that so much energy went into thinking about what exactly we wanted.

    Now that I work at a university, I use that experience to soothe those students that don’t know what they want to do. If even the students who know exactly what they want don’t really end up there most of the time, it doesn’t pay to stress over the fact that you don’t know precisely what you want.

    Events will happen and you will ultimately fall into things and create a life.

  10. Indeed, I think that “loving your job” is a phenomena invented by career counselors and coaches who now rake in the bucks consulting to people looking for their “passion” or aghast that they’ve chosen the “wrong” job.

    On the flip side, loving your job too much can make you vulnerable – i.e., if you go down the path of finding a “meaningful” job some employers have picked up on that and will pay even a highly educated person $20-30/hour because the job is “meaningful”. Better to make a bunch of money and then give it away, create your own foundation, etc. etc. later in life.

    …advice from someone who has worked in “meaningful” jobs for her entire 12 year career!

  11. I completely identified with seeing you use “passion” throughout this post. While I’ve never felt pressure to love my job and ensure it was my “passion”, I have felt tremendous pressure to have a “passion” which quite frankly I don’t. I like a lot of different activities, but there is no one thing that stands out as a lifelong passion. Do most people just know what their passion is? Do most people even have one?

  12. Great post. It’s something that I have struggled with for a long time. After college, I lived abroad for several years just enjoying life, then came home to “grow up.” Although my standard of living has certainly increased, I’m not sure that my happiness has (at least with respect to my career). I’ve managed to deal with it by 5-year planning my life. I’ll keep doing what I don’t love to do, so long as it pays well, so that in 5 years time I’ll be able to quit and do something I’ll enjoy more, without any financial fears.

  13. Meg, This is a great post! I agree that it’s important to LIKE your job, but it’s hard to find a job that you really LOVE. Those who are able to find jobs they really love are luckily. I think to love your job means that you would still work there even if you had $10M+ in the bank and there are not that many jobs out there that people would do even if they had all the money they needed. Personally I like my job, I appreciate it, and I think it challenges me. I would never say I love it.

  14. I agree that one doesn’t have to love their job, especially if it enables you to enjoy hobbies that you do enjoy. The most important thing for me has been finding something that works with my lifestyle, but maybe I have finally found my niche writing, and it’s something I enjoy doing even though it wasn’t on my radar a year ago even.

    My “career choice” has changed a lot over the years, mostly due to things outside of my control. I started off studying to be a professional jazz musician, then I studied to become a Latin teacher or linguistics researcher (and finished my degree with two majors and two minors), and now I’m working on making a living writing — while playing jazz once again. I get bored rather easily, but these are fields that I love, it’s just been a matter of finding something that works for me and my lifestyle.

    My advice to others would be to try lots of new things and don’t be afraid to be a beginner again. At worst, you’ll figure out what you don’t like to do and gain some skills; at best, you’ll find new hobbies and maybe even a job you love.

  15. Great post! I agree with you that a lot of young people today feel the pressure to discover what they love quickly.

    Unless you are one of the lucky few, blessed with a special talent (pro athlete, musician etc.)one of the ways you learn is to get out there and experience life.

    Like most people I wasn’t sure where I was headed professionally after college. After having a few different jobs in the same industry, and some outside, you start to figure things out for yourself. A mini process of elimination.

    I would suggest focusing on things that may interest you and see what develops. In the meantime, enjoy your hobbies and appreciate your good friends, family and a nice glass of wine.

    And like J.D.- I worked for McD’s when I was younger and really enjoyed it. I have a distinct memory of lining up 16 burgers on the grill and being proud I could flip them all rapid fire and keep the order.

    When I watch the movie American Beauty and see Kevin Spacey’s character working the drive thru, it always engenders good feelings for me:)

  16. I’ll take the rap for telling, asking, suggesting that people find their “passion” in a job. INMHO it is when all of life is in sync, not just the job. And, “living” at a distasteful job until you have enough money to quit is a waste, UNLESS, job seeker, you have turned your whole life into one you admire and enjoy while you make plans to get out. Read: What Color Is Your Parachute? for 2008. It’s the all time favorite & revised yearly by Dick Bolles. He thought well enough of me as a career resource person to list me in that book. Go read!

  17. My wife has two undergrad degrees in music, and a masters in Music Performance, but was burned out by the time she graudated and found out very quickly that its not what she wanted to do with her life. That career in particular is hard because there are so few available jobs, and the smaller groups pay almost nothing. She’s gotten into web design and loves it….this article basically mirrors our experience. Do something that makes you happy and allows you to have a good work/life balance.

  18. I have mixed feelings about this topic. My mantra is: “If you seek extraordinary success in life (and that’s a big IF), then focus on recognizing your highest calling as early as possible in life.” There is an element of both following your “passion” AND critical thinking to this approach. It requires knowing yourself, your limits, your boundaries, and your priorities. It also requires understanding the market for your particular talents or skills, and adapting to practical realities. And, above all else, it requires constant trial & error and re-evaluation.

    I’ve tried a few different things and even made a couple of career changes in my working life, which is not to say I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing on some level. But, I am in search mode, and its worth it to me to take the risks required to do that. I’m still not sure precisely what that highest calling is even at 40-something. But, I am sure that I’m still on the road towards discovering it. And I am certainly enjoying that journey.

    I’ll ultimately be disappointed if I never quite figure it out or feel like I never reached that pinnacle. But, on the other hand, I can appreciate what I’ve already accomplished, that I’ve always given it my best shot, and the journey has been one seriously wild ride!

  19. This is really a great message for those of us who grew up being told we could do anything we put our minds to.

    You don’t have to love everything about your job to be happy. And the notion that you do or that you even can causes a great deal of disappointment with the “real world.”

    Happy to echo so many of the other comments–this one really resonated with me.

  20. I think that you can find something you like doing, i accept that there is an awful lot of pressure to find something you ‘love’ doing and that you can do anything you want, but also there are practicalities like money, and how you will pay the bills if you are a third world aid worker for example, but then i also know that i find my job very rewarding and is very meaningful which are the values i had when i was at university so it can be done. but if you find aspects of your job that you enjoy then thats cool as well. i was once in a job where the people were bitchy and the work VERY boring, and i couldn’t stay there any longer. but it also pays to be realistic, because alot of the time the world is not your oyster and we do jobs that we can get

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  22. This article is so on point. I have many friends who are always hopping jobs in a near bi-polar fashion (euphoria at a new, “dream” job, quickly followed by discontent). I am one of the lucky few who has a job that I genuinely enjoy (corporate finance – hard to believe I enjoy this, but I’m a total number wonk, what can I say). But, as a gen-xer, I’ve seen all too much how our generation seeks out the next best thing (I hypothesize that this is a big reason for the dot-com and real estate bubbles (gen-xer’s were looking for easy money and a filfilling life). Unfortunately, these behaviors have set us back one too many times….

  23. As a 20 year old college student in the middle of contemplating a BFA vs. Business Degree (the extreme of this whole debate) it is very reassuring to see this. I’ve thought this for awhile, but the momentum of culture has been so hard to push against. Also having spent some time in the ‘real world’ – not the MTV version – makes the sensible decision much easier.

  24. Yeats said,
    “Labour is dancing and blossoming where the body is not bruised to pleasure soul..”

    But there’s an old Jewish tale that says,
    “Rabbi, should I devote my life to a job that I love?” says a guy…and the Rabbi replies, “Your love should be reserved for God, family, THEN a job”…

    People interaction is required to be happy…do you know any hermits that laugh a lot?

  25. In a way you contradicted yourself saying find a job you love is overrated and stated at the end “So get a job you enjoy.”

    I understand there is a line of enjoyment and love, but the fact is many people today are simply unhappy with “work.”

    You see a trend of overworked Americans resulting in burnout and dissatisfaction to the work they once enjoy.

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