Should You Follow Your Dreams to Work You Love?


I found the photo you see above -- a work of street art by Banksy -- and was reminded of this article I read a while back on Slate: "In the Name of Love: Elites embrace the 'do what you love' mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers."

Not all valuable work is going to be the type of work that people love. Not many people grow up wanting to be janitors, fast food workers, and bartenders (I mean, I'm sure there are lots of  kids who would like the idea of being a glamorous mixologist at a posh speakeasy, but a bartending at a truck stop dive bar doesn't appeal to many folks). These are tough, stressful, sometimes dangerous jobs, and they arguably don't offer equivalent benefits in return to the workers who do them. But these jobs are valuable, nigh necessary, for our society to work the way we want it to. You don't have to love your job to recognize that what the job produces -- whether it's a sanitary toilet, a hamburger, a cold beer, and your salary -- are valuable to you and to the people you work for.

Not all valuable human beings are lucky or skilled enough to identify and perform work that they love. When you see someone struggling along in a loathesome job, you might mutter to yourself, "If they fail to find a job they love, it's their fault. They just didn't work hard enough or smart enough. I found a job I love, and I if I can do it, so can they."

Well, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had."

Instead of blindly following our dreams, doing what we love, or pursuing our passions, we should become passionate for creating value, no matter how unglamorous the work may be that creates it. We can find value in what our jobs produce or in what our jobs provide us.  According to this article at Harvard Business Review, the best way to create enduring value through our jobs is to cultivate a sustainable career:

A sustainable career is dynamic and flexible; it features continuous learning, periodic renewal, the security that comes from employability, and a harmonious fit with your skills, interests, and values. The keys to crafting a sustainable career are knowing yourself — what interests you, what you do best and not so well, what energizes you — and being acutely attuned to the fields and companies you’re interested in, so that you can identify places where you can add value. The “follow your passion” self-help industry tends to under-emphasize this key point: all of the self-awareness in the world is of little use if you can’t pitch your passion to a buyer. A sustainable career is built upon the ability to show that you can fill a need that someone is willing to pay for. This holds not only when you’re starting a business or looking for a new job; it’s also an important springboard for refining your current job and your career trajectory to make it more ideal.
— Monique Valcour

If you can fill a need that someone is willing to pay for, then you have value, and your job has value. I wish I could believably say something warm and fluffy like "feeling valuable is the first step to achieving your dreams" ...or something. I can't say that because I don't know if its true. But I think that if we realign our dreams to include the goal of adding value to the world, then that's a dream that is within reach of every single one of us, no matter what job we choose to have.

I'll close with something warm and fluffy that I do believe in: keep working, keep dreaming, keep trying, and you'll make it ok, someday.

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc