The Problem with Telling People to “Do What You Love”

Like most kids, I wanted to be a variety of things while growing up: painter, firefighter, carpenter, and astronaut (although the movie Space Camp cured me of that desire). After developing an interest in cinematography in my pre-teen years, I pursued schooling in the visual arts.

God has graciously blessed my efforts. I’ve been involved in media in some form or capacity ever since officially entering the workforce. I’ve participated in video and film production, photography, radio, and social media (to name a few)—and I’ve loved (most) every minute of it.

“Do what you love” is a cultural mantra I haven’t really questioned. After all, it’s worked for me. Well, a few days ago, I read a challenging blog post by Gene Edward Veith entitled “Unfulfilling work as vocation.” In the article, he lists some random thoughts about the Christian doctrine of vocation. His insights, and the articles he links to, have continued to germinate in my mind.

The ultimate question I’ve had to ask is not so much, “Is it inherently wrong to do what you love?” On the surface, the answer is simple. Of course it’s not wrong. But when you start to look at the root motives for why we do what we do, a potential problem arises.

According to Jeff Haanen (whom Dr. Veith quotes), “do what you love” can actually be elitist. How so?

…it undermines work that is not done out of “passion.” Moreover, it severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty. The vast majority of the world’s workers are not working because they love the job, but instead are simply providing for their loved ones, and they had little choice in the matter.

To quote Dr. Veith himself:

Contrary to the common assumption, vocation is NOT about self-fulfillment, self-aggrandizement, finding your greatness, finding meaning in your life, or doing what you love. Vocation is about loving and serving your neighbor. That means, in practice, denying yourself for your neighbor. . . .

It’s true that lots of people are asked to do work that they do enjoy and find fulfilling. But no one is entitled to that. It’s possible to find satisfaction and pleasure in just about any kind of work, but sometimes you have to learn to do that. But even the good, wonderful, fulfilling jobs have their trials and crosses.

Some helpful advice for all believers (again, from Jeff Haanen):

Ironically, when we think about work, chasing after our own happiness will never bring us happiness. It is in serving others and pointing beyond ourselves that happiness is tossed in along the way. To find happiness, forget about passion. Give yourself to what the world needs. Or better yet, give yourself to God, and let him use you as He sees fit.

The Christian’s purpose in whatever work he or she pursues is the well-being of one’s neighbor. Our vocational goal, first and foremost, should not be personal fulfillment. “Do what you love” is great so long as it is a means to the true end: serving and loving others.

These thoughts have challenged me over the last week or so. I pray they prove beneficial to both my desires and my duties. In the meantime, I plan to continue enjoying my job as the blessing that it is, while learning to better discern between the means and the end. This is, after all, no small matter. The glory of God and the good of my neighbor are at stake.

As a takeaway for my readers: I recommend reading the two articles I cite above in full:

Unfulfilling work as vocation

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc