Bad career advice: Do what you love

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One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to “do what you love.”

Forget that. It’s absurd. I have been writing since before I even knew how to write – when I was a preschooler I dictated my writing to my dad. And you might not be in preschool, but if you are in touch with who you are, you are doing what you love, no matter what, because you love it.

So it’s preposterous that we need to get paid to do what we love because we do that stuff anyway. So you will say, “But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.” But it’s not true. We are each multifaceted, multilayered, complicated people, and if you are reading this blog, you probably devote a large part of your life to learning about yourself and you know it’s a process. None of us loves just one thing.

I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing. And I am not getting paid for sex. In fact, as you might imagine, my sex life is really tanking right now. But I don’t sit up at night thinking, should I do writing or sex? Because career decisions are not decisions about “what do I love most?” Career decisions are about what kind of life do I want to set up for myself?

So how could you possibly pick one thing you love to do? And what would be the point?

The world reveals to you all that you love by what you spend time on. Try stuff. If you like it, you’ll go back to it. I just tried Pilates last month. I didn’t want to try, but a friend said she loved the teacher, so I went. I loved it. I have taken it three times a week ever since. And it’s changed me. I stand up straighter. (I’d also have better sex, if I were having it. The Pilates world should advertise more that it improves your sex life: Totally untapped market.)

Often, the thing we should do for our career is something we would only do if we were getting a reward. If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid, you’ll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money.

The pressure we feel to find a perfect career is insane. And, given that people are trying to find it before they are thirty, in order to avoid both a quarterlife crisis and a biological-clock crisis, the pressure is enough to push people over the edge. Which is why one of the highest risk times for depression in life is in one’s early twenties when people realize how totally impossible it is to simply “do what you love.”

Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are. It’s how I chose my career. I bought the book with that title – maybe my favorite career book of all time – and I took the quickie version of the Myers-Briggs test. The book gave me a list of my strengths, and a list of jobs where I would likely succeed based on those strengths.

Relationships make your life great, not jobs. But a job can ruin your life – make you feel out of control in terms of your time or your ability to accomplish goals – but no job will make your life complete. It’s a myth mostly propagated by people who tell you to do what you love. Doing what you love will make you feel fulfilled. But you don’t need to get paid for it.

A job can save your life, though. If you are lost, and lonely, and wondering how you’ll ever find your way in this world. Take a job. Any job. Because structure, and regular contact with regular people, and a method of contributing to a larger group are all things that help us recalibrate ourselves.

So if you are overwhelmed with the task of “doing what you love” you should recognize that you are totally normal, and maybe you should just forget it. Just do something that caters to your strengths. Do anything.

And if you are so overwhelmed that you feel depression coming on, consider that a job might save you. Take one. Doing work and being valued in the community is important. For better or worse, we value people with money. Earn some. Doing work you love is not so important. We value love in relationships. Make some.


414 replies
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  1. Anirban
    Anirban says:

    I find Penelope smart, for choosing carefully selected topics that are bound to :
    1) create controversy by giving advice contrary to expected beliefs
    2) appeal to the majority (95%) of people who sell their souls and abandon their real dreams because they are afraid. This will help them ‘rationalize’ their choices and make them feel better.

  2. delia boylan
    delia boylan says:

    As a veteran of two successful career changes, I couldn’t disagree more w/this post. The key to a successful career is finding a. what you love and b. what you’re good at and c. identifying the intersection between the two. Many of us are good at things but aren’t passionate about them. And if you get stuck JUST doing something you’re good at, you will burn out eventually out of sheer boredom. Conversely, as you note in this post, you may fancy yourself a jazz singer but have no ability in that field so it just won’t work.

    Finally, not to nitpick, but as the person who commented above me just noted, I think you’ve suggested the exact opposite in at least 2 other posts in the past year.

    I’m a big fan of your blog but must disagree on this one. thanks….

    • Sharon
      Sharon says:

      There is one problem with that. What if you are the type of person that, for whatever reason, tends to love all the things that don’t pay or you can’t REALLY make a living on? OR your not good at? That’s the boat I am in. Everything I would love to do, I am either not good at or it isn’t realistic to try to live (only) off of it. I’m tired of being poor, I’m tired of not being good at my work. I used to believe in that bull about “Do what you love”. That’s great if you love science or business or engineering or math or many of the other thousands of things that are real careers. But if you love art? There is a 99% chance you are wasting your time, since there are more artists that are mediocre than there are geniuses. And there are A LOT of people who love the arts. Then, what if you go into something that you kind of like and find your not good at it? No, I’m tired of this “Do what you love” b.s. Better to find a job that allows me to do what I love on the side and make a decent, successful living doing it.

  3. Bob Mould
    Bob Mould says:

    Life is a journey enjoy the trip and do not look for the destination. So far in my career I had received ‘Love what you do’ advice many a time and I am still in search of that thing which I love. When I begin love the job. suddenly something happens and there is stone in the water and ripples.

  4. brad
    brad says:

    stupid advice. and get married before you have sex again if you want a good sex life. you are advocating the most mundane/dated advice in history….work hard for $$$$ and play hard on the weekends. wow, groundbreaking. I feel sorry for you.

  5. leslie
    leslie says:

    The recent post telling parents of 20 somethings to give their kids a chance to find what they truly love doing before settling for a job with a big corporation seems to contradict this article.

    * * * * * *

    I can see where you’d say that. Giving people time to find their way in the world is different than telling people they need to find a perfect, dream job.


  6. Lisa Natoli
    Lisa Natoli says:

    This is great writing. I hear what you are saying but I can’t help but see – QUITE PLAINLY – that you are doing what you love now. Do you get paid to write? You are great at it. I can tell your entire heart, mind and soul is in it. it’s crystal clear. You say you like sex better than writing, and I know this is brazen for a stranger to differ with you since I don’t know you at – but I differ with you. I think if you were having sex all the time, your first love WRITING would be calling you from the bed. It’s my own personal observation, and I could be entirely wrong. But I think you are doing what you love, exactly, you have found your passion, perfect bulls-eye, and I applaud you and I hope you are getting lots of $$$$$$$ for it.

    I think the only way to be happy in life is to do what you love.

    I like inspiring people, making people happy and writing, and I don’t get paid a lot of money for it, heck practically none at all, but it’s what I love and having found my total purpose in life I wouldn’t dream of going back to a steady paycheck. I just want to be happy every day. Doing what I love.

    You’re website is awesome. I’m glad I found it.

    love, lisa

  7. Lisa Natoli
    Lisa Natoli says:

    Also, to reply to one of the comments above – happiness is NOT temporary and fleeting. I can absolutely state this is true. HAPPINESS IS CONSTANT AND UNCHANGING. It’s our natural state. Everything else is opposition to our natural state of happiness. One must actually use (waste) energy to be depressed, angry, sad, lonely because in order to be these things you have to oppose the natural state of happiness.

    Happiness is what is what we are. It’s how we were created. Everything else was learned here in space and time.

  8. Malena
    Malena says:

    Thanks for this and all your posts. I left six figures as a 26 year old PR spokeswoman for one of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world three years ago to “do what I love” – write and perform music, release an album internationally and tour the world! I used my PR skills to get lots of good ink, including being featured in Billboard Magazine, NY Daily News and many other publications. But what I haven’t done is break even. I cashed in my 401K, sold my car, moved to NYC and now what? Even though I know I’m great at doing “what I love”, the real money in music comes from huge record labels, not independent ones, and now, at 29, I find myself setting music aside, a bit resentfully at that, and looking to re-enter the workforce.
    I am faced with starting over from scratch (and without transportation unless I force myself to stay in New York just for the MTA, which is crazy), and I’m extremely overwhelmed.
    Hindsight is now of course 20-20, and I completely agree with your opinions above (NOW.. only after experiencing being “broke” and – gasp – unemployed!).
    Now I just have to practice positive thinking 200 times more than I did when I left security for the unknown in an idealistic effort to make the world a better place. And maybe watch “The Pursuit of Happyness” over and over and over again… ;*)

    • Niki
      Niki says:

      Hi Malena,
      I’ve read your comment and I have to write a reply because of how eerily very similar both of us seem to be (and I’m going to turn 29 this August, also a ‘struggling’ passionate musician).

      If you by any chance read this comment of mine, I hope you don’t mind that I’d like to connect and talk more with you personally.
      You can directly email me at, or even add me in Facebook (same email address), and we’ll continue there. There are some things that I even also experienced exactly like yours, and thus I want to ask you some personal questions. once again, I hope you don’t mind this.
      I’ll be waiting :)

  9. Eric Pennington
    Eric Pennington says:

    I’m going to the wiring here…specifically the DNA variety. If we all are one in six billion, which is true, then we must live what we were made to do. I see it as living out what has been poured into us. I was almost 40 before I figured out what that was…the poured stuff.

    I agree that we shouldn’t speak in terms of what we love to do. That almost places the answer outside of ourselves when the answer has been inside us all the time.

    Unfortunately, the world we live in conspires to choke out all that makes for a great life. And far too many people give in…

  10. Charlie - hope&spray
    Charlie - hope&spray says:

    Someone was telling me this a few weeks ago, and I poo-pooed him as another small-thinking naysayer trying to crush my dreams. Now that Penelope is saying it, I feel like I poo-pooed prematurely. Now I must ponder.

    Also, some sex workers do continue to enjoy sex when it is their livelihood. I had a friend who was a professional dominatrix. When I asked her about it one day, she gushed about how much she loved her job and how she couldn’t imagine doing any other kind of work.

  11. The Office Newb
    The Office Newb says:

    I agree that people often misinterpret the meaning of “Do What You Love.” They think that if they are passionate enough about something, they’ll be able to get someone to pay them to do it. However, last time I checked, our economy isn’t made up of professional beer drinks, or bad novelists, or phone sex operators.

    In the throes of my very own quarter-life crisis, I have to agree with Penelope that “doing what you love” isn’t meant to be directed to just your job. No one loves just one thing, one function, one goal. Happiness is like a puzzle, it takes a lot of smaller pieces that need to learn how to fit together in order to fulfill your ultimate vision.

  12. Phil
    Phil says:

    An interesting post, which has generated some really fascinating responses. I think the post does contradict others posted on the site, so perhaps that´s something to bear in mind. No matter though, so long as it gets people thinking and it helps them.

    My own feeling is that there are a couple of things to remember. Firstly, do what you love and the money will follow places too much emphasis on the financial rewards. I`ve struggled financially like many people, so I know as well as anybody how important that is, but the evidence from positive psychology continually tells us we don´t get any happier for having more than a reasonable amount of income. Whatever that is! Doing what you love – happiness is not about the money. It´s about a balanced approach to life, based on pleasure, relationships and meaning.

    Secondly, there’s room for doing what you love in life, but who says it´s just the one thing? Not many people would realistically be able to earn a living doing solely what they love, and I certainly wouldn`t advise making oneself ill in the pursuit of such an occupation. However we can try to do more of what we love at work, or re-frame our attitudes to work to learn to get more out of work, if necessary. Or working to enable us to do what we love outside of work is a worthwhile pursuit. That´s the gist of our article on doing what you love.


  13. Jeremiah
    Jeremiah says:

    How about “Do what you like”?

    I love playing classical music but I’m not good enough to be a concert pianist and job market for teachers of the arts is crowded.

    I like computers, wall street —> business analyst.

  14. Carol
    Carol says:

    I love all of the feed back on this post! It has given me things to think about. I too have fallen into the trap of thinking that I have to find something that I love to do for a living. Unfortunately for me (fortunately for them) I have a husband and a father that both love what they do for a living. Doing these things for employment and to support a family did not tarnish the love of the jobs for them. I find myself comparing myself to that and feeling a little jealous at times that I have not found that thing that I love. I thought I was all alone!! It is good to know that I am not alone out there in the abyss of jobs and careers!

  15. Lane
    Lane says:

    I was happy to see this post, as it is something I definitely have been telling a few people I know. I work to provide enough so I can do the things I love. Ever since reading “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my job does not define ME.

    But I think a few commenters hit it on the head as well. Somehow, finding a job you can tolerate and really succeed at usually involves something you love. I love research, detail and writing, and so my work in the legal profession provides me with a lot of those things. Do I live for my job? No. Does having those things make it easier to continue my job? Definitely.

  16. Necati Topyıldız
    Necati Topyıldız says:

    “Don’t do what you love, do what you are”?

    Especially when this advice is geared to those at the beginnings of their career tracks, I see it more of a limiting way of looking at things.

    It isn’t only like one is something and most likely will be the same/similar forever, she also “become”s something different than what she is every passing moment. And I believe, it is doing things we feel passionate about that adds a lot into that becoming.

    “Love what you become.”
    How about this?

  17. flmason
    flmason says:

    Oh, C’mon folks. Let’s cut this thing to the quick.

    Isn’t the real problem how to make enough money, fast enough, young enough, that you can free yourself from the rat race, without having to do things that suck.

    Once you own your own life, then you can do anything you want, *regardless* of the income. You want to be a hedonist, fine… you want to solve cancer… fine too.

    So job one is getting out off the entrapping terrain of the economy as it has been built, to keep the vast majority fueling the fortunes of the few, true?

    Interestingly I asked three of four business schools if they had expended any research effort on how the average person could do that, starting with little or nothing. And if the they hadn’t just what were they studying, since this question is the most important business question for the most people.

    Only one answered, and stated essentially, “You raise a good point, but we don’t have an answer, here’s the link to our catalog”.

    Interestingly one of the silent questionees was Harvard Business School… LOL! They know they are trying to churn out the elites, not allow for defectors to freedom. LOL!

    Isn’t it about time we hold our leaders feet to the fire to take us where *we* want to go (which most likely is to live as well as they do) rather than were they want to take us?

    • Sue
      Sue says:

      Well said, thank you!

      I think a danger of doing what you’re good at(but don’t necessarily *love*) is becoming trapped in that career path. Next thing you know you’re spinning the wheel just like every other rat in the cage.

    • Niki
      Niki says:

      @flmason: good points.
      You are totally correct when you said that there’s something is terribly wrong with the current education system today.
      if any of you’re interested, I strongly recommend to watch “Waiting for Superman” (available in DVD, and also online?), it will basically really open your eyes even more of how messed-up our current education system is, ie: bad unqualified teachers, problems with bureaucracy and politics, and of how basically it only teaches you *wrongly* to just be another mediocre corporate slaves.

      We need to seriously break away from this and work on solution, if we ever want a true, real meaningful great changes, if not in our generation, then for our children/next generation!

  18. grace
    grace says:

    thanks so much for this advice as well as the advice to take the myers-briggs test! changed my life……

    Remain Blessed~

  19. Ashln
    Ashln says:

    Thank you so much Penelope for your candid commonsense wisdom. I am one of the people that thought that a job would complete me or whatever. It takes much stress off of me to know that I am totally wrong. I’m taking your advice and now that I see clearly, I’m heading in the right direction. :-)

  20. Hope
    Hope says:

    ” do what you love ” can be explained according to every single point of view. It can be considered good or bad advice or nether depending on how you look at it. For example, I can tell you this now, do what you love, if you love not getting paid for what you love doing then this is the action you love to do. If you love to consider this advice as bad advice and not follow it. You are yet “doing” (writing-action of doing)” what you love” ( trying to convince others doing what you want love is a bad advice).

  21. Ellen Hart
    Ellen Hart says:

    Thanks Penelope! Many of your points struck a chord with me. My career is a process that continues to unfold along with my life. There are certainly days when I love what I do but there are also days when I work for the rewards you mentioned.

  22. Asild
    Asild says:

    Hi P-
    I’m an INFP.

    At 46, I’ve been a product of this kind of thinking, not doing what I loved but doing what paid the bills. Along the way I’ve been lucky enough to have good health insurance, buy a house and cars and pay them off and work on a retirement. I’ve taken lovely vacations and eaten at wonderful restaurants. I’ve done what I love in my spare time. But I can tell you that when you’ve been doing the “smart” work thing for almost 20 years, it’s gets *really* old. Yes, I’m planning on sticking with this agency until I take early retirement (55) but last month I put my foot down and left a more lucrative classification because it was just too hard to get up in the morning.

    I took a significant pay cut to move to where I am now. And although I don’t love it, I hate it less than what I did before and as a result am able to get to work on time most days. But I still have a tedious slog ahead of me which feels alot like a waste of life.

    Be aware all young ‘uns. Pragmatism will keep you financially secure which is a very non-trivial thing… but life is also shockingly short. Make time and bank some resources for calculated risks. You’re going to need that for the long haul.

  23. A Nobody
    A Nobody says:

    My problem is, I hate who I am.

    So doing what I am is not satisfying.

    There’s not much “I love” doing in life.

    But I’m at the same time, I’m a really “fortunate” person given my background. My parents came to Canada from a rural village in Pakistan. Most of my relatives still live there in desperate developing world conditions and the overwhelming majority of them that are around my age work as grunt labor in the middle east or are foot soliders in the military patrolling in either the disputed terrority of kashmir or along the border region with Afghanistan. So needless to say, I should count my blessings but the thing is, they have what I lack, a sense of belonging and they understand that their dreams are just dreams.

    It makes me think of this quote from the movie Fight Club..

    “… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. ” – Tyler Durden

    and it speaks to me…all of my life, I had these wild dreams of being “somebody”

    But now I’m in my late twenties and I’m realizing that I’m a nobody, just an average schmoe, working some lame engineering job, chronically shy and anxious…

    But that’s who I am, so I gotta be “happy” with it.

  24. G
    G says:

    Ok…You’re Awesome! I just thought I’d tell you that… I’ve been “trying to find my passion” which is the inevitable euphemism of “find what you love to do” and needless to say, 3 years and no results, have come and gone. Frustration, however, continues to find it’s unwelcome place in my life…. Do what you are…. Now that’s a fresh approach. Next stop…who am I… Got any suggestions on answering that question? Life …

  25. Eunice
    Eunice says:

    God, I needed this post right now in my life. I’m a college junior with life plans veering away from my parents’ life plans for me and… I’m supposed to graduate next year and I want to do something totally different than what they ever expected of me and blahhhhhhh.

  26. Jen Blogger
    Jen Blogger says:


    I just stumbled upon your site, and so far I’m loving it. You seem to be one of the few thoughtful bloggers out there in the blogosphere. You don’t tell people how to live; you explore life.

    This is an interesting topic. For me personally, it really is difficult to balance doing what you love with your career. Say I love to write fiction. My “strengths” dictate that I should pick a career that involves writing. But in order to make decent salary and just survive, I take a job at a large corporation, doing very technical or industry-specific writing. I would only take the job because it allows me to make money to live and keep on doing the things I love to do.

    But if I want to advance and make more money, I’d have to work longer hours, excel even more at my job and perform at a higher level. Maybe this means that I read less fiction, spend less time writing and have less time to devote to non-paying activities.

    Eventually, I’d find myself working more and being less happy. And maybe I’d also feel like an automaton and that I’m stuck in a rut. This is what happens to most twenty-somethings. They work and work in the hope that they’re building a foundation for “what they really want to do.” But at the same time, they find themselves becoming further and further distanced from the life they want to live.

    It’s the dilemma of the starving artist. So the question has everything to do with one’s ability to be happy with either a more satisfying career or a lower standard of living.

    Just some thoughts from me, a fellow blogger. I’ll keep reading your blog!

  27. bilgi
    bilgi says:

    Very thought provoking. Do what you are! That is true – because you may not be as good at the things you love as who you are, if that makes sense. So, I love playing guitar – but I’m not as good at that as I am what I do.
    I liked your article.:D

  28. Scott
    Scott says:

    You touch on a good point: Follow your strengths. The hidden point there is that our strengths are things we like doing, otherwise how would we have gotten good at them? The secret ingredient is Economics. As you said, you have to find someone to PAY you for it. It all has to balance. If you do something just for the money, you will earn every penny of it. Trust me.

    I worked on a project in a dying computer language because the company was too cheap/insecure to use anything remotely new. It did nothing for my career and the stagnation the project caused was awful. The comapny got some benefit from it but in the end but at the end of the project, they said “Thanks and good bye”. Try explaining THAT on your next job interview.

    Find something you LIKE to do that you can also find a way to provide value to someone for doing it.

    Thanks for starting a dialog about this!

  29. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    i stumbled upon this article the day after i wrote somthing in my journal that started off by saying “my wonderfully loving and caring parents have set me up to fail in the real world”. i even had chapter titles like “its OK just be happy”. they were great at being loving parents and not great at being motivating parents.

  30. Mike
    Mike says:

    I don’t think people in the zen mindset should follow the advice of “do what you are.” They’d probably end up as bums.

    I think striving for greatness can give us either elation or dejection. Would Steve Jobs have raised Apple from the ashes had he not done “what he loved to do?” I read his Stanford speech, which gave me some perspective while I struggled with figuring out what I’m “meant” to do my soph year of college.

    Maybe greatness is overrated. Greatness has nothing to do with love One thing I think people tend to overlook is the pressure that comes along with that mindset of “I have to be great.” I think an important question is: would you love what you do even if you were bad at it?

    • Sharon
      Sharon says:

      That Zen comment is inaccurate. (I’m a Zen Buddhist). Rather, Zen would tell you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, learn to love it. Learn to love where you are, instead of looking to something else. Happiness is only in the now. Don’t separate yourself from what you have -your work (by disliking it) and you will be happy and find joy- whether or not you are an engineer, a multi-million dollar tycoon, or a waiter or work in retail. The whole “Zen tells you do be a bum” thing isn’t accurate… it’s a common misunderstanding of the “effortless effort” that Zen Buddhists like Suzuki talk about. (Effortless effort is basically effort that comes naturally, so it doesn’t feel like effort).

      Anyway, people like Steve Jobs… he liked something he also happened to be good at. He also liked something that was highly marketable (computers). If you like art, you have to be 10000x better than just great, because it’s one of those things that everyone likes and everyone is good at. I think we hear that “Do what you love” thing from people who already have the natural skills for something, and who happen to be in a marketable field/area. In that circumstance, “Do what you love” is the icing on the cake that makes the difference. But it shouldn’t be the first filter you use when weeding through potential jobs, imop. I like what some people have said though …”do what you like”. Hating something isn’t a good idea either!

  31. Tips
    Tips says:

    I agree. A huge problem with doing what you love is that it doesn’t necessarily make you money. For example I love video games but I cannot make money off it. Very few video gamers make money of playing it, and even then your only two options is either tester or tournament player. I’m bad at both so I can’t make money off doing it, sadly.

  32. John
    John says:

    Thanks for your post. I am going through this right now, and you helped give me a new perspective.

  33. Erica
    Erica says:

    What a brilliant deduction! This is something I desperately needed to hear.
    My parents have told me my whole life to do what I love. They mean well – they both have jobs they hate.
    I actually have the book you talk about – Be What You Are. I haven’t looked at it in years. I will be reading it again starting today. I will figure out what I am good at. I will get back on the right path.
    Thanks so much for being so honest and helpful!

  34. Ben Lurkin
    Ben Lurkin says:

    Sorry to necro this post, but you are one of the few people out there speaking truth on this topic, Penelope. “Do what you love” is stupid advice.

    “Do what you are” can also lead down the path of misery, at least to the extent that some of us have personalities which are allegedly very well-suited to careers such as teaching or social work, where being treated poorly by both clients and superiors is pretty much de rigeur.

    Nonetheless, I agree with a lot of what you say here and I thank you for it.

  35. Paul
    Paul says:

    I agree with Mike (03/08/09) that some of us shouldn’t “do what we are.” I have been doing that off and on for years – I am depressive, inattentive, neuro-psychologically messed-up, and I have mounted up a remarkably unimpressive resumé as a dilettante, a layabout, and a mooch.

    My successes in life are necessarily small. I have talents, but they are narrow, because I do not accept frustration – I just don’t. Game over, switch off, bye-bye. I wrote one book, many years ago, I have played on 3 record albums, and do very occasional work in “vanity editing” (basically rewriting for style, something there’s no steady market for).

    I am proud of all those achievements, but I am not interested in being an achiever. Professionalism, in anything, means you keep doing it until you are goddam well told to stop. “I’m burning out” or “I can’t take any more” is never acceptable. (I could go on forever on this topic, but anyone invested in the real world would call it whining, so I’ll stop there.)

    I am about to take incompletes in 3 out of 3 courses in what I had hoped would be an achievable and sensible MA program in English. I will, as I make up those “I”s on the grade sheet, be counseling and coaching with some hopefully smart and caring people about what I can do to approach work, time, and life more constructively and with more self-care. The trick this time will be learning to believe in myself – and in that I will be starting from my usual place, near zero.

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Me too!! Dilettante, layabout, mooch! Miserable, whiny, confused. Family wants me to go back to school, get an advanced degree. I want a job, a house, some land, learn to surf. Like the writer whose family moved to Canada from Pakistan, I don’t like what I am either. Have credentials for a job at which I feel like a fraud, and am not currently working.

      “Do what you are” is more enlightened career advice than “do what you love.” But, if “what you are” is a POS then this better advice may not shine much light into the quagmire.

      I’m about to resume my too-long neglected job search and try to re-enter the only field at which I can to earn a living wage. Wish me luck.

  36. CK Reyes
    CK Reyes says:

    I find it interesting that some people get paid for sex, but hate it. The trick is finding a way to do what you love and get paid for it. And I don’t mean to make a pun out of “trick,” I just believe that when you find that winning combination it will be magic!

  37. gainsvillesun
    gainsvillesun says:

    I know how it is at times chasing that dream!

    I am in my early twenties and I have already started my own business which is making money! Unfortunately I see so many people trying to chase a dream that is not believeable,measurable & acheivable, however I would have to say that if you don’t like what you do and it is making you unhappy it’s not the end of the world, move on

    I’ve been told I can’t do it, I have to settle but I refuse to and I am glad I haven’t and Will NEVER give up!It’s hard work and sometimes I do get down, but I always get up! and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!

    No person ever got to 80 and is lying on their deathbeds thinking “I should have worked more hours at that job”. Life is too short to do what you hate!

  38. Katie
    Katie says:

    Incredibly insightful. If more high school and college graduates were aware of your advice, many years of angst –waiting for the epiphany–would be saved. It’s too bad that so many people feel like failures (I know I did for a long time) because they haven’t found their “calling.” For about 99.5% of us, a career is a CHOICE, not a eureka moment of discovery. And while it might be entertaining or depressing to ruminate about the outcomes that a different choice might have yielded, it’s so much healthier to recognize your career path as simply one of many viable options — a pathway, not a destination. Many, many types of work can be fulfilling to the same person, and happiness stems from many, many other sources!

  39. Carla Mitchell
    Carla Mitchell says:

    This article describes my life to a T. You took the words right out of my mouth but put them better than I could.

    I couldn’t be happier that I found your blog during what is my quarter-life crisis. It is truly fate..

    Thank you Penelope!!

  40. HWS
    HWS says:

    Like the poster above, I stumbled upon this article at what feels like the perfect timing. It’s very well written and insightful. I’m 24, have been messing around with computers since the age of 4 and work a 9 hour/day job on them doing technical work. I hate it.

    ENFP. That’ me. And I know what I love to do in my free time, but I would never make a career of it, because it wouldn’t pay me squat. So the real question is, how do you discover what you’re inherently good at, opposed to what you enjoy doing?

    I have some ambitions in life with regards to traveling, where I want to live, etc… but I would need a lot of money to meet those goals. It’s becoming daunting finding an overlap between when I enjoy doing, what I’m good at now but what I’d essentially kick ass at down the road. Some sort of plan would be nice. Any advice on formulating said plan? :)

  41. puta1
    puta1 says:

    Yeah, I feel the same way. There’s so much I want to do in life…move to new places, travel, find a rewarding career, but still find a significant other. I’m 23 (almost 24), and I feel overwhelmed almost all the time, feeling like there aren’t enough years to achieve all of this without my life passing me by. I’ve event tried to move to New York and pursue a career in television but it was to no avail..

    I’m always jealous of the people that are “doing what they love,” and that I don’t have that. I would be happy to take anything that both stimulates me and that’s I’m good at just to provide a good life for myself.

    And I don’t want to go through life in a dead end job and stay in the same town I grew up. AHHHH this sux! But thanks for the blog.

  42. Tribu
    Tribu says:

    Wonderful post. I expected a pessimistic writer writing something that was the opposite of what everyone was saying. :) Imagine my surprise when you said “do what you are”. Nothing is ever closer to the truth than that. And I thank you for a new angle of looking at the whole “do what you love and get paid for it” thing. This will be one blog of note. :)

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