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. Roman
    Roman says:

    I know this is perhaps a bit too late to comment on this post, seeing it was posted almost 3 years ago. But anyway.

    Penelope, I believe you’re wrong. Because I have a job that I don’t love, and I feel that it’s not right. Every morning I wake up and go to work. I spend 8 hours doing things I don’t really care about, they give me no pleasure or satisfaction. The work itself is not bad, it’s not very stressful, it’s rather easy, but the problem is it takes away about 10 hours of my day, including traveling. You see, I value time over money. Money are spent and earned, but time can only be spent.

    Everyday, I come home tired and ‘juiced out’ and I need to look for ways to refresh myself and cheer up. I had to throw my tv away long time ago, because I knew if I had kept it, I’d end up sitting infront of it after I come back from work. I cut on my sleeping hours, sometimes I sleep only 4 hours a day, because I need to do what I love.

    I can not live like this for much longer. I must work my way up doing things I love, so I can let go off a meaningless job, and get my 10 hours of a day back, be able to sleep 8 hours instead of 4, and be happy again.

    I don’t need to be part of society and I don’t want to be valued in form of money any longer.

    I just want to be truly happy, I want to be free again. The same way I was as a child, doing only things I loved.

  2. BJ
    BJ says:

    I know this is a really late comment 3 years after the original post. I agree with the post for the most part, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try what you think you (might) love. I was working mostly as a programmer 5 years ago and got burnt out on it, big time. Yes, this was something I was quite good at, but I hated it.

    So, I went through this crisis in my mid 30’s of being good at what I did, well paid, but totally miserable. I decided to go back to school. I had always loved astronomy, and that was a early dream of mine. After 2 years, even though I did a minor in math in college, and had some physics courses and background, I knew I just didn’t have what it takes, even though I put a lot of effort into it. I was crushed for a while.

    I returned to my job, but decided I wasn’t cut out to be a programmer either (all of the time anyway). I liked designing computer systems, servers, networks, troubleshooting, putting together business plans and actually implementing them. It’s what I’m good at, and I don’t mind it most of of the time. Eventually, when our IT head left for another position, I made my case for the job and really worked hard to show what I could do. I have a computer science degree, but have always been able to manage the business side of things in general well as well. This job has allowed me to use both sets of skills, technical and practical, instead of just sitting in office all day banging out code (yuck!)

    I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor and work with summer interns and others just starting out in the field in this position. They learn from me, and vice versa, and that makes the job fun at times. Probably the best part, actually, and also a lot of autonomy. The job’s also stressful at times, but not something I can’t handle. It’s not my “dream job”, but it’s good enough, and decent paying. Isn’t that really good enough? I certainly think so.

    However, I am very glad that I went back to school and tried to pursue my dream, or what I thought was my dream. I found out it wasn’t for me, which was hard to take at first, but ultimately very valuable knowledge. I would still be having regrets if I didn’t at least try that path. I still do the things I like, I still like astronomy, but it’s just not something I can’t make a living at. And even if I could, a hobby or interest becomes something entirely different when it becomes a job. But doing something you’re good at that allows you to use the skills that you have is definitely doing what you are. I have a good enough job, and I truly believe in the saying “working to live, not living to work”. My job isn’t my identity, my life is and how I live it. Though it’s a bit hard to live that life with no income. Find out what you’re good at, that doesn’t drain you, that gives you a sense of accomplishment, and truly pursue your passions in your own time.

    I should say that while my job pays decent, I’ll never be rich. I don’t care about that. I still live simply, drive an old car (it still runs great, why not?), and live in a modest house. I would never be happy living just to acquire things, I never really got what was so great about that. I live on half of my salary, simply but comfortable enough, and put most of the rest into my 401K, savings, etc. I know, I’m atypical in not buying the big house, fancy car, living within my means, and not having mountains of debt like most Americans!

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      Exactly. It’s good to try a variety of things and see how you can make a living doing something you love. I’m a-typical as well in that I would rather be happy and make less money/live more frugally.

      My problem is when people say ‘do what you love’ and that’s all the advice they give. Those who give this advice are often the last people to help guide you toward what you might love. I’ve found it incredibly important to have people around me who encourage my strengths.

      The book “Career Success without a Real Job” is one that provides excellent incite into how we can work in an ‘unreal’ job doing something that we truly love. This is not only attainable, but highly desirable given the state of the economy today. I’d much rather work for myself, doing something I love, than for a corporation, suffering through the 9-5. We only get one life and it’s important to do work that is not only worthwhile, but enjoyable.

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful posts.

      This post, in particular, resonated with me.

      I have changed jobs several times, while staying within my field. This can be a very stressful thing to do. Yet, I have finally found a job that I can at least tolerate. The money is great, so I am torn. Do I stay and “do what I love” as a hobby? Or, do I downshift in ten years to a job that I love and from which I will never want to retire? If I save a substantial portion of my income, like this poster, I WILL be able to downshift successfully, but not for a while.

      I would appreciate any internet resources about downshifting that people have found particularly useful.

      Finally, yes, it is true that you can’t stake your happiness on your job. But, as others have pointed out, working a job that is not a good match for you can ruin your life and all chances of happiness, even when you are not working.

      I wish everyone the best, and am grateful for this thread.

  3. Some guy
    Some guy says:

    As a prostitute, I resent that. Do what you love, and love what you do. Act on impulse and do whatever it is you want to do.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This is ridiculous… its saying “give up when things get tough.” You CAN do what you love… In fact, if you dont you will be unhappy in the future… Going out and settling on a job is the worst thing you can do, and its lazy. I took a job just to “make some money till I find something I love doing”. So far the job has sucked me so deep into a depression that every day (even when I’m off) I just want to quit. However, I’m staying there to pay the bill UNTIL I find a way to make money doing something I love doing. The depression doesn’t come from wanting to do what you love, but from not doing what you love, and the longer you avoid the task of working to do what you love, the deeper you’ll sink into that depression. My dad’s hated his job for years but stays there to pay the bills. In that time, he’s FORGOTTEN what he loves because he’s so depressed about what he does. To anyone reading, this person does NOT know what they’re talking about.

  5. c
    c says:

    This is utter bull$h!t. “Let’s all sell out for money so people will think we’re valuable!”

    Money does not make you valuable. And pimping yourself out to get that money? Despicable.

    If I’m to live in a world that forces me to be a wage slave you’re damn right I will try like hell to land a job I love, cause if you don’t love it, it’s not worth doing.

  6. David Orman
    David Orman says:

    I could not disagree more. Every time I (and EVERYONE I ever met, knew or treated) followed the money, invariably pain, suffering, depression and a host of other symptoms would follow.

    Every time some one would follow their passion, great thing would follow.

    Ironically, you have been following your passion — writing — for how many years? An you are giving opposite advice?

  7. PJ
    PJ says:

    When you find true passion in your life everything else falls into place. You find that happiness is between your ears and tangible possessions are quick fixes that lose their novelty over time. What is a beautiful big house if it’s not filled with love? The intangible qualities are the lesser-known characteristics of successful people.

    Love is not an absolute constant. The perceived notion of everlasting love is only a myth because feelings have ebb and flow. It’s the fruits from the feelings of love we find joy in. Be present in the moment and certain it will change.

    The greatest thing you can do in this world is give the very best of yourself. Life is not about work, careers, money, relationships, or otherwise. It’s about being loyal to your authentic-self, whether you have millions or none at all, you determine what your success is.

  8. Ria
    Ria says:

    I agree.
    I am 32 and have felt the pressure of being told – ‘you can do anything you want, just do what you love’. So much so that in my early twenties I left a really good job that I was really good at because it wasn’t my ‘passion’. In so doing I found out that I didn’t enjoy doing what I thought I LOVED. And I put myself in a long lasting position of unemployment and poverty. Over time I realized I am a renaissance woman. I am good at and enjoy lots of things. My conclusion has been that I can try and do what I enjoy, want to learn about, love, as a HOBBY. AND separately, have paid work that stimulates me and be comfortable doing EVERY day. I am a lot happier now that I have come to this realization. It’s okay to have a hobby. Doing what you are good at is a gift in itself; don’t take that for granted.

    • Niki
      Niki says:

      I think the key is to find the balance, isn’t it?
      I know what you mean, and I’m currently also on the brink of income-less, and I feel that your comment here have somehow reminds me again to try to put things in balance/perspective.
      You see, my utmost passion and dream has always *still* to become a musician, and believe me I have such a HUGE dream & vision for it, but unfortunately I’m already nearing 29 yrs old…to be honest, there are a LOT of things that I regretted, mostly probably why I didn’t know the *correct* steps of what-to-do in my early 20’s!
      I’m just soo afraid that I won’t be able to “make it” in Music, you know, all those fame-and-fortune stuff.
      But then, after hearing all the ‘inside story’ of the music industry, I am actually doing some hard rethinking again, and I’ve decided just to probably take things slowly first (ie: doing indie DIY work, and try to sell over internet), and while like you said, in the mean time, try to find a PAID work that at least I can still comfortable with and also stimulating (these TWO keywords are very important, isn’t it?..I mean, it doesn’t necessarily mean a paid job that I have to HATE, right?), and THEN, if the music thing catches up, then that would be really great! :) even though I think now I’m already ‘maturing’ in that I feel that it’s okay to NOT be famous-and-rich in the music world, as long as I can keep creating music, enjoying it, and SHARING it with others who love it,…I think that should be enough :)

    • WhatevaTreva
      WhatevaTreva says:

      Ria, you are AWESOME!  I am 31 and have also wisely come to this conclusion.  If you find what you love to do and make money from it – AWESOME! But the reality for most of us (like you and me) is that when we pursue what we love as a living, we start to hate it.  So, I’m with ya, sister; luckily, we found out sooner than later.  Wisdom through experience, right?!

    • WhatevaTreva
      WhatevaTreva says:

      Ria, you are AWESOME!  I am 31 and have also wisely come to this conclusion.  If you find what you love to do and make money from it – AWESOME! But the reality for most of us (like you and me) is that when we pursue what we love as a living, we start to hate it.  So, I’m with ya, sister; luckily, we found out sooner than later.  Wisdom through experience, right?!

      • Magdalena
        Magdalena says:

        Niki, I am starting completely from scratch. I have all my General Education courses from my engineering degree but to get a Music/Musical Theatre degree, it will still take another 4-5 years because of the way the curriculum is designed. Because there is so much material that a musician/performer must learn, half of the courses are only assigned one credit hour even though they meet three hours each week and have a work load equal to a three credit hr class. I think its harder to become an artist than to get any medical or law degree due to the time commitment required of the artist. Being a second bachelor student, I am not eligible for grants from the government (FAFSA). However, I am still eligible for subsidized and unsubsidized loans. And now I am still getting unemployment from being laid off my engineering job (thank goodness for the lay-off!). But I will have to find a job soon. I don’t know if Im going to be able to juggle school and work. But maybe I can work part-time and keep taking loans. Or maybe work like 30 hrs/week and take one less class. I am renting a room out of my girlfriend’s house for which I pay $500 including everything. I also sold my nearly brand new suv which was paid off, and bought an 11-yr old suv so I have some savings but I really don’t want to tap into that too much. I changed my cell phone carriers to one of those cheap providers such as MetroPCS and Simple Mobile. Oh, and did I mention that I decided that I will stop paying one of my credit cards? One of my credit cards has an outrageaous interest (Bank of America). So outrageous that I feel like I am getting raped. I called the card but they refuse to work with me so I guess they won’t be getting their money back. I refused to be robbed anymore. Anyways, as you can see, my life is very unstable and I don’t know what is going to happen past this semester. You are going to be better off than me because you still have parents that can help you. My parents passed away at a young age and I have no one to help. I’m sure my sister who lives in London would help if I didn’t have the money to buy bread but I would have to be a drug addict in order to find myself in such a predicament. I will be ok. I can always get some waitressing job just to get by while I’m in school. I’m not good at multi-tasking but I’m just gonna have to learn how to do it. Everything will be ok. Look at the bums on the street; you know that some of them are homeless out of choice? Who said that we have to drive a BMW and own a home by the time we are 30? The society says so. The bums don’t care about what society says and they make their own rules. I am not sure what are your spiritual beliefs but do you think at the end it will even matter wether you had luxuries or whether you were a bum on the street? It won’t matter. People keep telling me how young I am. But look how long it took for the year 2010 to pass by…not long at all ha? And every year will go by just as fast and soon enough we will be 70 years old if we are lucky to live to this age. So we have to get over the fear and take the risk. Even if we don’t get to our ultimate dream job like getting into Broadway for me, we could still do a job like teaching…but at least we will be teaching the subject that we love. Tell your parents what you intend to do. Its your life. You will resent them as well as yourself if you don’t take this leap of faith. Your parents will help you no matter what because they love you. And if they don’t then you really need to ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice as much as required to obtain a new degree. I have no doubt that if a person doesn’t take a leap of faith, they will be thinking “what if?” for the rest of their life and at the end they won’t be able to say “I lived a worthwhile life”. Do you have a facebook page? My name is Magdalena Szypulski, find me and submit a friend request if you’d like. We should keep in touch throughout our adventure.

  9. Colin
    Colin says:

    You contradict yourself?

    Brazen Careerist
    The science behind the idea “Do what you love”
    Posted to: Finding a career
    May 15th, 2006

    The reason you should do what you love is because you won’t work hard at it if you don’t love it. And hard work is, in fact, more important in success than raw talent. The guys who wrote Freakonomics also write a column in the New York Times magazine, and this topic is the focus of their most recent column:

    “When it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love – because if you don’t love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don’t like to do things they aren’t “good” at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don’t possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.”

    Of course, the difficult part is to figure out what you love. Maybe a better standard, though, is to figure out what you love to practice. That seems to eliminate a lot more possibilities right off the bat.

    • Magdalena
      Magdalena says:


      Regarding your comment: “…they often give up, telling themselves they simply don’t possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.”

      I don’t know if this is true most of the time. I think people give up pursuing the thing the love when the finances get in the way. As we become adults, we loose the privilege to be taken care of by parents so we can concentrate on getting good at the thing we love to do.

      Maybe you seen in my previous post how strongly I expressed that one should drop everything to pursue their dream. I did drop my engineering degree and went back to school for musical theatre. I am in a big disadvantage as I have always pursued the technical field all of high school and college. I don’t have any experience in the music/acting/dance arena and I am already 27 years old. You mention the violin, well, it is most likely the people who started playing violin at the age of four that have a much greater likelihood of paying their bills for playing their violin. These violin players are not risking nearly as much as someone starting from scratch. They are not going against the odds that they could very likely end up bagging groceries at the supermarket at 50-years of age.

      Some, like me, didn’t have the privilege of having parents pay for violin lessons at four years of age. Note that I am using the violin as an example. Then, people like me realize in adulthood that violin is their passion. However, at that point they are at such a great disadvantage that pursuing a professional career as a violinist means struggling financially for many, many years with the great risk of ending up bagging grocieries at middle age.

      What do people like me do? Those people who have a passion for the violin and who know for sure that this is the one thing that makes them most happy and fulfilled? Should they take the enormous risk knowing that the odds are against them? The risk of not being able to ever live a financially comfortable life? The risk of not having a retirement plan when they grow old?

      It is not my intention to be hostile to your comment. This is a serious matter for which I myself struggle to find the answers.

      I am going to school now. I am taking an acting, dancing and a few music courses. My dream is musical theatre. I thought acting would be easiest for me as I am a clown and am not afraid to display it in public…or so I thought. But I sit there in my acting class and everytime my instructor comes up with an exercise that is based purely on improvisation and creativeness…I suck compared to the other students. I find myself stressing out over this class, worrying how I am going to be put on a spot next without a script that provides the lines to say. Having to think frantically for things to say while employing the corresponding body movements/facial and vocal expression is extremely challenging. I thought in acting, you are given the lines ahead of time and then it is just a matter of portraying the character. Dancing is pretty hard too because a beginner adult has already developed inflexibility over the years. Music comes easiest for me and is most enjoyable by far. I am good at singing and I have a good ear. I am most motivated to do my music assignments and I leave the other subjects for last.

      At this point, seeing how ahead the much younger (strainght out of higch school) students are, I am starting to realize that i would be auditioning with these students in the future and it would be them who would be getting the roles instead of me. The reality is starting to sink in for me. I don’t want to be bagging groceries at 50 and I for sure don’t want to go back to engineering (as I have an Aerospace Engineering degree). Plus, if I wait years without use for my engineering degree then the degree looses validity and employers rather hire younger persons anyway.

      I am considering going into the military, hopefully getting into the officer training instead of enlisting. Believe it or not, the armed forces are extremely picky now in the hard economy. They even raised their ASVAB test standards for enlistment. Anyways, now I am thinking of trying to get a degree in music education while being in the military. Then, I could get out of military and go into teaching the subject that I love. At least I would be in an area that I enjoy, plus I enjoy instructing students. Also, with music, I would concentrate on one thing instead of being pulled in three directions when I am just a beginner at 1/3 stage of my life.

      I know this is an extremely long post and you might not be the person to reply to my complicated personal struggles. However, what do you say to my first half of the post? Where I used the violin as an example? Does anyone else has any answers to this dilema? And maybe some advice on what I should do in my personal situation? Anything would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  10. miisuna
    miisuna says:

    this is a thought-provoking post. i don’t know if i either fully agree or disagree, but i appreciate its existence.

    i am at the quarter-life crisis point and trying to decide the next direction to take. i just wish it were easier to know what i love.

  11. Janessa
    Janessa says:

    A great read on a similar subject that a friend of mine recently suggested me is "How to hire the perfect employer". It shows you how to find the perfect job based on your talents, how to find organizations that both want you and need you –

  12. amber
    amber says:

    Interesting perspective and there is some truth in it. I personally believe you can find joy in almost anything you do. Maybe you don’t have a dream job, but I’d like to say that you can love what you do. There are parts of every job that are tough, but if you find the parts of the job that are meaningful to you and make them your own, it changes your perspective.

  13. Jennell
    Jennell says:

    Amazing advice. Frankly, I just stumbled on this post and was expecting to walk away rolling my eyes and “knowing better than that”, but instead I am forwarding this to someone I know who is deeply struggling to find the job they are “meant for” at the age of 24. It’s absolutely true. Finding a job that matches your personality style will incease your chances of being good at your job and feeling fulfillment but it will never complete you. Relationships complete you. So go to work, do your job, then come home and enjoy the things that truly complete you, guilt free!

    Amazing. I applaud you, Penelope. You’ve gained one more supporter through this post.

  14. Pollyanna
    Pollyanna says:

    Hi Penelope – I’m one of those ‘do what you love’ people and I LOVE this post! I think things have become weirdly skewed towards making money from what you love, so that the whole purpose of doing what you love is to make money. That’s weird. Do what you love because you love it. Sometimes money comes with it, sometimes not. Alas internet marketers seem to have noticed the “passion market” as a gigantic cash cow.
    For myself, it never occurred to me for most of my life that I could write about what I wanted to write about. Now I am doing what I love and I LOVE it!
    Your blog is great, but I expect you know that.
    x Pollyanna

    • WhatevaTreva
      WhatevaTreva says:

      Pollyanna, I am responding to this super late, but you put it PERFECTLY.  “I think things have become weirdly skewed towards making money from what you love, so that the whole purpose of doing what you love is to make money.  That’s weird.” Yes, it is! I wouldn’t say it applies to everyone’s situation, but it certainly resonates with me! 

      And thank YOU, Penelope, for posting such an insightful article and generating some very constructive and helpful dialogue!

  15. hasanybodyelsenoticed?
    hasanybodyelsenoticed? says:

    untapped market ???

    omg, that is too rich. im saddened that nobody has picked up on the pun.

    im also saddened that i am commenting on a 3 year old article. we all know this is light years in internet time.

  16. Chris Robinson
    Chris Robinson says:

    Penelope, I just found your blog today while sifting through the vast pool of online career advice, and may I just say that this is SO INCREDIBLY HELPFUL TO HEAR. I am a young 20-something, living in NYC, prone to depression when I think I’m not “doing what I love.” But you’re totally spot on, and I just want to thank you for it. People are what you love, not jobs. You’ll the do things you love to do regardless.

  17. Tarun Goyal
    Tarun Goyal says:

    This post has got me thinking… actually I have a whole blog dedicated to a thought that is somewhat anti to this particular post…
    Just one thought though.. your corollary of sex does not exactly seem right, basically it is one of the many things you like… but I agree with your thought when you say “… we do that stuff anyway.”

  18. Alexander Woods
    Alexander Woods says:

    Though this article was written a while ago, it has really spoken to me. I’m not really a person who reads blogs, in fact I’ve never read more than one article in the same blog, and your blog has sucked me in. Keep up the great writing and good stories.


  19. Pigbitin Mad
    Pigbitin Mad says:

    This is so unrealistic. As if anyone has a choice anymore. You would be lucky to get a job picking up garbage from the side of the road. All the jobs that are even remotely enjoyable have been destroyed buy this “everything for free” mentality.

  20. Cezary
    Cezary says:


    You seem to be very complicated person, indeed :).

    As far as I know the saying goes: ‘Love what you do and do what you love’.

    I believe we are not paid because we have to do what nobody else wants to do (unless we have monpoly on the market) but because we are excellent at what we are doing (better than competitors).

    I’m terrified how many people support your point of view which means that they sacrifice 50% of their lifes in the hope to have another 50% great.

    Lousy trade-off. I don’t see any reason not to have both halves great. It requires some practice, sure.

    Love what you do and do what you love – that’s the principle I would advocate to everybody in the world as all people deserve to have 100% great lives.

    • Yeoman
      Yeoman says:

      “I believe we are not paid because we have to do what nobody else wants to do (unless we have monpoly on the market) but because we are excellent at what we are doing (better than competitors).”

      That’s rather naive. We’re paid what we’re paid based not only on the quality of our work (although for most people that’s part of it) but because of the scarcity of the resource we provide and the need people have to acquire it. If what we “love” is common, people will pay little for it, no matter what the quality is. Some will pay a little more, but many will not. Doubt this? Look at how many people will take a bargain car over a Mercedes, even though the quality is not the same.

      If the service we provide is very rare, people will pay a lot for it, even if the quality isn’t the best. Doubt this? Look at how many people will pay huge sums for doubtful medical procedures, as they are desperate and it’s their only hope.

      The same is true of labor. Many people are paid low wages in jobs that many people want and can fulfill, as there are many people who can fulfill them.

      This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you love. But it doesn’t mean that what you love doing is going to pay you well, if any thing at all. It also frankly doesn’t mean that just because you love the work, you are any good at it, or because you hate it, you are bad at it. There are many people who perform excellently in jobs they do not like, and poorly in occupations they love.

      • Cezary
        Cezary says:

        Yomen thank you for exposing some naivness of my believe. I agree with you that wage is related to scarcity of resource we provide. I have no single doubt about this.

        People are buying anything because they value the thing more than price money. I agree with the statements in your post. They are all true which I can’t say about all of those in the article.

  21. Cezary
    Cezary says:

    Readers !

    Be careful when reading content like this. Fully packed with emotions and junk logic. Penelope didn’t understand the metaphor thus this article. Although I have to admitt that Penelope has a way with words.

    Why junk logic ? Comparing love of writing and making sex. Selling sex is not a viable career option for most of us but writing is. Junk logic is comparing two things which are not compatible. Other example might be : ‘ I prefer red color more than swimming’.

    I agree with the author that it’s a good idea to build career on strenghts not weaknesses. But when deciding options choose the one you love more. Professionals

    In this kind of articles one will find some good advice, lots of emotional staff, lots of unrelevant stuff (what your sexiual life has to do with career advice ? who cares how pilates impact your sexual life ? ).

    This kind of influencers like Penelope are efficient but might be very dangerous when they are just wrong.

    • Nessa
      Nessa says:

      Selling sex is more viable as a career option than you think, especially in a hypersexualized culture. Employers tend to hire better-looking people; when you better your appearance, know that you are selling something, and it isn’t beauty products.

      Also, between writing and sex, at the rate you’re going, sex is your best bet, my friend. 

  22. louise
    louise says:

    This is sour – don’t do what you love. Jesus, how cynical. Your website is about work and sex. So much for multi-faceted.

  23. Yeoman
    Yeoman says:

    One of the most interesting aspects of this discussion, as well as the one about law school, is how many comments it continues to generate.

    The original post here is from 2007. I don’t know the vintage, off hand, of the law school post, but it’s pretty darned old too. Both still receive a fair amount of traffic.

    I’m not sure what that suggests, but I suspect it shows a lot of people are unhappy with their careers, and that more specifically a lot of lawyers are unhappy with their careers. At the same time, people do not like to hear that they shouldn’t go to law school (as a lot of the posts in that item maintain) or that choosing a field because you “love it” is a bad idea.

    I’d also note that, roughly, the advice in those two threads might actually run counter to each other.

    Anyhow, I guess that says something about notions about what we should do, as well as notions about what other people’s careers are actually like vs. what we suppose they are like.

  24. Nick
    Nick says:

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with your philosophy. I believe that if you truly want to experience fulfilment and contentment in life, converting your passion into your profession is crucial. Certainly you need quality friendships and relationships as well; being lonely with a fantastic career is pointless. But, in my own personal life experiences, the struggle to find what the hell I was put on earth to do has led me to connect with the people that I’m naturally in-sync with, that is, like minded people who share my values and beliefs. In this situation, we give and take energy/inspiration from one another, propping everyone up. I’m not in my twenties (a bit older) and I’ve done several different jobs and travelled a bit, but it was all worth it.

    In the end, you have to ask yourself: Am i here just to pay taxes, eat, sleep and expel bodily fluids, or is there a deeper meaning and purpose to my being alive? My own journey has been incredibly difficult, frought with illness, loss, suffering, confusion and frustration, as well as the “no-one could possibly understand me” syndrome. However, they were all necessary. I wouldn;t have attained this insight into myself and my purpose/direction in life without having undergone these difficulties. My advice is: Don’t give up until you get there, no matter how long it takes! Just keep going, step-by-step. Be realistically idealistic. And by the way, don’t bother explaining yourself to too many people – you should only confide in your closest, long-term friends. This way, you’ll avoid being plagued by other people’s doubts, fears and insecurities.

    What if it takes forever? So, what if it does? Would you rather be doing something you don’t like? I realize you have to be practical (ie, earn an income) but you can pursue you “true calling” on the side until your financial situation improves. What do you really want? ( I suspect most people don’t know).

  25. HC
    HC says:

    Something else that needs to be noted: jobs and careers have a primacy purpose and secondary purposes, and the primary purpose, in the vast majority of all cases, is to _make money_ to pay the bills and eat. Only a small percentage can truthfully say that the _primary_ purpose of their job is ‘satisfaction’ or ‘contributing’, or whatever.

    There are other purposes people have in working as well, of course, and quite a few people choose work that pays less than they could potentially get doing something else because of those secondary considerations, but the primary consideration has to be the money. It _has_ to be, because we all have to eat.

    This seems to obvious and trite that I’m almost embarrassed to post it, but a substantial amount of what passes for ‘career counseling’ and education in school acts as if the purpose of a job or a career is anything and everything but money.

  26. Martha
    Martha says:

    This advice is so liberating. I’m 20 and graduating in a year but I’ve been stressing this since junior year of H.S. when the counselors started using that line you just debunked.This makes me feel more comfortable about wasting a little time and earning money abroad just for the experience. I’m excited now. I never connected these thoughts this way. Somehow seeing it in print from someone else who has been there makes it better. THANK YOU!!

  27. Teo Leon
    Teo Leon says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I accidentally found this article I was trying to se smth online..
    As much as I agree with what you said: “it is the kind of life you want to have”, I have to state that I entirely disagree with what you re trying to prove here. This is not an easy thing and it’s multidimensional.
    First, it’s a philosophical question. What is happiness for one and how can s/he achieve it?
    Then, it is also about what are your principles. I mean if the number one thing for someone is just wealth then he will do pretty much anything to achieve that. And if the same person doesn’t have an education or he is from a troubled background and has limited options in his life unfortunately the only thing he can do (in order to follow his principle of having a lot of money) won’t be to clean up streets but something illegal. I am not saying life is easy without money but, for instance I could never work in the City (London) 10-11 hours a day, not for a million dollars per year. I simply cannot do that like a freaking robot behind a desk in a golden cage.

    I profoundly disagree with you because the direction you give is wrong. It’s about all the above things but especially it is an issue of happiness. I don’t believe anyone would like to work 12 hours per day but they do because their principles and goals tells them so. But are they happy? I think you re asking the wrong question here.

    OF COURSE people should do what they love. if they love two things and they re good in one of them then the answer is pretty easy. Now regarding writing, because I live in this world (as well) to some extend, like Stephen King says in “On Writing” is that millions of people can write and yet they re bad or simply nothing special.

    The most important thing you should say, you didn’t: “sure, you love something, are you good at it though?”. It goes without saying that one may love being an astronaut (classic example, sorry!) but be really bad in mathematics and physics so it goes without saying he shouldn’t do that-instead he could become an amateur astronomer, buy good telescope, join some club and staff.

    We are not on this world to work for the corporations but to create, to use the ONLY thing that distinguish us, our intelligence, and use it in a creative way whatever that means. The normal people who must work to live they should do either what they love if they re good in it or simply what they re good in in conjunction with what kind of life makes them happy.

    Thank you,

  28. Valjean
    Valjean says:

    How is one to respond to this? I will agree that we are given an overdose of meritocratic rhetoric in America. It is important not to inflate the American Dream. Meritocracy works in this system on smaller levels- work harder than most of your colleagues, you may just land that promotion and better quality of life. But it is an exaggeration for one person to believe they can become the next Bill Gates merely by working hard. There are many things other than personal effort- chance, networking, personal physical and mental health, the state of the economy, personal philosophy, etc. that work together with personal effort to create a result. They have people high on themselves with this “believe in it, and it will come” rubbish. Life and choice call for analysis.

    It is wise for someone who doesn’t have a “groundbreaking dream” to take their interests and strengths and see what job pays the most for them. And that job they should pursue. Its a “job”; it allows you to stay alive. What can these dreamer people say when they have children to feed? Unfortunately, our economy isn’t in the best shape and jobs are scarce. Elsewhere, it is far worse (for all the Europhiles). You can “chase your dream”, it is your life and your choice. But you can’t chase your dream without food on your plate.

    I personally agree with some of what you say, Penelope. Many students I know want to be doctors, and many also make it to their first day as doctors and realize they hate their job and how different it was from what they expected. Most young adults do not have the maturity to comprehend what it means to be a doctor, or any other of those “hero” jobs they pine after. Lawyer-wannabes become shocked at how much less pay they get than they expected, and how they rarely go to represent people in courts. This is all a result of our education system. People aim high at a mirage of Mt. Everest. I advocate for more personality and vocational testing during high school and colleges offering better financial aid for students who pursue majors that best work with what those vocational and personality tests report. Some European countries do something like this.

    The best advice I can give for happiness is to lower your expectations and appreciate the small things in life. Money and influence are necessities that will keep the blood in your veins, but after that, it’s your job to find happiness. And it’s a terrible idea to forsake your source of money for happiness, because you’ll need that foundation of money to allow for more instances in your life in which you can experience happiness. Stability first, then happiness.

    • Yeoman
      Yeoman says:

      “Lawyer-wannabes become shocked at how much less pay they get than they expected, and how they rarely go to represent people in courts.”

      Just to add a bit to what Valjean noted, it isn’t always the case that you represent people in court less than you expected. I didn’t want to be a litigator but that’s what I ended up being, and I’m in court all the time.

      The thing about that is that trial work is not fun when you actually have to do it. People imagine it is fun as they’ve read about it, or seen it on television or in the movies. By the same token, however, people enjoy war movies and war isn’t fun. Trial work is all horrific pressure, it is not fun.

      The point about the pay, however, is right on the mark.

  29. Greg Miliates
    Greg Miliates says:

    I tried the “do what you love, the money will follow” path, but unfortunately, it’s not always easy to make a good living from what you love.

    Instead, I’ve found that doing work that helps others can be gratifying in itself. What’s even better is when it pays enough to give my family some financial freedom. Fortunately, that’s where I am now, since I’m self-employed as a consultant, and making enough so that my wife doesn’t have to work, and can be home with our kids.

    I started my consulting business over 4 years ago as a part-time way to make extra cash, and it’s grown into my full-time endeavor, where it’s the sole income for my family of 4 for the past 3 years. I make several times what I used to make at my day job, and have much more flexibility. I’ve posted about this topic on my blog (, and also discuss practical, concrete things you can do to start and run a successful consulting business, along with tools, tips, tricks, and techniques for automating your business and keeping costs to a minimum.

  30. Mike T
    Mike T says:

    Great article. I thought I was the only one who thought this. I cringe when I hear “do what you love”. I call that a hobby. I think too many people do nothing and stay stagnant in hopes that they find their “passion” or waiting for the perfect job. I believe that passion or finding what you like is through doing. Most of the people that I’ve found that are touting “do what you love” are trying to sell books, self – help seminars, etc. LOL.

  31. Dr. Susan Biali
    Dr. Susan Biali says:

    Just discovered you and your website – fabulous!
    I found this post very interesting because I’m technically one of those “do what you love” evangelists. I think your post adds an important practical perspective in pointing out that it’s not as simple as just finding what you love and doing it exclusively and that then everything in your will be perfect.

    When I was 28 I decided I loved dancing more than I loved practicing medicine (a discovery brought on by a life crisis) and decided to “do what I loved” instead. I ended up with my own flamenco dance company in Cabo, had the time of my life living there for years, got paid surprisingly well for my dancing and still do. I supplemented my income now and then by flying up north to do brief stints of medical work, but spent the vast majority of my time doing what I loved most.

    I wrote a book and have now based a speaking career on that story, incorporating elements of health and wellness as that’s obviously the “official” area of my expertise. I have enjoyed another sidestream of income as a professional freelance writer and columnist for over ten years.

    I also love to coach more than I like to practice traditional medicine, so I developed another stream of income doing that.

    So, I obviously love LOTS of things and have managed to earn income and create a really flexible lifestyle as a result. Thank God I listened to the advice of aiming to spend most of my time doing what I love, I couldn’t imagine life any other way now.

    That said, I still practice medicine very part time. I spend less time at the clinic thanks to my other income (thank God because otherwise I’d go nuts and literally have in the past, I got really depressed). I value it as a chance to serve people deeply and also guarantee a baseline income which I can adjust up or down as I choose based on the shifts I take.

    Doing what I love has really worked for me, which is why I encourage people to explore and expand what they love in their lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to become your primary career, though for certain people it can and some of those people are very successful. It’s all about finding out what’s right for you. It’s not a black or white thing – but then I think that’s what you were saying here. Thought your post was great!

  32. Boobra
    Boobra says:

    One of the major problems with attempting to do what you love is that if you love it enough, employers will take advantage of it…let you destroy your life for it, pay you hardly anything, burn you out faster as fast as possible until you’re half-crazy. I love animals, got a job working with animals, and ever since have worked in painfully understaffed, stressful environments where I consistently have to work loads of overtime just to get the basic stuff done, have irregular hours that make it impossible to have a social life, and don’t make enough to support myself (in my mid-20s, I still have to rely on my parents for stuff like car repairs). At one point I was starting work at 4 am and stopping at 8.30 pm with no days off. I kept begging my supervisors to hire another person, but since I was doing all this extra work myself with no compensation so the animals would be taken care of…they had no reason to.

    The fact is you need more than just your job, no matter how much you love it. If it swallows your life, it becomes torture, and perverts something that was wonderful into something horrible. I still love animals but I need to be able to see people I care about, have time to engage in outside hobbies, take vacation time…I need a life apart from my job, and my job that I would love otherwise doesn’t allow me to do that.

    You shouldn’t get a job you hate or “sell out” for the huge salaries in the giant busty slavering withery-vagina’ed corporate machine (which isn’t what the post is saying, obviously) but for God’s sakes get a job that allows you enough money and time to pursue a life outside of work…don’t throw everything you have at a single pursuit or you’ll have nothing left.

    • Bowman
      Bowman says:

       I agree that if  you love something employers will take advantage of it. I had that happen to me. I was working as a jeweler and I loved making jewelry.They had me work overtime and didn’t pay me overtime. They crushed my love for jewelry.

  33. Ken
    Ken says:

    Thank you for voicing this. I recently watched the puzzled look on my colleague’s face (a Canadian) who found it hard to understand why I can teach which is what many people offer to pay me for and yet I don’t enjoy doing it. Now I enjoy working at a rehab but I am unhappy because I am underpaid for my qualifications and what I have been contributing. Since I intend to put in a specific time period so I can impress future recruitment executives, I am technically torturing myself for peanuts to impress others, not myself. But that’s a career strategy I conciously choose to do. All the while at rehab, the clients are taught to do in their lives what they like. How funny can that be?

  34. really?
    really? says:

    I was with you right up until you suggested that I “Do what you are”. That book is a crock. It has been utterly useless for me and a college friend. If you look at the careers it suggests for your Myers Briggs – you’ll find it suggests that same ones for many others. I could go on but if that book helped you, I suspect you already kind of knew what you wanted to do.

  35. Yeoman
    Yeoman says:

    My goodness, this thread has remained remarkably popular for a long time and still actively draws a lot of commentary.

    That in and of itself must say something, and what I suspect it says is that a lot of people are unhappy with their careers.

    Since I first posted on this topic I’ve thought about it from time to time, and I don’t know that I’d post the same way I originally did. In the end, it’s probably the case that most people cannot “do what they love” career wise, as too many of us love the same things, and we can’t all get jobs doing those things. That’s an unfortunate condition of life.

    I’d counsel against “doing what you can that’s the most lucrative”, however. A lot of people are struck in jobs they hate, as they couldn’t or wouldn’t do what they love, and ended up doing what seemed smart, “career wise”. That’s why, I suspect, so many people stop in on this thread. They’re searching for career options. Anyhow, no job based on money alone will ever be satisfying, and may be soul destroying and disheartening, unless money is all you love.

    Perhaps also too much emphasis is put on career in America. Most careers are just jobs, and most modern jobs stink. The illusion that they’re “great careers” is just that. Most people don’t have careers, they only have jobs they trudge through every day. A heavy emphasis on “career” is almost guaranteed to be disappointing. Find a job that you don’t hate and can do may be as much as most of us can hope for in modern America, where most of the jobs aren’t so nifty.

  36. Nelly
    Nelly says:

    The average person works 8 hours a day (not counting in the time lost in commuting). If we exclude the “unconscious” sleeping hours – ca.8 (and weekends, of course) that would mean THE BIGGER PART OF YOUR LIFE. If you advise your readers not to strive to find a way to dedicate that much time to something that makes them feel really good, well, I don’t know what to make of that… I work at the administration of an international scientific instutution, I am well-paid, valued, and I use my strengths and qualifications. Via my job, I contribute to the development of science, and the career growth of young and older scholars. I work 4 hours per day, and get full-day payment and benefits… So what? I would cut my expenses to 1/3 immediately, and would work 8 hours a day, if I only could find something really exciting and fulfilling to do during these hours…

  37. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    Oh. My. God. If only i had seen this back in 2007 when you posted it! I have been struggling with that concept since that woman, whose name escapes me, published that book on the topic back in the late 90’s. Anyway, it is the perfect time right “now” for me to see this. So So true! Thank you for confirming what my instincts were telling me. I thought something was wrong with me because I love to do many things, and they keep changing with the new encounters in life! I have finally found a great relationship, however my employer has morphed into a corporate greed tank that I must get out of. I have been thinking that I must find the perfect job doing what I love, to compliment and help sustain my wonderful relationship. That’s just dumb. Again, my instincts tell me that the relationship and the love is the most important and sustaining thing. Nurture and value it above all else. The rest is just business.. Thank you for the confirmation!

  38. Daniel Lakstins
    Daniel Lakstins says:


    I understand where you’re going with this post. But I have to respectfully disagree regarding people not putting emphasis on finding a job they love. I think it’s critical. However I do agree with your advice to try new things. What I often say is that what we love changes everyday as we get older. One career may fit us in our twenties but by our thirties we need a new challenge.

  39. Nancy Grisdale
    Nancy Grisdale says:

    This really helped me… Thank you! I from the UK and went to University to study Geography. I realised whilst studying that it wasn’t for me at all and that I had been pushed there by the middle class ideologies my home town is infected with. I live with my sister in London now and I’m trying to find a job, any job! It’s difficult though, seeing as I have no experience.

    This post is great though! It’s what I’ve been thinking all along. I, at the core of it, want to contribute to society and something larger than myself but I thought I was setting my sights low by thinking this. All my friends are at university planning careers in the united nations etc. I could never choose a career because, like you said, people have lots of different interests, mine being; nature, conservation, writing, theatre, literature and nutrition.

    I’m hoping that I have an advantage, even though I don’t have a degree, I’m out here at 20 in the wilderness. My friends will go through the same thing, except they’ll be older.

  40. Xizebel
    Xizebel says:

    Your advice may benefit some – particularly people who have no idea what they love yet are searching for a passion. But for others, who have a passion and know they’re good at what they do – you’re advice sucks. 

    People should always do what they love. Even if what they love is sex – because hey, we do need porn stars for those lonely nights. You’re doing what you love and getting paid for it. Win-win for everybody involved.

    • Harry
      Harry says:

      can’t agree with u more! so i think when i haven’t figured out what i love to do, i should try to do what i’m doing better. you know sometimes the feeling of not know what to do or what i love or lost is so torturing itself.
       i’m 24, never having a relationship or real date, even have some physical illness and no loved job, no money. sometimes at night these feeling of failure really torture me a lot. but what i’m gonna do? just give up, give up my family? give up myself? give up the amazing human life of decades? i don’t think it’s a smart choice. 

      just try to taste your short lifetime. try to follow your heart. don’t be scared! if you’re about to get this feeling, immediately remind yourself that every life ends in death and no one can say how special he or she is. we are just the same and equal. when don’t know what u love, try to experience more things and keep looking.

      always try to be confident and happy and optimistic and follow your heart and don’t be scared. you life will be beautiful. i am a little confused and wander a little far away from the topic. just try to chill up and encourage myself and those who like me.

  41. Not Amused
    Not Amused says:

    First, I’d like to know just why on God’s green earth is the writer assuming any of us give a cotton picking damn about her sex life (or lack of it?)  Is this truly “professional” advice? Please. Maybe the author needs to broaden her definition of love if she automatically equates it with sex. Maybe she’s trying to be youthful and trendy sounding with her attempt at “humor” but it falls flat. Thanks, but no thanks. I will continue to give the VERY GOOD and time honored advice about doing what one loves for a career because it is the truth and it sure beats the hell out of seeing people develop even worsening attitudes on the job by seeing them treat the work they freely chosen to accept as though it were some kind of nasty tasting medicine they have to plug their noses in order to force down their throats.

    • H.Elise
      H.Elise says:

      I thought it was humorous.
      And the “doing what you love” advice actually isn’t “VERY GOOD,” because you really do need to think about your goals and the kind of life you want to lead, and what it will take to do that. What you love isn’t necessarily going to accommodate the lifestyle you want. What you love may not even be something you can gain from financially at all. A job or career is something you do for money and a sense of accomplishment.

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