For a long time, I’ve been against the advice to young people to “Do what you love.” In fact, I almost gave a speech to college seniors at my alma mater telling them to not do what they love – or at least not as a career goal.
Miya Tokumitsu at Slate has a piece up about how the “Do what you love” mantra is elitist, i.e. how many people need to do a job just for a paycheck, and those who have the luxury of doing something for love are often the elites in our society.
I agree with her conclusions, but could not disagree more with her idea about elites “doing what they love.” Most of the well-compensated people I know are working for remuneration, not their own enlightenment; they aren’t doing corporate law, sales, or banking because it fills a need in their souls. The only people who can really afford to do what they love are trust fund kids, plus the occasional person like my middle school friend, Adventurous Kate. Everyone else ‘does what they love’ without pay.
The McCullen team is a prime example of how ‘doing what you love’ and being really good at it doesn’t mean that you’re raking in the dough. The lead attorney on the case spent 15 January 2014 down in Washington, D.C., watching Mark argue in front of the fabled nine; the next day, he went back to estate planning. Phil might have changed constitutional law and expanded First Amendment free speech rights, and his only compensation will be attorneys’ fees, and only then if the case is successful. McCullen was brought before the Supreme Court on a shoestring budget and volunteer time; that we are all incredibly passionate about it and that the work is incredibly meaningful (in a ‘bring out the printing presses and change the con law books’ way) doesn’t change the harsh reality that no one is flinging money at us to do it.
Ultimately, the “do what you love” mantra strikes me as exploitative. If people are going to work for free (or functionally for free), then they are better off without having illusions of it turning into a paying, full-time career. They will rarely do work that they find to be neither interesting nor remunerative, leaving those who want free labour without a ready supply of it.