This is your life. Keep doing what you’re doing, even if you don’t like it. If you don’t like your job, that’s because it’s work, and nobody likes work but everyone has to do it. If you don’t have enough time, good job. Way to stay busy. Thank you for being a contributing member of society, now go watch some TV. Try not to think too much. Life is complicated, so just stuff your emotions inside, right under that bowl of ice cream. Go get drunk this weekend with your same group of friends like you always do. Gossip and talk about the weather, just be careful not to get into any emotional topics. Don’t talk about what you want to do, someone might tell you what they want to do, and you might start feeling inspired to do things together, or see a new business opportunity, and that gets complicated. You might want to travel, but that’s expensive, so forget about it. Stick to what’s familiar. Life is about doing the same thing all the time so you can have a predictable income and schedule and not have to worry or fear the unknown. Just keep going until you get old and die, and nobody will have any complaints about you.
A friend of mine noticed a poster on my wall. It’s the Holstee Manifesto poster, he has one himself, but he mentioned he doesn’t display it because someone pointed out to him its incredibly classist, privileged nature. He wants to be aware of our privilege and sensitive to others, so he felt guilty putting it up.
Sure, I get it. But first of all, it’s a poster. It’s no ten commandments on stone tablets. The target audience is english speaking westerners. People with jobs and TVs. People who decorate their homes with posters. These are people of privilege, yeah, but the target audience probably isn’t the super-wealthy either.
Anyone who can take the advice literally “If you don’t like your job, quit” is probably financially well-off. I have an annoying tendency to read more into things. I guess, “If you don’t like your job, take the time you normally spend watching TV after work and use it to build up your skills for a career change, then quit your job once you have a new opportunity lined up,” wouldn’t really fit on the poster.
“Travel often” is probably the most privileged piece. Most of us can’t afford to travel as much as we would like. But I’d rather have that reminder on my wall, so instead of getting my hair done or buying a new pair of shoes, maybe I’ll decide to put a little more money in my travel fund.
The target audience of this poster is pretty squarely middle-class. It’s aspirational. For those with a little bit of discretionary income and/or free time, here’s some ideas for how you could spend it to make your life a little better, instead of just listening to the media and society and spending it on crap.
Mostly, what I get out of that poster is a reminder about what’s important in life, that the smallest things — like a conversation, sharing your passion, carving out a few minutes to create something you’re excited about, savoring food, being honest — these are the things that make life worth living. And I think people of many backgrounds can relate to that, and make changes in their lives, no matter how small, to find glimpses of that.
Because without having something inspiring to look at, what do we get? The messages we get from our culture are basically the anti-Holstee manifesto. Our culture says it’s totally cool to go to a job we hate, come home demoralized, tired, eat junk food, watch TV. Do it again the next day. Pay the bills. Feed the kids. We get hit over the head with that message all day long.
So why, if I want to see a reminder that tells me life doesn’t have to be that way, that I can find small ways to change my day-to-day and work towards bigger changes step-by-step, am I supposed to feel guilty about that?
I came across an Alan Watts video and posted it on Facebook. He asks college graduates who don’t know what they should do with their lives, “what would you do if money were no object?”
“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.”
A good friend of mine replied to my Facebook post about this Alan Watts video, pointing out that this advice was, again, privileged and inaccessible to those who maybe just need to pay rent and eat. He then helpfully linked me to this post by Miya Tokumitsu.
The “do what you love” mantra, she argues, devalues work and hurts workers.
And I agree with her on several points. She highlights the self-focused narcissism this thinking can lead to, which I agree with. When I think about what I would do if money were no object, I start trying to find ways to solve world problems and make life better for people. I like to think a lot of people would think this way. Not everyone, but so many more people could be working to solve clean energy or sustainable food systems if they weren’t so busy working at their mindless jobs to pay the rent.
She goes on to say the Do What You Love camps divide work into “two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished).” This is where I disagree. Not everyone sees tasks the same way — what she finds creative or intellectual might seem incredibly pointless to someone who might actually love something she finds totally repetitive and undistinguished.
It becomes harder and harder to follow her argument from here based on that point of disagreement. Since she clearly values high-paying, prestigious work like “being a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte” over arduous, low-wage work, she makes the assumption that Do What You Love proponents all value the same roles, and anything “unlovable” just, what, shouldn’t exist? If we do banish that repetitive undistinguished but “socially necessary” work from our consciousness, yeah, I agree, that’s a bad thing, but I think there’s enough people out there with enough different preferences and motivations that we’re not all going to want to be fashion designers.
I’m pretty sure a Do What You Love proponent like Alan Watts would counsel you to work so hard at whatever it is you love, whether it’s cleaning or being a teacher or a mechanic or surfing, that you find ways to get paid what you’re worth to do it. That you elevate it to mastery and inspire others, or use it to make something great that improves people’s lives.
The fact that we have a society that doesn’t value poetry or painting or teaching or home care as much as it does more glamorous things has nothing to do with the Do What You Love mantra. I’d argue we have a Do What You Love mantra because so many lovable occupations are difficult to make a living at, and yeah, we should fix that.
Thank goodness some people decided to do what they loved despite the lack of pay, or we wouldn’t have poems, or paintings, or jazz music, or teachers, or organic farmers…
The remainder of Tokumitsu’s post goes into the exploitation of people’s passion, saying there are employers who believe you shouldn’t be paid more because you’re getting such emotional fulfillment out of your work. “What unites all of this work, whether performed by GEDs or Ph.D.s, is the belief that wages shouldn’t be the primary motivation for doing it.” Here I agree with her, that is pretty much bullshit. Let’s pay people for being good at what they do.
Instead, she keeps focusing on this whacky argument, which I think is: If doing something you love results in you being underpaid and exploited, you should just do something lucrative that you hate instead? No! I say: Why not focus our energies on finding ways to make that poetry or painting pay off?
Do What You Love involves figuring out what you love to do and finding some way to get paid to do it. It’s hard work. It involves spending your off hours learning your craft and also learning self promotion, marketing, or business skills to make it work for you. Those who want to take that route need all the encouragement they can get.
Her main point is to stop telling people to Do What You Love, as it devalues work. So where does that leave us? It’s the same message our middle class society tells everyone — you can’t make a living doing that, give up on your dreams, find a good job and maybe you’ll get to do what you want later. Not very inspiring. Seems like people of privilege are always the ones who want to maintain the status quo. I say stop telling people to stop saying Do What You Love, as it devalues life.
Tokumitsu argues, “If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time. And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.”
Sounds familiar. Just get a job, any job, work for a paycheck, and maybe you’ll have time and energy when you get home to make something of your life. To that I say, here’s this $36 inspirational poster for you to hang on your wall, to remind you of what life might be if you get a minute.
Did this strike a nerve?
Believe life should be a little more playful, inspiring, and creative?
Maybe you’ll like my newsletter, The Red Balloon Letters.