Do we have "Do what you love" all wrong?

This was originally written on Medium in response to a woman who wrote, "I’m supposed to 'do what I love' — but what if I have no idea what that is?"

I think a lot about the “Do what you love” idea, from many angles. At first, I heard people arguing that “Do what you love” is terrible advice, based on the idea that passion projects are difficult to earn a living from. Then I heard people arguing to “Stop telling people to ‘do what you love’” because it devalues work and is only valid to those of privilege.

So I thought to myself, if we’re not supposed to do what we love, what are we supposed to do? Stay busy, punch in, punch out, pay the bills, watch TV, keep your talk small, blend in, get drunk to numb the boredom?

Once we reach a certain point of privilege, being able to meet our most basic needs, working our way up Maslow’s pyramid, it is in our nature to look for more. For some people, they know what that “more” is to them, and sometimes it’s more pressing for them to follow that urge than to meet even basic needs.

Others float a bit, looking for that passion, feeling like if they only knew what it was they wanted to do, they’d go do it…

I think the problem is that “do what you love” is misleading. It puts too much emphasis on the idea of self-gratification or hedonistic pleasure. Most of us look elsewhere when we think of a career path.

In thinking and writing about this, I realized when I hear “do what you love” I interpret and translate it in a subtle way. To me, it means “do something that matters.”

People who do what they love because it’s their passion are doing something that matters to them, deeply. Either because they feel the urge to create or do whatever it is they do from deep down in their gut, or because they have a vision for a better world that motivates them to chase after it and do whatever it takes to realize that vision.

People who hear “do what you love” as a message of self-gratification, who don’t happen to have that feeling in their gut motivating them to action, feel a bit lost with that advice.

So think about the things that drive you crazy about the world. There are so many problems to solve. What are things that really get under your skin, make you angry, or upset, or sad? That feeling can steer you towards your path. It’s not a question of “what do I love” — it’s “what do I care about” so deeply that I want to stand up and move away from my comfortable seat of privilege and do something about it.

When you find the answer, you find what you love.