Why “Do What You Love” is a Myth

By the Ignite Career Center of JCS

So many of us have heard the popular adage: Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life. It’s true, that for some, this works. However, in Can’t Even, Anne Helen Petersen writes “the rhetoric of ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’ is a burnout trap. By cloaking the labor in the language of ‘passion,’ we’re prevented from thinking of what we do as what it is: a job, not the entirety of our lives.” 

Thus, well-meaning people repeat this saying, not realizing the damage they’re causing.  

On one hand, this advice can allow employers to treat “passionate” employees unfairly (think teachers, nurses, artists). In research done by Duke University, University of Oregon, and Oklahoma State University, “through eight different studies with over 2,400 participants, researchers discovered that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions.” This situation can be even worse for entrepreneurs who are trying to establish a business in the name of love.  

On the other hand, this advice can also encourage people to remain dissatisfied, even if they are gainfully employed. This line of thinking suggests you might not be as happy as you could be and might influence you to leave a perfectly suitable job in pursuit of your “passion.” Yet, according to Deloitte, out of “3,000 full-time U.S. workers, across job levels and industries, only 20% say they are truly passionate about their work.” It’s hard for most of us to know what our passion is, let alone how to pursue it. Unless, that is, we are actually passionate about more than one thing, which can be even more stressful, as illuminated by Emilie Wapnick, who invented the term, “multipotentalite.”  

If Forbes goes as far as suggesting “Following Your Passion is Dead,” what do we do instead?  

Perhaps we embrace a new idea: that working will give us time to do what we love; and, in turn, that might make us happier. 

To start, let’s reprogram our expectations: 

  • We get to look for work that is challenging or easy; rewarding or rote; meaningful or necessary. We get to choose that work because we’re good at it or see the value in it, even if it’s not what we’re most passionate about.  
  • We get to use our skills, knowledge, and experiences to find fulfillment in doing our best work, even if we are not that passionate about it.  
  • We get to be proud of having jobs we’re not passionate about if they afford us financial security, flexibility, benefits, healthy work environments, or other perks we deem worthy.  
  • We get to pursue our passions outside of work because we have strong boundaries which allow us freedom. We have enough time to not only provide for ourselves and our loved ones, but also fulfill our passions through volunteer efforts and hobbies.  

With this newfound permission to stop forcing your passion into work, it might be time to take stock of your current career trajectoryConsider some of these questions: 

  • Are you working in a position that utilizes your degrees and/or certification to secure higher pay? 
  • Have you researched which fields are projected to have the highest growth? 
  • Do you know which organizations have the most potential for career advancement?  
  • During which activity do you enter into a “flow state” that keeps you focused and engaged, even if you can’t claim it’s your passion? 

Once you reflect on your answers, you might realize you want to shift gears.  

If you need assistance in figuring out what’s next, reach out to a career coach. 


Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go further and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. To learn more, visit ignitecareercenter.com or call 410-466-9200.

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