Do What You Love is a Fast Track to Nowhere

Written on 2014-10-17 • conversation • Read in: 1′20″

Do What You Love, Love What You Do; a much heard mantra. Maybe especially so among designers. Not too long ago, an opinion piece on Slate magazine1 poked some holes in that mantra. I agreed with that article somewhat, but eating those words still left a faintly bitter aftertaste.

I think I figured out what has been bothering me about it. It is the Do What You Love part of the mantra that creates the problem. Do What You Love leads you to a maze of questions to which you might never reach a satisfying conclusion. Here is why; it implies that you first have to find what you love, before you can do, well, anything. As long as you are looking for what you love, everything you do is seemingly fruitless. It is a paralyzing statement, because finding what you love, without doing anything, is impossible.

The other part of the mantra is much, much more important. Love What You Do. Although you might not be doing what you love, it is possible to love what you do. It is the only part of the equation we excercise any control over. Loving What You Do, as opposed to Doing What You Love, is a conscious choice. If you choose to love what you do, reaching a state of flow2 is much easier.

So from now on, I will make an effort to love what I do. Am I doing what I love? Who knows. It is too much of an existential question to be asking oneself all the time. It is a path that ultimately leads to unhappiness. And if flow is happiness, then I would much rather be living in that place.

1 Read the article on Slate magazine: Do what you love, love what you do: An omnipresent mantra that’s bad for work and workers.

2 In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how flow illuminates the path to truly satisfying experiences, and ultimately, happiness.

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