In defense of ‘Do What You Love’

Barracuda by Celandine - detail

Sneak peek at my new pattern – a long way to go yet.

‘Do what you love/ Love what you do’, sometimes affectionately abbreviated to ‘DWYL’, has become a bit of a new-age aspirational mantra – a call to live a more fulfilling life that inspired many art enthusiasts to try and turn their passion into a career.

At first, it seems brilliant in its simplicity – why fritter your life away at a dreary desk job when you can make a living from whatever excites you – be it extreme snowboarding, spiritual life coaching or ice sculpture carving. Tear down those walls between work and play and turn your life into a non-stop fun fest! You owe it to yourself to settle for nothing less.

Then we slowly started to realize that DWYL carries subtle undertones of smug privilege. Making money is hard, and earning a sustainable income from any job creative and interesting enough to qualify for the DWYL Pantheon is harder still. Building up an artistic career takes years – usually, moneyless years. Competition in any creative field is fierce, and the work is often undervalued by clients. Finally, most of the jobs we objectively need done are hardly anyone’s passion. If we all agreed tomorrow to just hand in our resignations and switch to our dream careers, we’d suddenly have a lot more rock stars and a lot fewer cashiers. And just remember how incensed you were last time you were stuck in a busy supermarket and they only had two tills working.

Even for those of us already working in a creative field, like artists, DWYL frowns in quiet judgment over every career choice.  Artists are pelted with public criticism when they sign deals with large companies, because we all know that’s ‘selling out’. We get criticized for taking on commercial jobs outside of our distinctive style because we’re ‘not staying true to our vision’. Those who sell rights to their designs are criticized by those who only license, for ‘not respecting their work’ – although there are large separate markets that only buy or only license designs. Even though we’re doing a job we love, we’re not DWYL-ing right.

So I think it’s time we took DWYL back.

Do What You Love doesn’t mean everyone else gets to tell you you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean you have to support yourself and your family only through the purest form of your art. It doesn’t mean you must make art only for the glory of it and subsist on air and photosynthesis. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure as an artist if you still need your day job, and you paint, like Batman, under the veil of the night.

Do What You Love means that you have found something that excites you, and that you are growing it, nourishing it, and letting it bloom despite all adverse circumstances. It means you do whatever it takes to provide for yourself and those you love, you take every opportunity that helps you grow, and you consistently find time – even if it is just between the cracks of your long, tough days – to fan that little flame that drives you to make beautiful things once in a while.

DWYL shouldn’t be haughty criticism made by the privileged few and used to make the rest of us feel inadequate. It shouldn’t be used to sell you your dreams. It should be a gentle reminder that, even in the worst conditions, you can still strive to do those things that make your heart sing.

And everyone else can just shut up.

How do you feel about ‘Do What You Love’? Do you find it inspirational or unrealistic? Want to claim a piece of it back? Let me know in the comments! 

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8 thoughts on “In defense of ‘Do What You Love’

  1. What a brilliant article. I’m shocked sometimes how blue-eyed some people are and think just because they are frustrated the first choice is to quit their job and finally do what they like. Tough luck when you discover how annoying your DWYL lifestyle becomes when you have to do what you love for a living. Especially if you don’t earn enough to cover your monthly expenses. But still there are many coaches out there who want to sell their DWYL courses because that is obviously the thing they love. It is always wise to practice persistence and common sense.

    • Absolutely agreed. No better way to ruin a passion than to force it to pay your bills before it’s ready. Sadly it’s easy to get starry eyed, and all the people constantly assailing you with offers to teach you how to make all your dreams come true in just a few weeks if you pay them a few hundred dollars reinforce that optimism. I find that the teachers I trust the most are those who keep reminding you how hard it is and how long it’s gonna take. This shouldn’t be a discouragement – but if you’re starting out on this journey it helps to know that you’re packing for a trip that will take years, not a quick weekend getaway.

  2. Brilliant article. I’ve been reading a lot about slowing down and smelling the roses lately, instead of aiming for the big time. I have spent my life not being satisfied unless I’m doing something that could be of use in some way. I won’t watch TV unless I’m drawing, sewing, or doing something at the same time (used to be ironing, but life is far too short for ironing to be a priority). The only exception to that is when my husband I sit down to share an episode of whatever we’re watching together. No phones or tablets allowed. But, then we are working on our relationship by doing this, so we are doing something in addition to watching TV 🙂 I always, always, always feel that any spare time I have needs to be devoted to bettering myself in some way – these days that’s all about the art (with the added benefit of helping me relax and wind down), but it’s included parent blogging, doing software development courses and learning languages – not to mention being on various committees. A friend has recently shown me that it’s OK to stop now and then. To go for a walk to spot the butterflies and the worms and the buds on the trees, rather than just to walk the dog or to keep fit. To sit down and breath and drink a cup of tea, without a book, a phone or a sketchpad. And when my ‘What I Love’ turns into my day job, I really need to have the ability to stop now and then, like that, otherwise it will not be doing what I love for long, but instead doing what I must.

    • Absolutely agreed, Tasha. Extremes are generally harmful in life, and not being able to stop and take a break is as bad as not being able to start on things you want to accomplish and just falling into the Netflix trap each night. In the end it comes down to sort of being in tune with yourself, at the risk of sounding new-agey and woo-woooish. I had periods in my life when I was just hurtling through my days simply because that was what I did, I didn’t really consider or analyze whether this was what I wanted to be doing or how it made me feel. And there was a constant base flavor of apathy and dissatisfaction, but I genuinely was not able to figure out that this was something I could just up and change. Whatever you’re doing, you probably don’t HAVE to be doing it, at least not in that exact way, if it’s causing you harm. You can always adjust things. Yes I have to go to work because I need the salary, but I can negotiate some free time each week with my boss. Or I can improve my personal relations with my colleagues. Or I can work more efficiently to avoid always falling behind. Or I can ask for help if I’m feeling overwhelmed. Or if none of that works I can probably find a different job somewhere. Seeing your life as a range of options instead of a series of inevitabilities really helps.

      Also I’m totally with you on the ironing. Ain’t nobody got time for that 🙂

  3. Right on!

    This is amazing. I’m off to share your wise words. I’m doing what I love, parenting, providing and creating as best I can through all the chaos!

    So refreshing to be reminded not to feel substandard for not having ‘made it’ …

  4. Oh! And I forgot to say.. What’s so wrong with NOT doing what you love also… And sometimes doing what you hate?!! 😉 sure our Parents and Grandparents had to endure quite a few years of not quite being at ‘that happy place’…!

    • I so agree with that!!! There’s a terrible entitlement bundled up with the idea that you can somehow get to do only awesome and fun and happy things in life. There’s a lot of satisfaction to finding that balance between handling the things you have to do and carving out the space for the things you enjoy, and there’s a lot of joy in life to slowly tipping the balance between the two in favor of the good side 🙂

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