We live in a soundbite culture. Inspirational quotes may sound good, but they’re not very useful unless you understand what they really mean and how to implement them. “Do what you love” has been drummed into us for years, but it’s so poorly understood that I think few actually benefit from it.
The biggest misconception is that the phrase primarily relates to finding your sense of purpose. While I wouldn't rule out the possibility, I’m not at all convinced that there is such a thing, at least for most of us. Don't get hung up on finding a singular meaning for your life. You can love your career without believing your going to change the world, if you know what I mean.
More important are the practical reasons why finding work you love gives you the best chance of achieving success and fulfillment.
The only way to distinguish yourself in a competitive world is by exceling at what you do and achieving great work in your field. The only way to accomplish that is by working your tail off, day in and day out for years and years, sticking with it through thick and thin. Obviously, it’s a hell of a lot easier to do that when you enjoy your work.
It’s not even all that important if the work you enjoy doing is lucrative or marketable. Markets barely existed for the five most valuable technology companies on Earth -- Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook -- when they were founded. The same is true of Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Disney, McDonald’s and lots of other non-tech companies.
Don’t get me wrong. Following your passion doesn’t always work out. But if you give it time, take risks, have a little faith, and follow the advice we’ll get to in a minute, you stand a better chance of having a successful and fulfilling career than if you settle into a miserable job just to pay the bills.
Another misconception is that trendy terms like entrepreneurship, leadership, technology and social causes qualify as things you love to do. They’re simply too broad and nebulous to make any sense as a work focus. You can be enthusiastic about them all you want, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to develop expertise in a specific field.
Look at it this way. There are billions of sports enthusiasts in the world, but none of them are going to end up making a living in sports until they develop some specific interest in becoming a player, coach, commentator or some other function. Even then, they’ll have to slug it out with the competition to land a job. So do yourself a favor and skip the generalities.
Which brings us to the question that trips up most up-and-comers these days: how do you find what you love to do?
The same way you find or figure out anything in life: through trial and error.
You learn to walk by taking a step, falling on your face, crying, getting back up and trying again. You find friends and lovers by meeting people, hanging out, dating and building relationships. You determine where you want to live by traveling and moving. It’s the same thing with work.
Get a job. Gain experience. Learn how the real world works. Learn how business works. Meet people and build relationships. That’s where opportunity comes from. But you have get out and become an active participant to create possibilities. It doesn’t happen by itself. It certainly doesn’t happen if you’re sitting home with a computer on your lap.
One more thing. You’ll occasionally run into articles with provocative headlines like “Why ‘Do What You Love’ Is Terrible Advice.” Ignore it. It's usually just clickbait or someone trying to make a name for himself by taking a contrarian view, splitting semantic hairs or some other nonsense.
This really isn’t rocket science, folks. You only live once, and since you’re going to spend a pretty big chunk of it working, you’d be a fool not to search for a career you love. That will be your best chance of developing competitive expertise and producing great work that will prove as fulfilling to your stakeholders as it is to you. Simple as that.