We’ve been short-handed for a few months now, and a COVID scare has the whole cafe on a staggered schedule until everyone on staff gets a negative test. In practical terms, that means that I need to bake fresh pies for the case and the entirety of the next days wholesale in under five hours.
I’m dashing around the empty kitchen, checking three ovens and answering texts from my boss and fielding questions about the schedule from staff… until it clicks. I stop trying to do the work and do the work, the Ancient Baking Wisdom flowing for heart, to muscle, to fingers. I clock out and leave the next shift instructions about what’s available and when the wholesale will be done. I was in The Zone, and doing what I loved paid off.
That’s good, because something I loved had to.
Easier Said Than Done
On it’s face, “do what you love” is a great idea because it makes perfect sense. Entrepreneurs, business coaches, career advisors, teachers, organizational psychologists, philosophers, and frankly anyone who’s tried doing something for pay in their lives knows that when you enjoy what you do, you do it better. Whether it’s Alan Watts encouraging us to “do what we love and forget the money”, Confucius, or Howard Thurman, we all dream of being able to spend the majority of our time doing what we enjoy. If we can make a living off of it, so much the better- but this question isn’t just about finding a career. It’s a serious problem faced by people in their daily lives for a heartbreakingly simple reason– We’re all going to die someday.
Yep. Straight into the Bummer of Universal Truths. We only have so much time in this life, and we want to spend it the best we can. In a lot of ways, having to make up your mind about which things you love to devote your time to is a blessing in itself. Our cups runneth over. Ironically, it’s made even harder when we have to weigh what we desire just against what makes us happy. For me personally, I know that if I want to do two activities I’ll look to practicality after personal desire is met. “Oh, well I’d love to do either, but Activity A might be able to earn me some money or make better use of this resource or…“
That’s fine, but if there’s no practical reason for the choice itself, the feeling can be frustrating and paralyzing, and no one can really answer it but you.
Do What Suits You
In business and career planning, plenty of writers and thinkers have gotten around this problem by encouraging a measure of practicality. Chris Guillebeau is fond of the “Joy- Work- Flow” Model, where finding the work you were “born for” is a matter of finding something that:
1. You enjoy (Joy)
2. You can make a living doing (Work)
3. You do well enough to be efficient at it (Flow)
Lacking one of the three leaves a person either struggling, a starving artist, or unfulfilled.
A Japanese concept called ikigai, (“reason for being”) takes this a step farther by adding a dimension of community and belonging. In addition to asking what you enjoy, are good at, and can make a living off of, finding ones ikigai means also doing something the world needs to avoid a feeling of disconnections and uselessness.
I might enjoy sitting in my rocking chair, drinking whiskey, and reading books- but it’s pretty hard to make a living doing (just) that. I thoroughly enjoy both baking and writing, and I can get paid for doing them- but that doesn’t matter if I’m struggling with what I’m told to bake or write. Of course, whatever it is I bake or write needs to be something the world needs otherwise I’m just wasting time. Finding that balance takes time, effort, insight, experience, failure, and honesty with what matters to you. Even then, you aren’t going to love it every minute of every day.
“Do what you love” has become one of those greeting card sayings that mean a lot and are well-intentioned, but ultimately way harder and misleading to do well than people are used to thinking about, particularly if there aren’t a lot of practicalities to weigh into the decision. Ultimately, questions like that involve a lot more self-knowledge, honesty, and introspection than people feel like they have the time for. A bias for action leaves people lurching from possibility to possibility, trying to do everything and winding up doing nothing.
Instead, sit and think. “What will make me happy? What will excite me to be alive over? What can I do with the time I have?”
After all, as Douglas Adams told us: