Redeeming the 'Do What You Love' Mantra
"You won't see me here often," another mom informs me last fall, on the first day of school. "I work."
Inside, I silently rise to defend my ponytail and jeans. I work, too! But work is my husband's very loosely approximated term for the less-than-minimum wage I usually make writing essays like this one, even now my first book. His MBA mind has struggled to compute that to do this work, I have, at times, hired out household jobs at more than double the rate I earn. He may wonder if I'm not better off doing a job I love less in favor of a job that pays more.
Do what you love: this is the unofficial work mantra of today, writes Miya Tokumitsu in her recent essay for Slate. As advice, it's terrible, she concludes. "Nothing makes exploitation go down easiest than convincing workers that they are doing what they love." Do what you love is, as an example, the kind of self-serving advice universities dish out to their adjunct faculty whom they pay abysmally and guarantee only job insecurity. According to Tokumitsu, DWYL is the "most elegant anti-worker ideology around."
Moreover, were we to poll the global workforce, as Tokumitsu might suggest to us, we'd find the vast majority of workers, not doing what they love, but surviving, by whatever gainful employment possible. No one loves emptying wastebaskets (or working in a sweatshop), but it pays the bills, and that's good enough. "'Do what you love' disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class."
Does DWYL exploit? Is it advice embedded in privilege and class? And when we choose to "do what we love," are we making Tokumitsu's suggested descent into narcissism, choosing our work, not for the good of others, but for the betterment of the self? Or can Christians and their theology of work actually redeem DWYL?
Let's start by admitting privilege. I do what I love. I write. This is an extraordinary grace in my life. I did not grow up wealthy, but my parents' hard work bought my college degree, which landed me a stable teaching job, which paid my graduate school tuition. Years later, it was my privileged choice to quit my job and stay home with my daughter. Even now, I am not forced back into the work force by economic necessity. I can peddle words for a penny. Yes, to do work that you love—even when underpaid, even when voluntary—is an immense privilege. Every day I count it as such.
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