There’s a real liability in doing work you love: You may have a harder time getting paid for it. Not because of the nature of the work itself, necessarily, but because you’ve been sold a bill of goods: that the pleasure you derive from your work counts as compensation.
Trust me, I know, because I have been doing work I love for more than a decade. And for many of those years, I wasn’t paid what I should have been. It was partly because of the industry (um, did I mention I worked in publishing?), and partly because I was young. But it was also because in the Faustian bargain of doing work for love or money, I thought love mattered more. And I paid dearly for it.
After another fruitless year-end review in my early thirties, my boyfriend at the time, who was further along in his career — and, well, a man — said, “You know what your biggest problem is, Terri? You love your job too much.”
He was right. While he loved what he did, he had no problem walking away when he needed to. He knew the value was in him, not the job. On the other hand, I was afraid to push, afraid to risk something I loved. Had I been able to unhook my emotional need from the job itself, I might have gotten further, faster. In fact, years prior, that boyfriend had been VP of the department I worked in at the job prior to my publishing job. He told me honestly that he didn’t give me the big bump I was hoping for when I was there because he could tell I wasn’t willing to push. (I liked that job, too.)
Do I think you should do work you hate? Of course not. Should you put all your passion on the back burner and plug away at a joyless, thankless job just for the paycheck? No. I would never want you to endure a joyless, thankless anything — career, relationship, life. But part of the problem is that we often act as if that’s the only other option.
You do not have to trade on one or the other. If you happen to spend your time doing work you enjoy, that’s great — but don’t let love trump money. Do not be so grateful that you hold back from asking to be paid — and paid well — for what you do.
This got all stirred up in my brain recently when I read a piece by Miya Tokumitsu in Slate (“In the Name of Love”). The subtitle says it all: “Elites embrace the ‘do what you love’ mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.”
In it, Tokumitsu says the “Do What You Love” (DWYL) way of thinking implies “labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love.” Its real achievement, she continues, “is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, and I’m not attempting to propagate one here. But you’ve to to admit that Tokumitsu makes a good point: It’s pretty genius for someone to make you believe that you do your work for you and not the people who pay you to do it.
We all make trades, and making them should make sense. When I left my corporate copywriting job to accept a position as a magazine editor, I took a $15,000 pay cut. Ouch is right. I knew this was not a high-paying industry, and that I had to make it work for me. Which it did. And it has, in fact, paid off.
But why this bothers me now is because I’m seeing the telltale signs of DWYL taking a toll on women I mentor and coach. I hear them struggling with the same issues I did, so I’m quick to spot it in them. And every last one of them rationalizes their low rates and ill-paying gigs because they feel “lucky to do what I do.”
They are doing what they love. And it costs them.
I’m talking about Jen*, who confessed to me that she feels not pride, but guilt when she tallies up her hours for her contracting client (which she charges a very reasonable fee for). She actually feels bad about asking someone to pay her. You know, because she loves what she does.
Or another client of mine, Mary*, who came to me feeling vexed because she was not only juggling several time-sucking projects for ridiculously low rates, but one of the “clients” she was helping wasn’t paying her at all. At all! It was, she said, a favor that she thought might pay off later. A favor is a phone call. An hour of work. Not a month of work. She was wondering how to put boundaries on that situation. Boundaries? I thought she should have that guy hauled off to jail for grand theft larceny!
But you know why he could do it? Because Mary’s good at what she does and she’s incredibly generous. And she had a sense that she should do it simply because she could and she enjoyed it. Wrong.
Yes, you’ve got to put your time in. But you shouldn’t pay for the privilege of doing what you love. In fact, loving your job often makes you better at it. Which makes you even more valuable.
When you do work for less than it’s worth, you’re undervaluing your talents and yourself. And that is, in fact, the very opposite of love.
*Not her real name
Terri Trespicio is VP of Talent & Business Development for 2 Market Media and a lifestyle expert. She is the author of the bi-weekly column Full Disclosure. Visit her at territrespicio.com or on Twitter @TerriT.
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