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.”