I have a complicated relationship with the adage, ‘Do what you love.’ There are two general camps of thought regarding it – either it’s all anyone needs to know ever about doing anything and making money forever, or it’s dumb advice for unweaned babies – and I belong to neither.
When someone tells us, “Do what you love,” I think a lot of us hear, instead, “Do what makes you happy all the time.” That makes the advice simultaneously really seductive to those who can afford to try that and super infuriating to people who can’t. It’s a great recipe for getting real excited or satisfyingly pissed about an innocuous phrase.
But why shouldn’t you be pissed, especially if you try it and you fail? When it doesn’t make you garbage trucks of cash right away, or when it starts to feel like work instead of fun? What then, when you’ve been lied to?
How’s this: Nobody lied to you, dumbsquat, you’re just misinterpreting the advice.
Aw, heck. Okay, come back. I’m sorry I called you a dumbsquat. That wasn’t fair, but I stand by my position. Doing what you love shouldn’t ever translate out into, “Do what makes you happy in your free moments, what makes your heart pitter pat and your eyes shoot laser butterflies off into the night sky.” Why not?
‘Cause that ain’t love, buttercakes, that’s infatuation and infatuation flees in the face of time and tribulation.
See, there’s a lot of things people experience and mistake for love – obsession and infatuation, mostly – because these things share common traits with love. They:
-Are (normally) connected to something outside yourself.
-Make you want to experience the thing again.
I’m gonna talk about obsession later, but today it’s infatuation’s turn. One huge problem with infatuation is that we super-super like it ’cause it feels super-super good. It feels so good every time that we forget how much it sucks to have it pop like a grody spit bubble when shit gets too real or too much time passes. And it feels so good, so un-filtered awesome, so brain-blinding blissful, because it’s all about our personal emotional profit from that relationship to that thing.
It’s less about the thing, really, and more about you. The thing’s net value to you equates to how good it makes you feel in the moment and you’re not all that concerned for the thing’s overall welfare and development. Then, when things get harder or you adjust to the emotional high to the point of numbness, you find you don’t want the thing anymore. It’s not pulling its weight (the weight of making you un-filtered, super-dupes happy), and that leaves you feeling insecure, betrayed, and annoyed. It’s powerful, self-centered, and doomed to a short duration.
On the other hand, infatuation’s got an automatic leg-up on love (that’s a song title you can steal) and that’s because it just… makes sense, to us. In terms of the sheer lizard brain immediate satisfaction that all animals like best, infatuation is super sensible. Does this thing make me feel nice and fulfill an immediate need? Keep it, it’s perfect. Oh, it no longer does that thing? Ditch it, I’m wasting time I could spend getting something else that does that thing. Compared to infatuation, love is nonsense. It’s a good feeling that takes work, first of all, and that is 1000% not anyone’s default favorite thing.
Fitness? Bluh. Grades? Ecch. Learning any skill you don’t totally need to survive? Uargh. All these are good things that leave you more satisfied in the long run, but they’ll always require thousands upon thousands of decisions and efforts that are not fun at all in the moment and we hate that shit. Luckily, infatuation doesn’t require that of us.
Satisfaction from love, however, relies heavily on delayed gratification and the experience of seeing something outside yourself thriving and growing. When you’re part-wired and part-raised to prioritize your individual immediate gratification that just sounds like a bullshit raw deal.
You’ll notice I’m really hammering the ‘love is nonsense,’ part of the post. That’s because I want you to understand and accept that that’s true, normal, and really hard to explain to people who’ve misinterpreted the idea of doing what you love. It’s hard to tell people that infatuation keeps you happy but love keeps you alive, that having something bigger than yourself and your own immediate gratification is what will keep you going.
A lot of hobbyists make a crack at creative fields because their art’s made them happy as a hobby, because it’s been a release valve and an escape, because they medicate with it. You can love the work and still feel these things, but they can’t be why you keep doing it because they’ll come and go. To stick with it, you need something more, something that doesn’t make immediate emotional sense.
I make (as of right now, not as much before Amazon flip flopped their Kindle Unlimited program) very little money off of writing. It causes me immense emotional and physical stress between the sleep I lose and the sheer mental labor that goes into it. But I continue, as I have for years. It’s that same stress that buoys me, against all logic, above other stresses. Writing, stories, they’re these precious things that I want to protect and nurture.
The nurturing is important. I love everything that I do and I’m over trying to tell people otherwise, but I want every successive thing to be better, even in some small way. I can’t stand shallow feedback. I would rather be temporarily wounded by hearing that something might not work than go on not being sure if anything worked at all.
Writing is my precious problem child. I depend on it, sure, but I’ve developed this nonsensical impression that it also depends on me, like it’s something separate from me that I can nurture into true independence through work and sacrifice. That may not be true, but that’s what it feels like.
If you have something like that, do it. Don’t do it to the exclusion of other things, but do it. You’ll be able to come back to it again and again, however hard the rest gets. Nurturing it will keep you alive, even when it doesn’t pay off immediately. Do what you’re staying alive to do.