How Love Dies at Work
You hear it all the time: “Do what you love” they say, and your happiness is almost guaranteed. While there is truth in the saying there is a lot that is left out – enough to cause love to die at work.
I will start with a simple example.
Imagine you are in love with another person. In the course of being in love, you do a lot. You spend long stretches of time together because you just enjoy one another’s company. Doing things together, from cooking to hiking, is fun. You feel you don’t need to hold back and the feeling of just being yourself with another and being loved rather than censured feels as exhilarating as it is liberating. You engage in profound conversations about life, discovering more of each other in a respectful environment, overcoming fears and working towards the realization of your highest aspirations each of you helping rather than controlling. You make love, rather than have sex. An act that feels sacred rather than solely the mechanical playing out of an instinctual evolutionary need. These are just some of the things you might do while in love.
Now imagine if someone comes along and tells you: “All those things you do from love, from now on, you *have* to do them. If you don’t do them, I’ll take away your food, your shelter, your energy and all the means to sustain your life.” Obviously in such a scenario, there is a high probability that making love would degrade to having sex and everything that happened with the spirit of love will now happen in the spirit of compulsion and survival. Eventually, it wouldn’t be surprising if you stopped loving your partner, perhaps even hating them in the process, even if it wasn’t their fault.
The reason is simple enough. A precondition of love is freedom. The song of love contains spontaneous melodies, and spontaneity requires freedom. It grows only by obeying its own laws, dances only to its own rhythm, not those of some market or authority. Making us sing otherwise, we may still produce a song, but it would not be that of love, and may end up just being noise, or worse, without soul. Love recognizes only itself as sovereign; when it becomes a servant to subsistence, it chooses to die rather than live in bondage. To “do what you love” may just kill it. You may earn a living but not feel alive.
Will this be your fate?
Ultimately, I think we are more afraid of not having lived than dying, so such a fate could be said to be worse than death. If we don’t discover how to live well, by the time death comes for many of us, it will be a merciful gift, giving us relief by taking away the inexorable suffering of an unfulfilled life.
Another omission the advocates of “doing what you love” routinely forget to mention, is the mundane fact that what you love doing may change. You don’t usually remain in love with all the women you have loved in your life, let alone the first one, so why should it be any different with the activity you’d love to work on? It isn’t. There are those lucky few of us out there that hit their existential target with the first shot, and are even talented in it, but for the rest of us, we just need to keep shooting – and be careful not to kill it in the process, as we’ve previously mentioned.
However, the job market isn’t really friendly to those who change their mind with respect to their work. Most companies don’t want a jack of all trades, but a master of one. They want career monogamists. There is a real danger, that if you experiment too much, you might end up unemployable as your work experience doesn’t match any job description out there. Most people terrified of the prospect of being useless, opt for staying put and get stuck in a job they don’t love. The fear of not being able to make a living resulting in a lifeless life.
Will this be you? Going through the motions but never moved nor moving?
There is yet another little detail the advocates of “doing what you love” conveniently brush under the carpet. Not all times, places, markets, industries, etc. are configured to pay you to do exactly what you love. Sometimes they are only configured to pay you to do kind-of-what-you-love, but not really.
There are two types of that trap. The first can be called the unavailability trap: Let’s say you are a brilliant computer scientist just before the internet age. You love computer science and you feel the call of destiny is coming from a place where you envision yourself working on computer networks. You would love to do that. You look around the job market. What is available instead is maintaining computer equipment. Sure, this has something to do with what you love to do. But it doesn’t really.
You dive in hoping you’ll be able to change things or if not, at least do your stuff on the side. But there is a lot of maintenance to be done. By the time you get back home you’re so tired you just want to zone out watching the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica. Then comes Game of Thrones. You forget your love, episode after episode, slice after slice of cheap pizza. Who did you think you were? Thinking you can work on networked computers – you’re just the maintenance guy, I mean that’s what you’re really doing. You can’t wait for the next season to start to distract you from the bottomless void you feel in your heart when you look at your old books about networking computers or the guy who managed to play a role in giving birth to the internet, a baby that you had recognized in the womb of your soul but never cared for it enough to avoid miscarriage.
Will this be your legacy?
The other can be called the petty ends trap: Let’s say you are a brilliant artificial intelligence researcher and you would just love to work on projects that try to understand how people think in order to help them surpass the boundaries of their cognitive limitations. Instead, what you’re really end up doing, because that’s the only thing that can pay the bills, is understand how people think so you can get them to click at a specific point on their computer screens more times. Not as epic anymore now is it?
Slowly but surely, you end up feeling you are a sellout. You were one of those lucky few that had the privilege to have enough time or luck to find what you loved, then to get better at it, only to put it to pathetic ends, effectively betraying it. You try to rationalize your predicament by making money your god and charity your scapegoat. But your inner child’s innocence has been lost, you have lost your voice and love never flies to aviaries no matter how grand and luxurious. The arena of hollow men, drunk with power and vanity, is your home now, and it knows no relief, no beauty, no salvation, no end. You pull the trigger.
Will this be your destiny?
Few of us are lucky to find ourselves in a situation where a Yes or a No will determine what is important. Most of us just glide through life, with a thousand flimsy yeses and nos, having only future consequences, distant enough to make our decisions seem unimportant. We prefer the gray areas, because it is easier to hide from the responsibility we have to ourselves and others.
But here, dear reader, I have brought upon your conscience, these questions. What will your answer be?
I don’t know what is the right answer for you. Let alone the right question. I don’t even know whether you’ve chosen love as your compass in life, or whether we mean the same thing by this perennially profound word.
I do know however, that there comes a time in life where you need to say a big No to be able to say your biggest Yes.