Have you read this exceptionally fine post at I Pick Up Pennies? If not, you absolutely should. It’s the most articulate rant I’ve seen yet on an idiotic idea that permeates the American middle class. As Abby encapsulates it: “I’m sick unto death of hearing, ‘Do what you love, and the money will follow.'”
The truth of the matter is, there’s a reason we call our jobs “work.” We’re not supposed to think of them as defining our lives. Work is what you do to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Fun, fulfillment, and all that good stuff is what you do outside of work. Nowhere is it written that you have to “follow your bliss” to make a living.
Well. Nowhere credible, anyway.
While there certainly are jobs that are fun and fulfilling for people with a cast of mind that fits said work, there aren’t enough such jobs to go around. Even those of us who have the skills to become, say, a forest ranger, a handsomely paid travel writer for the New York Times, a rock guitarist, a mightily marketed dog trainer, or an artisanal bread baker are unlikely to find that kind of work, because lots of other folks, most of them with more talent, better training, and more experience than ours, want those jobs, too.
Abby managed to survive a life-threatening illness that very nearly spirited her away and that left her with some long-term disabilities, which she has described at her blog. Now that she can return to the workplace, she has a decidedly pragmatic view of work:
Now, each time I get a paycheck, I’m flooded with an emotion that I can only describe as equal parts pride and greed. Well, 60/40 tops.
Maybe the ability to work — or, more realistically, the paycheck — should be a passion in and of itself. Whether due to unemployment or physical limitations, there are a lot of folks who wouldn’t care what they did, just that they could do it.
I, on the other hand, have been amazingly lucky in the health department and uncommonly privileged in other ways. These circumstances have made it possible for me, over the years, indeed to “follow my bliss.” Several “dream” jobs have come my way, and every time I’ve settled in to a desk at a workplace where some people would kill to be, I’ve thought, “Gee! I could do this forever! I’m going to hang onto this job for as long as I live.”
I’ve been a freelance writer. I’ve been a magazine editor for the largest regional in the United States. I’ve been a full-time faculty member at a large research university, teaching writing and editing to upper-division and graduate students. I founded and directed a nonfiction writing program at that university. For the same vast learning factory, I founded and directed a scholarly publishing office that was unique in the land, possibly in the world. Today I’m a contract editor and I teach an online course in magazine writing, from home. All in all, these were (and are) pretty fun jobs.
But lemme tellya something: the money does not follow.
When you get a raise after ten years at your job and then you learn that a cashier at Costco earns as much as you do but she doesn’t have to take work home with her, she doesn’t put in hours of unpaid overtime with no comp time, she isn’t expected to spend her weekends and vacation time working for no pay…well. It does something to your “bliss.”
At one point I learned Costco was paying its forklift operators more than I was earning.
For this I got a Ph.D.? For this I cranked out a string of books through major publishers and more articles than you or I can count? For this I ended up with Social Security benefits that are a fraction of SDXB’s, who never finished a bachelor’s degree?
Okay, okay. No, money isn’t everything. But it sure as hell beats whatever’s in second place. When you realize you have significant talents, finely honed skills, and can do a job that benefits the society at large and that you’re earning less than a janitor for the City of Phoenix earns, you realize that your “bliss” is simply not valued. And the “bliss” part of the job slips away — imperceptibly at first, but over time the slippage becomes noticeable.
When you’re working every weekend, most evenings, and every holiday for nothing, the bliss starts to show some tarnish.
When you’re paid nine months of the year but are expected to spend your summers in meetings, teacher training, and course prep — free of pay of course — “bliss” gets tired.
When a former student of yours who’s doing public relations declines to apply for the job you had at the regional magazine (which circulates in every country in the world!) because it pays nowhere near enough — nothing like what she earns in her 9-to-5, paid-overtime job — the blissful bubble in which you dwell gets a hole in it.
Would I care to be a janitor at the City of Phoenix? No. Would I like to be a Costco cashier? Maybe — maybe not. Do I want to be a forklift operator? Mmmm…I think I could do that job. Would I like to work in the PR department of a huge utility producing its light-weight in-house newsletter, tweeting messages from Management over the company’s intranet, and serving on the outfit’s Dilbertish cheerleading team, nine to five, no weekend work, no evening work, full benefits, a defined pension plan and Social Security? Damn right I would.
Just imagine having a life outside of work!
When you “follow your bliss” (heaven help us 🙄 ), what happens is that work merges with life. And when that happens, there is no life outside of work. All of your life is your work.
And that is why, IMHO, it’s not only foolish to go around trumpeting that people should make their living at something that makes them “passionate,” it’s probably dangerous. When you identify yourself with your work, you have no escape from work. And ultimately, you feel you have no worth outside of work.
Seriously. I had an editor who talked about having been out of work for three months after being laid off a job. The words he used in describing that period in his life were “I felt like I wasn’t worth anything.” This was a guy who wasn’t a worker with a fungible job. He was an editor.
That was his identity. No identity, no personhood. No personhood, no value.
From the vantage point of two careers started, built, and (mostly) wrapped up, I’d say the healthy approach is to think of work as separate from self. Work is something you do to support yourself and your children. If you enjoy it, bully for you. If you don’t, try to find a new trade or a new employer.
Either way, build a life outside of work, and seek your “bliss” there.