How many times are we told in personal development, entrepreneurialism, and career guidance to “do work you love”?! Inspirational quotes all over the place tell us its the way to happiness and success. Except I believe that aiming to do work we love actually sets us on the wrong path. Why? Because ‘love’ becomes the object of our ambition when in fact ‘love’ should be the verb of that sentence – ‘love the work you do’ is the kind of advice that is going to get you places. ‘Do work you love’ is the kind of advice that usually ends up in frustration and overwhelm. Here’s why:

When ‘love’ is the object of our doing then we tend to aim for a sensation, a feeling. In romance, this sensation would be the ‘honeymoon period’ of giddiness and euphoria. If we aim for that then unless we are joyful and frolicking in fields all bloody day we may start to feel we have failed. Yup, Instagram, I’m looking at you. When ‘love’ is the object it is easy to make a fantasy out of it, trying to live up to the images of super successful, happy lives that a LOT of the wellbeing industry peddles as the ultimate goal. Not that I am against lounging around by a pool with a Margherita, it’s just that it is not a true or satisfying measure of success. Compare and despair starts to happen – comparing to others, to our fantasies, and despairing when we haven’t reached them yet.

Secondly, when ‘love’ is the object we might try to cram all of our joy into our work. Suddenly, our ‘thing’ that we just do for pleasure feels like the thing we MUST do for money. And maybe that is the case, maybe we can make a career out of our pleasures. But maybe it’s not the right path for us. Maybe it works better as just a hobby, maybe it doesn’t allow us to fully utilise our skills and power, maybe it doesn’t make the right impact, or maybe – gasp – it’s just not realistic right now (… are we even allowed to talk about realism in the aspirational personal development world?!). Anything is possible but you might not want to pour your energy into making your ‘loves’ your work. You might get enough joy just as things are right now, and that is ok.

Transformation and success are made truly possible when we make ‘love’ the verb. To ‘love the work you do’ means:

  • Honouring the work and putting your best self into it
  • Striving to constantly learn and grow in it
  • Having healthy boundaries (i.e. work/life balance, client relationships etc)
  • Knowing your value and expecting a fair energy exchange
  • Staying committed even when it is boring or difficult
  • Accepting your work in its entirety and seeing all aspects of it as equally important
  • Feeling fully yourself and you are appreciated for that
  • Adding value, making a difference
  • …Wanting to have sex with it

Metaphorically wanting to have sex with your work is really important. It is about passion and attraction. It is about doing something that excites you, interests you, and that you like to spend time with. It’s also about doing something that you really want to get intimate with, not just showing up, doing the deed, and getting straight out of there without a second thought. However, the other criteria listed above are just as important and lead to a much more sustainable sense of fulfilment.

None of these mean that you have to cram all of your love into your work, instead you are practicing love through your work. It is a key distinction. It means that even when you want to make a change, you still have a blueprint for finding some satisfaction in the now. Yet, if you can’t bring yourself to love your work then it is an indicator that it really is a time for change… Not all work is equally loveable… Just like not all people are equally attractive to us as individuals. So find the work you can vibe with, and do that!

Love is the skill and the energy we bring to our work, as with other aspects of our lives. Love is the thing we cultivate within us, instead of asking our work to create the feeling of love for us. When we remember it is a verb and not the object of our work, this is where the magic happens.

Dr. Helen Johnson

Dr. Helen Johnson

Dr Helen Johnson coaches creative, complex thinkers, and leaders in their field to challenge themselves, be more effective, and lighten up. Through her group programme, Soul Stuff, she offers high quality, bite sized personal development that maintains a positive mindset and continued growth.

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