Should You do What You Love?

But is that really true?

Do what you love is something that’s been challenged elsewhere but I want to re-open this challenge via an article from called “The Danger of Doing What You Love“.

Here’s the main point:

I raised my company. Nurtured it. Watched it grow. It taught me lessons that I never would have learned otherwise, and for this I’m thankful. It is a very rewarding experience.

But it became dangerous. Because eventually, I started to love it.

I loved it so much it was all I ever wanted to do–I wanted to work all the time. If I was away from work for more than a couple of hours, I felt uncomfortable. As soon as I got an opportunity, I was back in front of the computer. Unwittingly, I subscribed to Mark Cuban’s recipe for success: “There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs.”

After time, I realized this is a major problem. I already had children–real children. And a wife. And other things in life that I care about more than my business. I think most of you do, too. But when you own a business, and especially when you enjoy the work, all of those things start to play second fiddle.

It’s not who I wanted to become.


I know there are times when I am writing and I get super into it. I just can’t stop writing because the ideas keep coming and even though I need to, say, eat for example, I don’t. I obviously need the food for energy and to keep going and writing but ultimately I forego it because I love what I am doing so much that it distracts me from anything else.

Now, it’s of course great that I love the thing that I’m doing so much. It’s awesome that people actually support my writings through Flattr, Paypal and whatever else they want to (thank you!) but it’s not so awesome when I don’t take care of myself so I make a given post in a day.

But whether I love what I’m doing isn’t the only relevant factor of whether it’s going to be good for me or not. That’s one thing that the whole “do what you love” advice misses and will always miss. I treats loving something as a reason to do it when even when you love a given thing it still may not be a good idea for you to actually commit to it to the capacity you’d ideally want to or to the level that you’d be able to make money at it, etc.

Sometimes the thing you love can only be your hobby or if you’re lucky (and let’s face it, privileged) like I am to get help from those around me while I pursue what I’m passionate about (writing) then it’s going to be hard for you to take seriously the claims of “do what you love” because you probably know it’s just not as simple as that.

There’s multiple considerations that may be of equal, higher or lesser importance than just simply enjoying what you’re doing. People can enjoying doing some things that have some pretty side effects for them and in the example given above it isn’t just bad side effects for you but for other people. Eventually the job takes over your life and makes you appreciate the other great things you used to love less and makes you tied to the job instead more and more.

In terms of there being more considerations than just one worth pursuing or looking at I’m reminded of the ethical theory of virtue ethics which the moral character of people instead of the duties or consequences that their actions may entail. In virtue ethics there are multiple virtues and characteristics of a good person that are worth considering and which may tip the balance one way or the other about whether they’re ethical or not.

A person who just focuses on how much they enjoy something (which is reminiscent of a hedonist perhaps) may not be much of an all-around reliable person because if they don’t enjoy a given thing then they’re likely to not do it regardless if there are other competing variables involved that could (or should) tip their actions in another direction.

If I may be so bold I think it’s possible that the Mexican in the following example understands that there are competing values in life (or at least competing loves) and that it’s better to have a little bit of them all than just a lot of one of them:

A businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The businessman complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”

The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, then stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos; I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The businessman scoffed. “Listen, I’m a Harvard MBA. I could help you. You should spend more time fishing–with the proceeds, you could buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from that bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then L.A., and eventually New York City, where you would run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?” To which the businessman replied, “About 15 to 20 years.” “But what then, señor?” The businessman laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

The businessman said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings, where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The fisherman just smiled. “Thank you for your advice, señor.”

In the end, the answer to the title of this post isn’t a clear cut yes or no and that is all I’m trying to say. It may very well be a good idea to pursue what you love because you know how to balance competing interests, can make good money at the thing you love, etc.

But it may not always be a good idea and while everyone loves touting it as the ideal, the ideal sometimes isn’t as ideal as you thought it’d be.

3 thoughts on “Should You do What You Love?

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