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Cynicism Makes Great Press, But It Doesn’t Make You Happy


For those of you who have read my blog posts on this site, you are probably well aware that I’m fairly passionate about the work I do. I think organizations and workers have a lot of potential to do great things. And it irritates me to no end to constantly read pessimistic, apocalyptic articles about that potential. Unfortunately, those types of articles are all over the place, and Slate is a recent purveyor of such writing.

In what can only be defined as an attempt to make dissatisfied workers everywhere feel content in their level of dissatisfaction, the author argues that “the ‘do what you love’ mantra…devalues work and hurts workers.” Using quotations from such accomplished experts on the subject as Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and David Rubenstein (all of whom have expertise but not on this subject), the article goes on to blame elite academics (I guess people like me) for creating this mantra and presupposes that such a mantra is solely one of privilege.

The author even goes on to say that people who make lower salaries cannot love what they do, citing “personal care aide” and “home care aide” as two of the fastest growing jobs, with average salaries under $21,000 per year for each. This implies that to be happy, one must be in a job that pays a lot of money.

While research has suggested people in the U.S. are happiest when they make $75,000 or more per year, it is not a perfect correlation (it never is), and quite a sizeable majority of those making below that threshold are in “jobs” rather than “careers” or “callings.”

  • People work in a job when their primary motivation is to work to support their lives outside of work.
  • People work in a career when their primary motivation is to work because it fulfills their achievement needs.
  • People work in a calling when their primary motivation is to work because they feel their work contributes meaningfully to society.

In a study I conducted several years ago with police officers, results indicated that approximately 33 percent of officers in small police departments (regardless of the socioeconomic status of the community they served) fell within each category. So, it wasn’t about the money they made. It was about how they perceived themselves in relation to the work they performed.

We have long known that the more people enjoy what they do for a living, the more likely they are to be both satisfied with their work life and happy overall. Yet the author of the Slate article seems to believe that you should not consider looking for a new job or occupation if you do not love what you do because you are not supposed to love your work. In fact, if you love what you do and don’t make enough money, then you are being exploited – and you’re too stupid to realize it. The article even misquotes poll results, mistakenly arguing that 46 percent of the workforce is expected to check their work email on sick days, though the actual poll results simply indicate that 46 percent of workers report checking their email on sick days (not that they are expected to).

I’m not going to say there are never inequities in the workplace or that some organizations, occupations, and jobs need a major overhaul. I’m also not going to say that exploitation never occurs. But to argue that getting paid less to do what you love or enjoy – to do something you are passionate about – is some sort of lie or fabrication to exploit the masses is nothing but the generalization of the author’s own cynicism applied to the rest of the world.

I will, however, agree with the author on one point: Doing what you love does not somehow magically make your job easy or mean there is no work required. Just like anything in life worth having – a fulfilling relationship, satisfying career, or new home – you get out of it what you put into it. It takes work to make a successful marriage, and it takes work to transform your passion into something that allows you to live your life the way you choose.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38314728@N08 / CC BY 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on February 27, 2014 11:23 AM.

The Mindful Workplace: First Steps was the previous entry in this blog.

The Mindful Workplace: Sustainable Value is the next entry in this blog.

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