I’ve been told by someone older and wiser—likely you have, too—this cliché piece of advice:
“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I had been interpreting the meaning of this maxim all wrong, and I suspect that many others have as well. The good news is that once I reframed this saying it went from throwaway cliché to enlightened guidance.
Most importantly, my new approach to this conventional wisdom placed responsibility back where it belonged all along—with me.
Doubt, boredom, and feelings of futility are not cured by a “cool job” or even a passionate vocation. In taking my yoga curriculum across the country, I have interviewed many emerging teachers, from all different walks of life. While many enroll in a teacher training to deepen their own practice, some enroll seeking to make yoga a full-time job.
When trainees ask how to build a career they will love, the piece of advice I most often give to new teachers comes as a shock: “Teach classes, but don’t quit your day job.”
Make no mistake, I’m overjoyed when people explore the pull of their hearts. But the truth is that I would give this same advice to anyone pondering a career change: Don’t quit your day job—at least, not yet.
Why? Isn’t following your dream something we should all aspire to do? Am I hypocritical considering I make my living by sharing yoga? Isn’t our sweet spot where talent and passion intersect with ability?
In my experience the answers to these questions are: No. No. And, surprisingly, no.
In my 15 years in the workforce, I have done everything from stocking shelves at Target to waiting tables, planning rock music festivals to selling organic foods, managing a startup co-working space to nannying, team development to traveling the country teaching yoga and leading trainings.
A couple jobs in there—namely the music festivals and getting paid to travel—seem like dream jobs. Yes, I’ve been fortunate to land some awesome gigs. But, I can tell you that even in dream jobs, there have been times when “job love” felt complicated, and I longed for the straightforwardness of punching a clock.
In those moments, I used to wonder: What happened to that sage advice?
Maybe I never really loved any of those jobs.
Or, more likely, I had been hearing the advice all wrong.
There’s an entire industry rising up about helping people find their passions in life. A conditional subtext of the passion-pursuit reads: If you haven’t found your passion, then you’ve failed. Or, if you’ve found your passion, but have failed to scale it, you’ve failed.
This industry also produces the side-effect of believing we’re entitled to feel job love and villainizes “boring” jobs when they don’t provide us with “all the feels.” Earnest but misguided assumptions are made that each of us has a duty to follow a passion. We heed a false call to search for a job we’re going to love, and not to rest until it’s found.
Especially at this moment in time, you can do almost anything to make a living. But this truth doesn’t have to look like the glamorized trend of entrepreneurial wanderlust: You absolutely can have a boring job and still live an extraordinary life.
Over our lifetimes, most of us will take pleasure in more than one thing, find talent in multiple arenas, and work in more than one industry. But career club-hopping in pursuit of the passion “high” leaves little time for contentment.
In this digital age, when we are connected to people all across the globe, we are more aware than ever that when it comes to picking something to do, the sky is no longer the limit.
Some people make their living in space. One lousy day at a desk job can be made abundantly worse knowing someone else is orbiting Earth and earning a paycheck. Fear that we’ve made the wrong choice creeps in when something that once filled us with vigor becomes something that we never thought it would be—a passionless job.
Passion is a feeling; and, feelings change. Love, on the other hand—the kind of love that prevents you from feeling that you’re working all of your days away—cannot be fleeting. In fact, dumbing down love as a mere feeling takes us firmly out of the driver’s seat, and allows our satisfaction to be left in the hands of fickle emotions.
Deep down, we’ve always known that love is most powerful when used as a word of action. Its duality lives on the edge of conscious and unconscious effort—like breathing. There are times when love can wash in—without much thought or effort—and, in those moments, we assume it is everlasting. But, like breathing, there are times when love requires conscious action; every moment that passes requires effort and energy.
Job love is no different.
You may have run the course of a professional relationship and know the time has come to bow out. A surprising or exciting opportunity may be at your fingertips and now is the time to make a leap. Perhaps you’re at a crossroads compelled to take action, or maybe, by no fault of your own, a position is taken away.
Yes, there will certainly come a time in your life when you absolutely should change your job. But some days, most days, you may just need to change your attitude.
Our mentors were not wrong. They also knew something profoundly true about all humans: We are meaning-makers.
If you want to have a career that is full of meaning, you can no longer make it the job’s responsibility to add value to your work. It is also not your job’s responsibility to make you happy.
Trust me, even with “dream jobs”—and I’ve had a few—there will be days when you want to quit. And, when tasked with boring, mindless jobs, there will also be days when you feel blissfully happy. Feelings are fleeting, but our actions leave ripples.
So let’s hear this saying for what it really means, and do the work accordingly.
If you put love into what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Author: Julia Lopez
Image: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman