SLATE: In the Name of Love
Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.
By MIYA TOKUMITSU
“Do what you love. Love what you do.”
The command is framed and perched in a living room that can only be described as “well-curated.” A picture of this room appeared first on a popular design blog and has been pinned, tumbl’d, and liked thousands of times. Though it introduces exhortations to labor into a space of leisure, the “do what you love” living room is the place all those pinners and likers long to be.
There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.
Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? And who is the audience for this dictum?
Yes, this is an old article. But it struck a chord with me. The author turned it into a book or vice versa. (Not really sure.)
A friend posted this on their Facebook page and it is an intriguing read. Even if I do not necessarily agree with a lot of commentary. I spent years doing what I did NOT love at that point any longer mainly because I was afraid to take a gamble on myself, and I had bills to pay. Breast cancer freed me from that because I had to leave my old industry literally to reduce my stress or fear recurrence. (It was one of those times where your medical care team does an intervention, and like it or not, you have to or should listen.)
When the author of the article says things like the quote below it’s like she is mocking those of us who left the corporate hamster wheel.
“DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.”
Doing my own thing is not elitist, well, it’s survival. I am 55. Corporate America does NOT like to hire women over 50. Or even in their mid-40s. We are too expensive when it comes to things like healthcare and we are old enough to mostly know our own minds. Knowing your own mine is a threat. It’s far easier for them to hire women half of our age who can still sport short skirts without looking too old to sport short skirts. And if they have a choice between hiring a woman my age who doesn’t color her hair and who hasn’t had “work done” and one who has? Botox and hair coloring win every time.
Ageism is a real thing. It was a very strange sensation realizing I was no longer one of the younger ones in the room. And since I stopped coloring my hair, I look in the mirror and I see relatives who came before me. I loved every one of them, but I am still not sure how I feel about it some days.
Some days I wonder should I have had “work done” even a little filler like a lot of women I know? And every time I have this conversation with myself, it ends the same way: I am who I am, I can’t pretend to be someone else.
On some days I am fine with my age and who I am. Other days it’s like where did my 25 year old ass and legs go?
Yet, the reality is me at 55 is a heck of a lot happier than me in my 20s.
Being in your 20s is exhausting. The games with dating and learning to be yourself. The games with who were actually your friends, and the hurt of the ones who betray you and you should have let go of long before that. Or being in your 20s and to have a boyfriend cheat on you and they don’t understand why you couldn’t just move past it and not walk? And neither do some of your friends?
The twenties and even your thirties was the whole additional journey of trying to find yourself as a woman and trying to learn how to be an adult. Some days were better than others, remember? Remember the days you wanted to scream into an empty room?
Working in your 20s, or what I remember in the financial services industry (and friends who were in different industries had similar tales) meant learning to keep your back to the wall when some older male colleagues around and I even remember one temp job I had where my first day two women warned me not to get caught in the room where the copy machines were with one guy in particular.
Damn we all could have had our workplace #MeToo moments and a lot of us did to varying degrees. But we didn’t talk or tweet about it, we just survived. Because we had to.
I had a lot of friends get married in their 20s. In a lot of cases I should say the first time. As I attended wedding after wedding sometimes I just didn’t get how you could go from being dependent upon your parents to being dependent upon a spouse without any chance to grow in between and learn who you were.
A lot of my friends were just on autopilot to marry and produce children. We were partially all raised to be that way. Maybe that sounds elitist, I don’t know. It is just the way it was.
I was a late bloomer so I did not marry until much later and I think the timing was right for me. I spent a lot of time feeling like I did not quite fit and didn’t quite know myself. But it took years to even admit to myself that I liked spending time by myself. I was at the end of an engagement where I had the epiphany that if I did end up just with myself I would be o.k. That realization was very freeing and I think it was a key to opening me up to the woman I am today. Or who I might become. Some days I still wonder am I there yet?
Career-wise I had a path that wasn’t necessarily the path I would have chosen initially but I liked it and it paid the bills. Was it fulfilling? Nope. But it sure was eye-opening as to human nature.
Then came breast cancer. I could no longer handle the stress, the hours, the mental gymnastics of cut throat and duplicitous people. Being a woman in my old industry was exhausting on a good day, but after breast cancer surgery and treatment? I just couldn’t do it any longer. And it had ceased being rewarding long ago. And it’s an industry that still treats women like crap and always will. And I would never be hard enough.
So breast cancer gave me the courage to look at things differently. It was hard. It still can be hard. People ask me why some days I do so much? The answer is I was in my old industry for so long, I forgot how to relax. You were geared to getting so much done in one day. You had to. You were subject to everyone else’s deadlines.
Doing more of what I love and being able to love what I do? It became about survival and starting to experience ageism. And when ageism smacks you in the face, it’s a real bitch. So when people say do what you love (DWYL) is somehow elitist, well sometimes it is the path that opened for you. I wasn’t ready to be a greeter at Target or WalMart, sorry.
So I took a risk. I took a chance on complete change. It’s just as hard some days as putting up with crap as a tiny cog in the wheel of Corporate America, trust me. Nothing is perfect, and those who pretend it is are doing themselves a disservice.
Let’s talk about other things in realm of ageism as a woman in the workforce. I learned this in my 40s when I became a statistic in the layoffs done at Wachovia Securities before Wells Fargo came in. Corporate jets were not expendable, but worker bees like me were. Do you know how surreal it was having an HR folder full of accolades and customer testimonials as to how GOOD a job I did, and being fêted nationally by the company as a “volunteer of the year” for my volunteerism in my community to being a corporate pre-merger layoff statistic? Seriously, the day I got my package they gave me a chart showing where everyone was getting cut in my region and whether they were male or female.
After being forced as part of a giant corporate separation package to take a time out (in case they decide to UN-lay me off and bring me back), I came back out into the workforce late 2007 to early 2008. A completely crap economy and here I was a woman in my 40s. Why hire me when they could hire someone so much younger? And then there was the interview where the interviewer literally asked why I did not remember him. Apparently I had turned him down for a job like 15 plus years prior and he never got over it? (Yeah THAT wasn’t too weird, was it?) And then there were the job interviews that were like marathons. Literally hours in one day like a perverse corporate endurance test.
And in this brave new world of interviewing a lot of the interviews were not even face to face any longer. And even if you sent a thank you note for an interview like you are supposed to, sometimes they just didn’t bother to ever reply. Most of the time they never bothered to acknowledge you even submitted a resume.
When I finally did land a job which on paper sounded amazing, among other things I was working for someone who did not offer even access to healthcare benefits, proper vacation time, or a retirement plan. But I needed to work, I had to support myself. So I took it.
This is the job I should have left three months in, but instead I stayed about four years. I left post breast cancer. I was exhausted. Because I worked for a company that offered no benefits, sick days, vacation days and never had a policy on sick or vacation days per say, I pretty much had my breast cancer surgery and came right back to work. I had to work through my post surgical treatment. I felt like I was in a white collar sweat shop and damn didn’t my ancestors work themselves to the bone a immigrants to the US so future generations like myself didn’t have to?
But I did not have the courage or faith in myself to leave. Until my husband looked at me one day after the doctors had done their intervention and told me I had to get out of the current job that the stress would kill me, and said “quit.”
I looked at him like I misheard him. So he repeated himself and said “Quit. It’s not worth the stress and something else will come along.”
So I did what I never had done, I quit. And a weight lifted off of my shoulders. But this was the job that left me with Corporate America PTSD. Not only didn’t I want to get back on that hamster wheel, I couldn’t.
So I changed everything. I had to. Has it been easy doing only for myself? No not every day because some days I feel like I have adult onset A.D.D. and for love or money, I can’t concentrate. But it’s nice to feel like me again, or to maybe even finally know who I actually am.
Growing up the choices were career girl or get married. Even after the day of bra burnings, female empowerment, and women’s lib that was still pretty much it. Today, in a lot of ways, it still is. And I am so sure a lot of women will read this and be enraged. Stuff it ladies, I am not breaking new ground here.
One thing I agree with the magazine article writer on is if you kind of want to “have it all,” you might need to have lots and lots of lovely money to begin with. If you are just a regular person, that mantra is a little harder to achieve. But I do believe that you should try to love what you do, or at least like it. Otherwise it’s not worth it and weighs you down.
Women wear many hats in life. We walk many tightropes. But somehow, we get there, don’t we? It’s called survival.
Thanks for stopping by.
Getting off the corporate rat wheel was the best thing I ever did, too, at age 49. I am six years beyond it and I feel I’ve lived an extra lifetime of richness since then. Yes we do what we have to do to survive and if we didn’t have role models before us, we struggle even more. My husband said the same thing to me when I was stressed to the max. And I’m so glad I left the toxicity…recently my husband had the opportunity to leave a stressful job and I said the same thing to him. And now we’re both enjoying a less stressful life.