Why There is So Much Social Pressure to Do Work You Love

By Duff McDuffee on September 24th, 2010 1

I promise to make sense of the sandwich soon, but first a thought about work, passion, and alienation.

The problem with doing a job you hate is worse than mere alienation or not self-actualizing, as most personal development gurus put it.  Doing a good job—but without a convincing display of enthusiasm—will get you fired.

In our hypercompetitive capitalist environment, you are competing with people who either love to do what you are doing for a living (even though you hate it) and/or can pretend to love the work more “authentically” than you. These happy-looking people work harder, longer, and don’t complain to management when their health benefits are taken away. Your job security is at risk if you don’t give a convincing display of loving your work, hence all the anxiety-driven, manic (tom peters!) search for one’s “true” calling.

The demand to not only do a good job but have a mandatory positive attitude creates a context in which those that hate their jobs and aren’t afraid to show it get fired. Furthermore, most of their co-workers believe this is a just cause for termination. After all, so-and-so had a bad attitude and was bringing down the team. So much for authenticity!

In many ways it would be better if the culture at large accepted that work…well, it’s work! For almost everyone, work sucks. But since the corporate culture in America says “thou shalt love thy job (or else!),” we strive to pretend to be happy doing things we’d rather not.

Joanna: You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?
Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself.
Joanna: Yeah. You know what, yeah, I do. I do want to express myself, okay. And I don’t need 37 pieces of flair to do it.
[flips off Stan]
~from the movie “Office Space”

We wear “pieces of flair” (i.e. expressions of our passion for our work) because it’s mandatory. But it’s not enough, because what’s really mandatory is that you enjoy wearing your pieces of flair—and any perceived inauthenticity in such a display can cost you your job. This is why Joanna’s anger is refreshingly authentic, or at least was when Office Space came out. Nowadays many more people (especially the younger Millennial generation) are like Brian, whether they work for a large corporate entity, or are “solo-preneurs” relentlessly promoting their authentic personal brand by showing what a great life they have (and you can too!). Frank Kern has his surfboards, Chris Guillebeau has his world traveling, but every guru has their enthusiastic embrace of the crumbling work/play dichotomy.

While most of us at times fantasize about finding work we love that pays us handsomely, many would be quite content to have work they can tolerate and enough time in the evenings and on weekends to do what they want as long as they don’t have to pretend that they love what pays the bills. This public-private division is being eroded whether we like it or not. Many personal development folks claim that the belief that work has to suck is negative cultural conditioning created by corporate interests to prevent us from being our true selves. We should also ask ourselves whether the desire to find work we love is the more damaging cultural conditioning, being that it is pressure to accept the hypercompetitive new economy that benefits a few at the expense of the many.

Presenting an image of loving one’s work isn’t just a corporate culture thing—it pervades the get-rich-quick and get-lifestyle-quick schemes that present themselves as a key to “escaping cubicle nation” and becoming “paid to exist.” This is true whether the source is  Syndicate-based or “third tribe” (which is really the same thing anyhow). Nowhere is someone allowed to just dislike their work and prefer a private life that has nothing to do with making money.

Job security has effectively been eliminated, but we don’t fight it. Instead, we now volunteer to “embrace chaos”—having totally surrendered to the ethic of unrelenting corporate competition with no real social net to speak of. Loving one’s work is now a requirement for job security in the age of anxiety, where one could be fired for frowning or otherwise indulging in negative thinking (such as predicting an impending mortgage crisis a few years ago). Today’s self-help guru fully embraces the demand for and image of work-as-passion, whether or not the day-in-day-out realities line up with the personal branding.



Powered by Facebook Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

58 responses to “Why There is So Much Social Pressure to Do Work You Love”

  1. Carl Nelson says:

    I think finding work you enjoy doing most of the time and feel rewarded by adequately to make space for the things you really love to do is perhaps better than struggling to make ends meet doing what you love while slowly eroding the parts of what you loved out of it.

  2. Best of luck with your authentic wealth-seeking.

    I didn't mean to imply workers should accept terrible working conditions, but that speaking up against them (or even indicating the slightest displeasure) in a climate of ideological positivity where there is no job security is highly risky. This drives the social pressure to love what you do or do what you love more than we generally consider, IMHO.

  3. Evan says:

    If you mean that the pressure to love degrading, poorly paid work is disgusting and appalling I entirely agree.

    • That's half of what I'm saying, yes.

      The other half is that the pressure to seek work you love is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's great to make a living doing something you (mostly) enjoy. On the other, it is a method of getting rid of employees who are not positive (and productive) enough. Or in the non-corporate environment, the image of loving what you do for a living is sold as a get-rich-quick or get-lifestyle-quick scheme, when the reality of work is that much of it is difficult—even when doing something you love.

  4. Stephen Lark says:

    In my opinion the popularity of Dilbert and The Office, in addition to the modern (postmodern?) cult classic which is Office Space, speaks to the fact the these “normal” work environments that so many of us are continually exposed to are ridiculous by their very nature, and are hence easily ridiculed, to much acclaim. Adding the bullshit inauthentic positivity as so brilliantly portrayed by multiple characters, including our friend Brian, in Office Space gives that film the additional cultural longevity that is has.

    I also see this whole “normal” office work environment, and the comedic portrayals thereof, as all part of the ongoing cultural conditioning that says “Yes this is all ridiculous, yes you all have to put up with all this crap on an ongoing basis whether you realise it is fucked up or not, but the simple fact is that there is nothing any of you can do about it“.

    The red pill to all this as I see it is to stop thinking of yourself as an office worker and as a consumer, but rather as a human being and as a planetary citizen.

    Now excuse me while I go outside to beat the shit out of a Windows Vista PC with a baseball bat…

    • One of my favorite scenes from Office Space:

      I do think that there is some cultural conditioning saying something like what you have said, that employees are powerless to change the inauthenticity of the workplace.

      On the other hand, there is also some cultural conditioning that says the opposite, that "anyone" can escape cubicle nation and become an entrepreneur (often a corporate consultant, or a life coach helping people escape from the cubicle farm!). I think this cultural conditioning is also problematic, creating a fantasy of a "4-hour workweek" or even "zero hour workweek" where one no longer knows when to stop working (the classic dilemma of the freelancer or entrepreneur).

      In addition, the cutting-edge corporate environments are far less like Office Space and much more like Google—hypercompetitive, all-encompassing, where work seemingly blends into play but yet you can't really ever leave work. Google's 20% time is a classic example—you can work on whatever you want! Play to your heart's content…as long as it improves the bottom line.

  5. @32000days says:

    Part of the issue here is people conflating their paid work with their identity. It's a doing vs being question – do you practice law, or are you a lawyer? (somewhat of a nominalization question…)

    Especially for the more "successful" jobs, that require college, graduate school, internships, long interviewing processes, and huge numbers of hours per week, the process of enculturation and identity formation is so profound that if you hate performing your job, in some sense, don't you hate your self? The vast investment associated with such jobs means that you'd *better* like your job – after all, you invested so much time and effort to earn it! The cognitive dissonance that ensues can be significant.

    In contrast, when you're the guy at the counter at Burger Shack, it's accepted by the culture that this "crappy fast food job" is probably neither your life's aspiration, nor your identity. People know that when Luke says "Hi, welcome to Burger Shack, I'm Luke, how may I delight you today?", he's being sincere enough to get done what he's paid to do, without subsuming his identity in the company, the uniform, or the job.

    At pretty much any workplace – large or small, hip or square – the most likely reaction to an open and ongoing expression of dissatisfaction (as opposed to an occasional expression of frustration or blowing off steam) is likely to be – "if you really don't like it here, why not leave and (a) let someone else who does like it take your place, and (b) find something that suits you better?" I don't think that people are so much "not allowed" to express pervasive unhappiness with their jobs as much as it's impolitic to do so. There are probably lots of people faking it and putting on a happy smile – "going along to get along", in effect. (And yes, job security / absence of alternatives is probably a big factor in this.)

    I think that's why Brian, the "37 pieces of flair guy" from Office Space, is so funny – because he's basically a cult member who's drunk the Kool-Aid and doesn't have any sense of awareness or irony about how silly he's actually being.

    In this respect, things haven't changed too much from the Organization Man from the 1950s, except perhaps the rhetoric. The man in the grey flannel suit didn't expect a foozball table and XBox in the break room, or to express his unique identity at work, whereas nowadays there's more desire among Gen Y workers for this kind of thing.

    This is probably why the Four Hour Work Week book, and all the subsequent "I quit my corporate job and work two hours a day from Koh Samui" blogs, are so popular – they actually recognized the facts that:

    • any "job", no matter how great, has its downsides and boring or repellent parts. (The same is true of any "life", as lots of retirees discover after a few months of travel and golf…)

    • "doing just what you want, when you want" is a much more compelling lifestyle for many people, than a "successful" 80 hour week / corner office / Blackberry existence.

    Perhaps I'm being naive, but I like to think that my own desire for work that I love is due to my own hedonic preference for doing things that I enjoy instead of things that I don't enjoy (tautological as that statement may sound), as opposed to some external, culturally conditioned expectation that "Thou Shalt Love Thy Job".
    My recent post Becoming an optimist is as easy as ABC

    • Especially for the more "successful" jobs, that require college, graduate school, internships, long interviewing processes, and huge numbers of hours per week, the process of enculturation and identity formation is so profound that if you hate performing your job, in some sense, don't you hate your self?

      This is an excellent point, and why people leaving a profession so often experience an identity crisis. What I'm proposing goes further though, that the "work for yourself/be a renegade" lifestyle and marketing coaches are offering a replacement identity. Instead of identifying yourself as a laywer, you identify yourself as a rebel entrepreneur lifestyle designing blogging world-traveler.

      I think that's why Brian, the "37 pieces of flair guy" from Office Space, is so funny – because he's basically a cult member who's drunk the Kool-Aid and doesn't have any sense of awareness or irony about how silly he's actually being.

      Right–and it is exactly the same for someone like Chris Guillebeau who with no irony calls his blog "The Art of Nonconformity" and censors comments that have dissenting opinions on the books he is promoting!

      • @32000days says:

        This is an excellent point, and why people leaving a profession so often experience an identity crisis. What I'm proposing goes further though, that the "work for yourself/be a renegade" lifestyle and marketing coaches are offering a replacement identity. Instead of identifying yourself as a laywer, you identify yourself as a rebel entrepreneur lifestyle designing blogging world-traveler.


        That makes sense – and it's an appealing identity indeed. I (and I imagine many, many others) would rather be a hip, paradigm-breaking badass rebel who travels the world, works a few hours from my beach front hut in Thailand or Brazil, and still manages to earn a generous income, than a boring old 80 hour a week cubicle slave. Whether or not this is completely realistic is another matter

        Right–and it is exactly the same for someone like Chris Guillebeau who with no irony calls his blog "The Art of Nonconformity" and censors comments that have dissenting opinions on the books he is promoting!

        I hadn't known that he (CG) was up to those kind of tricks. In one sense, a person's blog is "private property". In another sense, a healthy debate about books is hardly a bad thing… unless one is perhaps trying to create a uniformity of thought in a social movement pointed in one specific direction.
        My recent post Becoming an optimist is as easy as ABC

        • Yes, definitely an appealing identity, but I question the reality and also whether it can scale (i.e. how many people can participate in having such a designed lifestyle).

          Re: Chris G, I think it's fine in some contexts to censor dissenting opinions, but a little more than a bit hypocritical when you advocate for "nonconformity" and "going against the status quo."

          • @32000days says:

            Yes, definitely an appealing identity, but I question the reality and also whether it can scale (i.e. how many people can participate in having such a designed lifestyle).

            Those are two good questions. I think the personally branded lifestyle business is not going to go away – the question is which specific business model is in operation. The market size of

            "I have an awesome and unorthodox lifestyle that I brag about on my blog – buy my books and webinars and other products so you can learn to do likewise"

            is a lot smaller than

            "I have a mostly automated / outsourced / decentralized mini-business, that creates products and/or services that people want, and that I can run from anywhere with internet or phone access" (i.e. the "muse" business model from 4HWW)

            The first case is highly dependent on the personality, popularity, and image of an individual, whereas the second doesn't have to be. In both of these cases, of course, the percent of the population that creates this kind of business is going to be relatively low compared to more conventional jobs. It's mostly an educated, privileged and mobile group who is in a position to test out these business models in the first place.

            Re: Chris G, I think it's fine in some contexts to censor dissenting opinions, but a little more than a bit hypocritical when you advocate for "nonconformity" and "going against the status quo."

            Yes, radical rebellion and revolution are always great in principle – a million undergraduates in Che T-shirts would agree with me, too – except when you're the one being rebelled or revolted against. Then they become an inconvenience. 🙂

            My recent post Becoming an optimist is as easy as ABC

  6. EricSchiller says:

    Evan, I find it very strange that you read and respond to our posts as if they are directed at you very personally.

  7. Great post, Duff, and as it happens (and as you’ve probably figured out), it is not entirely unrelated to your Biblical toast post. Much of the frauduct/flopportunity Internet marketing that we’ve been discussing on Salty’s blog is based on the vision of raking in millions of dollars with little effort, while living the leisurely (or extreme-adventurous) lifestyle that the 9-to-5 cube slaves can only dream about.

    You make many excellent points, as do your commenters, particularly 32000days, and I can’t possibly hope to address them all without writing a short book, so I’ll just ramble on for a bit about a couple of things that stood out for me.

    One item you mentioned towards the end of your post was this: “Job security has effectively been eliminated, but we don’t fight it.” That’s important for several reasons, not the least of which is that the lack of traditional job security makes too many people easy targets for the IM hucksters. Realistically, though, how would you suggest that people fight the lack of job security, which is a result of numerous global developments that seem beyond individual control? Or are you even implying that we should fight it? I hope it doesn’t seem that I am unfairly demanding a “solution” when all you are doing is naming the problem, but my question is not just rhetorical. It is something I wonder about myself.

    In the years since I slipped the surly bonds of corporate America, as I like to say, there have been many times I’ve struggled. I’m not rich (yet) and not quite living the life of my dreams, but to me the feast-or-famine existence of an independent service provider beats sitting in an office all day. Still and all, there’s a LOT to be said for regular paychecks, even if earned doing work that one would rather not be doing. I guess we all have our own threshold, our own limits to what we’re willing to do to sustain ourselves. (As for me, I HATED getting up early in the morning and having to be at a certain place at a certain time every day of the week, and being told when I could go to lunch, and being coerced into being a part of the “corporate culture.” Whether I liked the work or not seemed moot in the light of those factors, which became increasingly problematic to me. As shallow as it sounds, that’s pretty much what it boiled down to for me when I quit my last “real” job.)

    Not that I don’t have that hedonic preference 32000days mentions to do work I love. I *do* love what I do now. But the cash doesn’t always flow in easily. My point, I think, is that whether or not you love the work you do, and wherever you do it, you are affected by it — by the hours and days spent toiling, by the experiences you have while you’re doing it — and it does become part of your identity in ways you may not even realize.

    Which brings me to 32000days’ excellent point about conflating what we do with who we are. It’s bad enough for the professionals he mentions – the folks who spent years (and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars) in college and post-grad work, and then went through the grueling routine of interviews and whatnot to get on a real career track. At more or less the opposite end of that spectrum is the proverbial burger flipper who just does what he or she has to do to get that paycheck. It is accepted that this is a temporary gig, and there’s very little personal investment on the part of the employee.

    But somewhere in between are thousands of “worst-of-both-worlds” scenarios, e.g., the fictional restaurant employees in “Office Space” (one of my favorite movies, by the way), and, more significantly, real employees in crappy subsistence jobs everywhere. I’m thinking of a certain big-box discount chain, for example, which treats its employees in degrading ways, but is famous for those ludicrous employee pep rallies and group chants that attempt to imprint the corporate identity onto legions of ill-paid drones. It’s all in the service of boosting morale, of course, though I imagine it has the opposite effect more often than not.

    You made another good point, Duff, when you said, “Nowhere is someone allowed to just dislike their work and prefer a private life that has nothing to do with making money.” I imagine that this describes many people’s lives, but it’s just not cool to come out and say it these days. Similarly, it seems, people are not “allowed” to put a great deal of time and effort into something they love doing without aggressively monetizing it — blogging, f’rinstance. Accordingly, a certain snarget of mine was going on and on in one of his blog posts some months back about the “pro bono” critics — those of us like you and me who write our blogs with little or no expectation of monetary compensation. (Okay, I did put a “Donate” button on mine a while back, and I signed up for the lame Google Ads program (which has yet to yield a paycheck for me), but currently that’s as aggressive as it gets for me, blogging-wise.) It seems we’re all “supposed” to live this perfectly aligned life where we are doing what we love and the money is following effortlessly; anything different from that makes us “losers.”

    As you noted, though, most of those who are selling us these dreams are not even really living “the good life” themselves; although they carefully craft their public image to suit their marketing campaigns, it’s generally all too easy to discover the disparity between the public image and the private reality.

    I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop now and let someone else get a word in edgewise. 🙂 Thank you for writing this.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Connie.

      Realistically, though, how would you suggest that people fight the lack of job security, which is a result of numerous global developments that seem beyond individual control? Or are you even implying that we should fight it?

      An excellent question that I'm not sure I have a good answer to, but something I am very concerned about. I tend to be more of a socialist democrat, so one thing I think we need is more of a government-provided social net, paid for by raising taxes on the top 1% most wealthy and reducing military spending. But I understand you have more of a libertarian bent so some of this proposal is likely to be contentious. This also won't necessarily solve the problem of job security–just keep people from starving or losing their homes while unemployed. I'm also partial to the views proposed by Robert Reich in The Future of Success (views which I can't recall very well right now unfortunately–it's been a while since I listened to the audiobook). But in any case, I think there are a lot of points to made on various sides of this debate.

      What I find most concerning though is in the self-help arena, none of these political and economic debates are even being engaged in because the solution is seen as individualistic. Granted, I'm a pretty individualistic guy in many ways, but if the problem has it's roots in collective decisions and economic structures (which I think it does), it doesn't seem to me to have an acceptable solution in individual choices that keep the structures the same.

      Similarly, it seems, people are not "allowed" to put a great deal of time and effort into something they love doing without aggressively monetizing it — blogging, f'rinstance.

      This is a great point. So many of us started out writing for fun and posting it online and then got caught up in the gold rush of "problogging" and "copyblogging" our way to riches…when in fact, the primary beneficiaries of the original gold rush were the companies that sold the miners equipment. Not much has changed, I suppose!

    • Personally, I wrestle with many of the same things as you mentioned. In several jobs, I was given performance reviews where I was at the top of the team in terms of performance, but simultaneously scolded for my "negative attitude" (mostly because I felt we were treated poorly by management, underpaid, and given crappy benefits). I figured entrepreneurship was the answer, so I freelanced, started companies, and joined idealistic nonprofits (that ended up really being for-profits)–and found that there were some better things and some worse things. Now I have a combination of working for a job where I make my own hours (which is great in some ways, but requires more personal discipline too) and working on my own projects (some of which will hopefully pay, others which are totally non-commercial). It's a decent balance, but there are things I'd still like to change, and there still is no guarantee of job security, and I have no health insurance or other standard benefits.

    • Realistically, though, how would you suggest that people fight the lack of job security, which is a result of numerous global developments that seem beyond individual control?

      To add just one more little thought…

      Perhaps the appeal of the get-rich/lifestyle-quick is the notion that one can somehow not be a part of these numerous global developments, that one can rise above and transcend participation in the collective through sheer force of will. This seems to be a common theme amongst selfish help gurus, as in "I'm not participating in the recession." I think any real solution will acknowledge the relative lack of control of the individual while also acknowledging the actual levels of responsibility—both to one's own life and to the collective (e.g. political participation). Coming to terms with one's actual personal power means fully accepting where one is powerless and still doing the best one can.

    • @32000days says:

      @Cosmic Connie

      Thanks for your feedback! You make a good point about the middle ground – not quite a crappy throwaway fast food job, not a high-powered career either. I think it's in these areas where much cultish exploitation can take place.
      My recent post Becoming an optimist is as easy as ABC

  8. NellaLou says:

    Sometimes it can be a mistake to make one's living doing what you love. Love becomes work, then toil, then something you only want to get away from, like in a souring relationship.

    I had an experience of getting my "dream job". Since we were restructuring I even got to design the job which was in a field I had been in for many years and liked. It included a raise, new office, perks. Sounds perfect. I quit after 18 months and have left that field entirely. It was a disaster.

  9. Jacq says:

    Having been an auditor in the public accounting world eons ago and being a project consultant in many soul-less 😉 corporations since, I just find it ironic that there are so many young people who have had one or two fairly menial, unfulfilling entry-level jobs and tend to paint the whole corporate world to be the same way – and assume that so many should want to escape from it. I suppose I consider myself fortunate that working and doing accounting is like someone paying me a lot of money to play sudoku every day with a bunch of friends. Maybe having a sample size of 100+ organizations doesn't mean much though…

    I jumped head first into the self-development world 20 years ago looking for something else, became self-employed following my dreams, got broke and finally after 5 years struggling realized it just wasn't for me. Going back to work for "the man" was the best thing I ever did. I need my own little work tribe to hang out with (in real life, not through a computer. Now THAT seems soul-less to me). And there's nothing simpler than having a paycheck that shows up every 2 weeks and not having to worry about feeding your kids.

    I tend to believe that it's not so much the work itself that many people find soul-sucking, it's more often the environment – do you work with great people? Does the boss appreciate you – and let you know that? I've never done a good job and not had that appreciation and feel very sorry for those that haven't experienced that. I don't think I've ever hired someone who doesn't actually enjoy doing the kind of work that they had to do – if you're good at it, usually you enjoy it. And if you don't, it's best to leave and find out what that is that you do enjoy.

    What I don't find "authentic" (and I'm really starting to hate that word) is the gushing 5 star cluster**** reviews for every Tom, Dick and Harry's latest launch – from the very people who drool over the word authenticity. I read them with a whole salt shaker full of skepticism. In the traditional world of publishing, there was no conflict of interest, and it pains me that publishing / reviews have taken this turn. And this is why I appreciate your site.

    I thought you might like this quote by Bill Vaughan:
    If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standards of nonconformity.

    My recent post Reiss 16 motivators

    • Evan says:

      Marcus Buckingham, while still working for the man, in First Break All The Rules, gave lots of evidence that happiness at work was most influenced by those you worked directly with. Which means that in lots of workplaces there is often stuff we can do to make it enjoyable.

    • Great quote! And yes, the right corporate environment can be a soul-uplifting experience, while the wrong freelancing/entrepreneurial venture can be a soul-sucking drag. Thank you for sharing your personal experience on this one.

  10. I love the discussion here, Duff.

    While it's fair to question the normative pressure to love what you do at the same time that we're questioning whether work has to suck, the real question is whether we should have to feel any particular way at all.

    Some people can fully embrace showing up to a job they tolerate and be able to "play" on the weekends and during their idle time. Good for them if that's their considered value choice.

    Still others end up in the position as entrepreneurs where they can't commit to the rough patches that it takes sometimes to get your own great work out there. Somehow they've read between the lines that it's supposed to always be fun, full stop, Crush It!, 6-figure…wait a second, I got distracted.

    I don't think there should be "one way" to view your work – each of us determines how we're going to think about this bumpy ride called life. It so happens that I love my work, and having lived with different orientations to work, I'd rather be here doing what I'm doing than working in positions in which I could have a much higher income and social status than I do at the cost of giving up the quiet moments, self-direction, and ability to contribute that I now have.

    In this day and age where job security is non-existent and careers are so volatile, any choice you make will have its advantages and disadvantages. Where we disagree on meta-business and economic theory, I think we agree on this one, Duff: the wisest thing to do is to assess the options to determine which route gives you the most of what actually matters to you. How you feel about the rows you hoe isn't nearly as important as knowing that the hoeing gets you the crops you want.

    Perhaps we don't agree here, either. Either way, I value your perspective. 🙂

    I think it was Schopenhauer who said that the ideal state is when work is play. (I'll check with an old prof, but it's at least a century and a half old.) My point here: it's not just today's self-help guru.

  11. Chris Edgar says:

    Thanks for this. One irony I've observed is that I've found office environments the most unpleasant when everyone around me is obviously putting in so much effort pretending to be "fine." The obvious playacting creates what, for me, is an oppressive atmosphere. When I try to play into the "I'm fine" myth — or try to create a "work persona" in some other way — I notice myself using up extra energy that could be better spent, well, working. Another common example of this would be trying to stay late whenever the boss stays late to get "face time."

    Of course, this is true in other contexts too. When I'm at a social occasion where everyone seems to be caught up in the same sort of drama, I don't have fun either. Maybe the task of personal development, or one of them at least, is to help people see that creating a special work, dating, social, or other persona is actually counterproductive.
    My recent post Authenticity Answers- Part 1- How Deep Is Your Want

  12. Chris says:

    I think the trick is not so much to do what you love, but how to fall in head over heels with a profitable endeavor in the first place. I mean, what kind of a**hole falls in love with providing small office solutions?? I wouldn't know where to start.

    All the best blogs seem to function as outlets for the passionately discontented. And in my experience, the sentiment interferes with the ability to monetize. I am skeptical of those for whom love never cost a thing.
    My recent post Miracle Yogi Prahlad Jani Gives Up Facebook- Food

  13. Justin Park says:


    I have watched this this site unfold (and watched from your days of seeing pics standing in Wilber's old house…to your GTD coaching…to Core Transformation/NLP). I also think I relate to the deep angst of getting churned through the spirituality/personal development landscape/hyper capitalist landscape. And to further show my own colors regarding this, I find the following books critical reading for anyone looking to move forward in facilitating our Human Potential: Yankelvich's 'New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down' and David Brooks' books, McGee's 'Self-Help Inc', Kamenetz's 'Generation Debt', Brook's 'The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in a Winner Take All America'.

    So that to say, I have a strong affinity to this blog and what seems your intention: to bring a critical analysis to the 'taken for granted assumptions' we have around work, growth, identity, transformation, economy, etc.' I think we need more of this.

    In fact I am reminded of my favorite prophet, Jeremiah of the Hebrew Tradition: lived in a time, when no one wanted to take seriously the socio-political-economic-spiritual realities that were taking place. The other seers were running around attempting to legitimate the crumbling conditions by saying blindly 'peace, peace', all is well, all is great…just eat some more of grandma's apple pie. We have our own legitmators now too, attempting to blow sunshine up our backsides (often for their own buck or someone else's, or for their own desperate conscious), which you are pointing toward.

    And I can respect the reality that you are not trying to be all things to all people…you are not attempting to offer anything substantially different (that I can really tell, am I wrong?) as an alternative. That is you are deconstructing, but leaving it up to us to figure out what next.

    I know that you have heard that before, in almost every post. I think that if this is what you want to do, it may be helpful to just say that in the title of your blog (ie. this is a site for critique) and then maybe in a side bar, show where to look for better alternatives. What do you think?

    You see, for me, while I get and thoroughly value (at least I think I do) the utter value in leveraging critique of impotent promises and fantasies…I like those propitiating those and those who are consuming them…are desperate…'F-ing' desperate for something else. Desperate for an alternative vision(s), desperate for alternative ways forward.

    And for me and probably like many who are reading this blog and agree…we are going to still buy a Tom Peter's book (though when I find it at a used book store, b/c the original owner judged its promises in totality-as-empty). We are still going to subscribe to some of these other blogs like 'art of non-conformity, etc. Why? Cause there is Truth there. Is it complete? No. But it is also not merely reduced to the clown pundits on most news casts. These are people who many not have our answers, and many may be naive to their own social-economic location/privilege, they are important feedback loops about what may be working (at least in part) for some.

    We…and maybe you?…need ways forward. Ways that do not deny or lie about our defacto slavery/serfdom. Ways that actually use that location…not necessarily to transcend…if we can't (again the prophet Jeremiah asked Isreal to hunker down and recognize the 70 yr slavery ahead for them and to create an alternative beautiful life in the midst of their slavery…check out Jeremiah Chapter 29 for living a similar location as we are 500 BCE in Babylon Empire).

    Well Duff, I hope that this resonates with you, honors what you are doing, and maybe offers a generative feedback that can evolve what you are doing or point others in those other directions…cause we could use it. What are my suggestions for alternatives? (I actually do find the simplicity/minimalist sites a decent (though missing your more robust critique) resource, the permaculture movements, having an integral life practice (which actual effective transformative methodologies, and a posture of slow-is-fast), much of the positive psychology research, having a sangha/community, shadow/gold work, adult learning research, mentoring, attempting to 'optimize' health & nutrition, getting great sleep, learning how to play/relax/leisure, being around both young children and older adults,………etc.

    Take care!

    • Hi Justin, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      Why do I not give more positive alternatives? Many reasons. One is that my writing is often my own process, and in the past 2 years that has largely been that of deconstruction of personal development and popular spirituality.

      Another is that there is no one right, correct, new-and-improved alternative solution to the myriad problems identified in these writings. Any simplistic catch-all ideology will fall prey to the same problems. I have at times written more positive posts, and they rarely get any comment or mention, for they are much more boring and uncontroversial!

      Third is that I don't necessarily have good answers. Often what I'm doing is just making room for the right dialogue to occur, as I think the solutions have to emerge in dialogue and in community.

      And finally, within the positivity bubble of self-help and spirituality, there is little to no criticism and I tend to want to provide things to the dialogue that are missing. In my offline life, I often have conversations about spirituality and personal development where my positions are largely positive, but I feel this would add nothing to the online dialectic.

    • That said, I have certain preferences for ways to move forward in the world. I like Lester Brown's view on the environment (currently reading Plan B 4.0). I like The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices which puts consumer choices in perspective. I like a method of personal and spiritual change called Core Transformation, but I know that this method won't be the right one for everyone (it didn't even appeal to me until 2 years ago), and isn't a cure-all—although I plan on becoming a trainer of this method and continuing to facilitate this with clients. I like some aspects of an exercise system called Circular Strength Training, created by a man named Scott Sonnon—but other aspects strike me as ideological or even cultish at times. Just today I was reading a chapter on pranayama from a book entitled Yoga for Transformation by Gary Kraftsow that I think is amazing. But a lot of this has to do with my personal preferences—these are not systems, approaches, or ideas that will appeal or work for everyone, and each has plusses and minuses. A lot of what my writing is about is saying that, over and over again.

      If you find something useful or interesting from minimalism, Tom Peters, Chris G., ILP, or anything else, by all means take it and run with it! I personally no longer find much interesting in these approaches, but perhaps I just get bored easily.

  14. Justin Park says:

    Hi Duff,

    I appreciated your responses. I understand using this is a personal/public reflection/dialog forum…there is value in that. And I agree that the level of even basic honesty and critical reflection found here is radically anemic in personal growth/self-help/spirituality circles.

    I also agree that there is no one solution/alternative…that context matters. And I can understand your hesitancy for not wanting to put your own contextual thoughts down in public, because some may assume you are implying that they are THE solutions. Again writing with nuance…having to specify all of the details of what you are intending or not…is not going to hold as many readers who are skimming through blogs. Many tend to want sound bites…quick and easy. But then quick and easy is so much easier to write off and accuse of reductionism.

    Thanks for sharing what you are doing and finding as sources for alternatives…these seem like great ways forward IMHO.

    …here is a potential further dialectic in this discussion…my sense is that if you can trust your readers to get the kinds of critiques you are bringing…you may find that you can trust them not to reduce what you are finding as potential contextual alternatives as claims of what they MUST do. The kinds of critique you are bringing are subtle and already expects something of the reader. As many who find themselves as fellow collateral damaged of naive self-help assumptions…they are often forced [evolution?] to be more savvy…for what it is worth.

    …and as you said, controversial [which tends to be more reduced and polarized] is more sexy and more of a meme. And that may be a skillful means…at a also great cost.

    again, I value that you are keeping the dialectic (that too is such a growth oriented construct;) going through this blog!

  15. Carlon says:

    Very interesting post. Especially, considering my recent post where I sagely advised the youth of the world (at least youth in countries who actually have such choices) to just do something their good at. They might love it. They might not. But being good at something goes a long way.

    As far as a "negative attitude" in the workplace, I've come at this from both sides (as management and as employee). If you ask me, the one thing that will brand an employee as "negative" is constant complaining without any solutions. I've had employees that complained about all sorts of things, but the one thing that led to some of them moving up and others being ignored was offering solutions to the problems they complained about. For example, one employee kept complaining that we weren't doing enough to retain customers. So, when we asked her help in implementing a new system that directly targeted her concern, she informed me that it "wasn't her job." And yes, the task was right in her job description, but she hadn't been asked to do it before and she was not ready to start now. Those who offer no solutions often are the same people who think they are worth more than they are and feel bitter.

    At the same time, some higher-ups consider any form of criticism–even those with solutions–as negative. In fact, mentioning changing ANYTHING might get you a "negative" label. In one job, I offered my company a slight tweak of our business model that could improve sales and improve customer relations. I even made a report with spreadsheets to show the numbers I ran (man, that took me forever..I hate spreadsheets). Anyway, I was told that it wouldn't work, When I asked why, I was told that I "didn't know what I was talking about" and the boss made a big show of not reading the report I prepared. I quit that job very joyfully and with a very positive attitude. So, sometimes any criticism is considered negative. But that depends on who the boss is and the company culture.

    Duff said:
    Nowhere is someone allowed to just dislike their work and prefer a private life that has nothing to do with making money.

    I love this line. It's so true. My experience is this: once the thing you love becomes a job, you don't love it as much. I often blog that a job can be all about making money to do the things you love. And some passions/hobbies just aren't money-makers no matter how they spin it. Besides, why not just enjoy something for its own sake?

    My recent post Sagely Career Advice for Kids

  16. Jeff says:

    Duff, even though your blog is still a work in progress, I really enjoy reading it. I hope you keep writing and developing your ideas.

    One of the links in your blogs is to a talk by Barbara Ehrenreich, whom I think gives the best analysis I've heard about the darker side of positive thinking. There's an animated version of one of Barbara's talks called "Smile or Die" on youtube that I really like.

    In your blog you say "Doing a good job—but without a convincing display of enthusiasm—will get you fired." I think that phenomenon applies to some fields, customer service especially, more than others.

    I know a lot of Nurses and I've recently completed a Certified Nurses Aide training course. In the medical field it seems like people are not necessarily expected to feel happy all the time, especially when working face to face with so many people who are sick or dying.

    • Good to hear that the nurses you know aren't under forced optimism at their jobs. Ehrenreich does spend a lot of time in her book covering the ideological aggressive positivity of cancer recovery culture though, so I wouldn't rule it out that some subsets of medicine are under this same pressure.

  17. Thanks for the comment, Ruth. Perhaps we are meant to sometimes struggle, and to accept this is to find liberation from excessive suffering. And at the same time, there's no reason one can't do something creative or seek a better fit in terms of career.

  18. I L says:

    The issue is complex, but does point to the brainwashing to social conformity we encounter very early on, while our brains are defenseless and still forming, in our early school years, which is then followed up by more brainwashing in our later school years. “Conform or be cast out.” We are taught to “pick something to do as a job and take your seat.”

    The pressure to do what you love is valid. There is Pressure, but it is not social pressure, it is Universal pressure to stop suppressing your inner gifts and latent talents and, instead .Bring them forth to share. …the Sistine Chapel…great works of art, great pieces of music, the most breathtaking “anything” you’ve ever seen. One can pay the utility bills and also plot and build the bridge to a brighter future for themselves. That’s how most of the billionaires got to where they are.

    I agree that one has to *don the mask of social conformity* in the corporate culture, but don’t confuse your real self with it…and, for God’s sake and everyone else’s, don’t just be the person in a cubicle dying inside all your life!

    The bottom line is that we are here to be Of Service. (A famous guy said that. Long robe, beard, famous dad, bit of a people person). If we are playing “Hi. I’m John and I’m Miniscule.” because that is what they were taught *works* so they don’t *gasp* rock the boat, then we enter the Default of a job. Do what you must while you build what we desire. Besides, have you ever been served or *helped* by someone who clearly hates their job? It is a hellish experience! I always think to myself, “Hey, be-atch, I don’t have a gun to your head to be here.”

    Get it together and shape a better life for yourself. We are all sculpters; some refuse to pick up their tools. We all have works of art within us. If you enter a conformist medium like the social marketplace and everyone is dancing the Cha Cha, you gotta smile and dance the Cha Cha. If you don’t LIKE it inside, create a REAL life that makes you happy in your off hours, then make a bridge across when the new life sustains you financially.

    You aren’t here to Survive; you’re here to Thrive. Many very successful people flipped burgers until they “made it.” That is how the smallest and largest have done it. That is the path to success. Is it possible to “do what you love”? Absolutely. Is it sustainable. Absolutely? Can you do more than one thing and not limit yourself? Absolutely. (@Duff, if you aren’t doing it, you should try it. I can’t shout it clearly enough that it fucking rocks to jumps out of bed stoked to the rails to start the exciting adventures *work* brings each day.

    Work and life are like sex. If it doesn’t make you feel good, you’re flat-out doing it wrong. If you are running with the conformist pack for a while, conform. Make a plan. Stick to it each day. Like someone said, “Fake it ‘til you make it. Just don’t stop focusing efforts each day toward actually *Making It.*

    @Ruth, If you are struggling with these issues, might want to check out the following sites. [spammy looking website #1 removed by the editor] and [spammy looking website #2 also removed]
    People have been reporting some pretty amazing breakthroughs and new paths to happier and more fulfilled lives that they say are the most “on track” they have ever felt once they found those sites. Seems to me the sites were created to guide those who are struggling the way you are. Good integrity on them. I know how it feels to be where you are. P.S. You’re supposed to Drink the Zinfandel, not use it as a face wash. ;P

    @Carlon, Keep looking. (Look at Rob Dyrdek, for Pete’s sake – that is a real head scratcher to me!! He make loads of money skate-boarding??!! Really??!! Doesn’t look like he’s suffering to me.) Yes, you have to be a little responsible, but if you want a better life, you have to do that anyway.

    • The pressure to do what you love is valid. There is Pressure, but it is not social pressure

      Are blogs part of the social context? How about blog comments? Or life coaches who post comments on blogs with links back to their websites? Nah, this kind of marketing isn't an attempt at social persuasion, it's Universal and divinely-inspired! 😉

      This argument you gave here is exactly what I'm critiquing…and you seem to have entirely missed the point. Yes, people desire to do work they love and get paid for it, but yes it is also clearly a big moneymaker to push this agenda, whether in the corporate world or apparently opposed to it.

      for God's sake and everyone else's, don't just be the person in a cubicle dying inside all your life!

      The solution to this is sometimes to embrace the cubicle, sometimes to move to a different cubicle (at the same or a different company or nonprofit), and rarely to become an entrepreneur "doing what they love." New, struggling entrepreneurs often work constantly and make no money, living off savings or credit cards, never knowing when to stop because they could always be working more. Why isn't this in your comment or posted prominently on your website? Because you are selling hope—and it's quite the drug. It's really not much different from the thousands of dating websites in my opinion—who know full well that few people ever find long-lasting harmonious relationships from their services.

    • Work and life are like sex. If it doesn't make you feel good, you're flat-out doing it wrong. If you are running with the conformist pack for a while, conform. Make a plan. Stick to it each day. Like someone said, "Fake it ‘til you make it. Just don't stop focusing efforts each day toward actually *Making It.*

      Faking orgasm is not a path to eventually becoming orgasmic.

      Note: I've deleted your website addresses as it makes your comment too spammy. If you post links again to your websites (I'm assuming they are yours because of the ridiculous copywriting you included in your comment), I will ban your IP address.

      That said, of course someone who has never, ever defied what they perceive as the status quo may need some practice at first, and can use the anti-status quo status quo as a springboard to eventually thinking for themselves. But again, the best way to learn how to think for yourself or follow your own path is to actually just do that (see SAID), not to follow the ideology of the opposing group (who also has something to sell you).

  19. […] What about in your own life? Can keeping it real go wrong? Do you feel like you have to wear the correct amount of flair in order to get the bills paid? […]

  20. Evan says:

    One of the big problems of the blogosphere (and online life in general) is that we tend to talk to people like ourselves.

  21. Jacq says:

    OK – here you go. I know it's ironic that it's a self development / do what you love kind of guy that wrote it, but Neill is a bit different than most of the self-help genre.

    Lyman Reed had a good post related to this recently as well:
    My recent post No longer slave to a master list that is

    • I appreciate the links. Neill's article is good I think, in that especially suicidal ideation tends to have a strong tendency towards "the curse of exceptionality." Clearly Neill's work is still biased towards high-achievement and success though. Comments on this page suggest that his "average" is still way above average for most people, for instance a salesperson making 5 new contacts daily. That and his average day concept is still focused on a long-term goal of exceptionality. That said, there's nothing necessarily wrong with a desire to improve through consistent efforts—unless it is ruthlessly imposed on employees with no job security, etc.

      • Jacq says:

        Yeah, but Duff – I'll make the assumption here that people are salespeople because they actually do enjoy making new contacts – so one day, maybe it's 8 contacts, another it's 3, and another nothing. If a salesperson doesn't enjoy doing that to some extent, they really should go find something else. My profession is filled with people who don't have a natural talent for it (and they don't "love" it), but the pay is good and it's pretty secure so it's a field that people go into whether they are good at it or not. I think that's a shame.

        Nobody's forcing anybody to put on happy faces at work (are they?", so I don't really get that concept – but as one of those corporate managers, I've always wanted people to want to be there, working as a team and to like what they're doing and the people they're working with. It's a little more effort on my part to make sure that the right people are doing the right jobs, but it pays off. I spent enough years putting my square peg into round holes, I don't want anyone else to be in that position. Having said that, in my experience, people that are bitchy about work, are often just bitchy about everything. You're either proactive – or you're not.

        To a certain extent, I agree with you that Neill's work is about achievement, but it's about being kind to yourself as well. The majority of old school achievement thought that I bought into was all about the "get up at 5 a.m., spend 18 hours a day working. Don't socialize at work! You must be PRODUCTIVE at all times!, push yourself – the general Steve Pavlina blah blah blah." But there's been huge changes in the work place in the last 25 years that I've been working where balance really isn't a dirty word anymore and corporations are really just made of people, just like you and I. This totally wasn't the case when I was articling years ago at a big 6 accounting firm. So the times, they are a'changing – in a very good direction I think overall. (Although I do wish I didn't have to ask/beg people to work a bit of OT during busy times when that's the nature of the job – most get it – Gen Y, not so much.)

        My recent post No longer slave to a master list that is

  22. @32000days says:

    So I wonder – if the group of "do what you love-ers" are a group of very inter-connected people who seem to spend an enormous amount of time marketing to and communicating with each other – if someone who's in that world starts to lose touch with the larger world and begins to believe that everyone is like them – and therefore is as unhappy as they were.

    Speaking personally, I think I've lost some things and gained others since exiting the "cubicle". (It was an open office type of desk actually, but the metaphor still stands.) There's definitely a certain kind of energy that I got in a good office environment, that I don't get when I'm working solo. Coworking spaces attempt to provide some aspect of this. (I'm writing this from one such space now.) A regular work schedule due to external expectations provides structure that all but the most self-disciplined strive to replicate when working solo. (Since self-discipline is a limited resource, it's unfortunate that we spend it on this form of regulation.)

    Obviously, paid medical insurance, predictable income, and a blackberry are nice things to have. 🙂

    I certainly wouldn't advise "everyone" to go out on a limb and become a gonzo solo-preneur. I think it's a fine thing for people with high risk tolerance / failure tolerance and an experimental nature. It may or may not be such a good idea for people with significant responsibilities to dependents, e.g. low income single parents who are also caregivers for their own elderly parents.

    Michael Neill wrote quite a good post on this a number of years ago called "the curse of exceptionality" (I won't link to it Duff!) – where the premise is that much of our discontentment arises because we can't appreciate the ordinary joys of life and can't allow ourselves to just be average.

    I like Michael Neill's work. I've thought of this concept in various ways in the past. Food provides a good example.

    One thing that I have realized over time is that the $5 falafel meal and the $200 five star meal are both pleasurable, but the much more expensive one doesn't necessarily give you 40x the pleasure of the cheaper one. A big part of the fun of exceptional things is that they're, well, exceptional. Eating at top restaurants every night makes eating at top restaurants ordinary.

    When we can appreciate the simplicity of our own cooking or cheap local restaurants, and express gratitude for "average" things, gratitude for the "exceptional" things comes along for the ride. However, when even "exceptional" things are ordinary and nothing ever pleases us, then we're in for a rough ride.

  23. @ericnormand says:

    Get rich quick schemes take advantage of people's laziness. So does the idea of doing what you love. But the real way to riches is slow and very painful. That's why you should have a job you can live with that pays a decent amount. Forget riches and forget doing what you love.

    Invest a percentage of your wealth in something with stable growth over many years. Learn to be happy with what you have. Reject the consumerist lifestyle. Find joy in things that you can afford. One day your income from your investments will exceed your expenses.

    It's simple, but slow.

    • Good thoughts, Eric. I'd also add that I do think a person can pursue work they love, but they should be prepared for 80% or more of the work that leads to and supports this work to be work they either don't particularly like, find boring, or absolutely can't stand. Even with that effort, there will be no guarantees, and often when we actually end up doing what we thought we'd love, we don't enjoy it as much as we'd hoped.

  24. justadude says:

    This is so true. As much as I hate capitalism ("There is no alternative!!!") I definitely hate the "you have to love it" version in a special, heart-felt way.

    I can accept "the grind' to a great deal for the benefit of my family (like my Dad and millions of Dads before me) but why do you want me to act like I'm "passionate" about it? How about I just do what you pay me for?

    Thankfully I find this BS much less overseas, where people may be friendly for years without the other ever once asking "So, what do you do?"

    ps – I'm a hypocrite since I am working towards I business that is related to doing things I like a bit, or at least don't dislike, but I'm willing to move back to "work sucks" work if need be.

  25. WARNING THIS MESSAGE IS FOR THE WEBMASTER : if you are using clickbank then you really need this pluggin its free thank me later

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.