After writing my post yesterday, in which I argued that passion trumps ability, I came across this article this morning (as well as many discussions about it on social media). The gist of the article is that the “Do what you love” mantra is used to justify exploitative labor conditions and encourage isolation among academics. As I musician and former academic, I know where the authors are coming from – I’ve dealt with venue owners who didn’t want to pay musicians (seeming to think that anything other than soul-crushing work should remain uncompensated) to the grad school ethos of making endless sacrifices for your area of specialization should be its own reward.
To me, however, the problem isn’t trying to do what you love, it’s having immature definitions of love.
There are some fundamental differences between mature and immature love (although it’s not a matter of age – I know folks who found mature love in their teens and septuagenarians still displaying immature love). During the latter half of my graduate studies, I had a disturbing number of relationships – with friends, family members, and romantic partners – come to bitter ends. While each case was prompted by different factors, I feel that the key factor was my own immaturity, coupled with the immature dynamics of the relationship itself. For the record, the whole traumatic experience forced me to mature and paid off greatly – I have a very healthy romantic relationship and have strengthened my relationships with other friends and family.
From all of this, I learned that mature love is realistic (but not cynical) and productive, while immature love is delusional (and/or cynical) and destructive (or at least stagnant). Right now, I’m trying to make a living doing several things I love (another sign of mature love – having multiple loving relationships and professional interests, not one object of obsession). That said, I’m realistic about a lot of things: that my career path very difficult, that I constantly have to get better to set myself apart from intense competition, that I will frequently have to do work that is unenjoyable, etc. However, because this is the career path I truly want, it’s very easy for me to be highly productive (even if it takes a lot longer to develop professionally than I’d like…)
Ironically, I was in academia because I thought that’s what mature love looked like – it was stable, it was something I was good at and enjoyed enough, and it was more prestigious than being a freelance musician. Instead, I got locked into a cycle of delusion, cynicism, and obsessive perfectionism that poisoned numerous relationships. Although my graduate experience finally forced me to mature (for which I’m eternally thankful), once I gained that maturity I realized that academia wasn’t really doing what I loved.
Doing what you love isn’t a sticky-sweet platitude. When done maturely, and in a way that allows you to make a decent living, it can be one of the most difficult and terrifying things you will ever have to do.