loving your work, class warfare, and spoiled millenials

I have been thinking about this post “In the Name of Love” since Janet D. Stemwedel (who I religiously follow in blog and tweet, and so should you – she sees issues very differently and makes me think very hard) retweeted

cv harquail The money quote:”Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they’re doing what they love” http://bit.ly/1dQsXlP

Yup… it makes you smug in your privilege. I also liked:

According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.

This is right up there with “your cancer got worse because you weren’t thinking strongly enough about getting better” as a reality of life failure.

But there are some other ideas in there with which I am not quite so sanguine. The author takes Jobs to task for using the words “you” and “yours” too much. People become self-absorbed. The article goes on to say:

 While “do what you love” sounds harmless and precious, it is ultimately self-focused to the point of narcissism.

Um, no. Should we all go wait tables because its something we don’t love? The world is not black and white or red and green or blue and yellow, no matter how much your passion for black, green or blue says otherwise. Giving up on what you love because someone else is waiting tables or working as an adjunct will not change their situation one bit.

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class. Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and cosign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can self-righteously bestow DWYL as career advice to those covetous of her success.

This may be or may not be true. Confusing “do what you love” with “being a rich selfish jerk” isn’t going to change the world. Becoming (and staying) a scientist is hard work. It may help to have a loving family willing to support one (some of whom may not be 1% or even 10%-ers, just parents who want their children to succeed). But not all people in middle-class careers (slick apartments in Ann Arbor or Iowa City to the contrary) come from that background. There are lots of people from other backgrounds who are doing well/making it in science. There is no question it is harder for someone from a working class background to make it in science, but it is possible.

Telling people that others are suffering (and there is always someone in worse shape then you, if you are reading this), and therefore finding your passion is selfish doesn’t make sense. Finding your passion (and knowing there is going to be hard work in getting there) may give you the power to help others with the same passion. It might make it possible for other people to have careers that they love. To advocate not finding your passion is a bit selfish to that perception of what is wrong in the world. The world is a hard, hard place. If you do something to increase your leverage to change the world, then do so.

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2 thoughts on “loving your work, class warfare, and spoiled millenials

  1. The actual reward function of humans is complicated. We get rewarded by praise of others, respect of our peers. Reward goes far beyond “money”. Anyone working solely for money is a fool. Yes, there is a big difference between getting paid enough to live on and starving. But that does not mean that being paid less to do something one loves rather than something one hates is a bad thing.

    Generally, science is a job that pays well but not great, particularly for the hours and effort worked. Grad students and postdocs get paid a living wage. No, it’s not what they could earn in other occupations, but if it makes you happy, there’s absolutely no reason not to take it. Succeeding in science is hard, and I’ve always believed that anyone who can succeed in science can make more money elsewhere. But if you love it, there’s no reason not to do it. You can make plenty to live on.

    • I actually tend to think of money as a counter – it’s not money. Its books or trips or nice shoes. And in the end, its all cost-benefit. Are those shoes worth doing something I just don’t like?

      I think the article I cited is taking an idea about the difference between socioeconomic classes to an illogical extreme. Yes, some of us have resources others don’t. Yes, when you are poor and near starvation and homeless its hard to think about what you would love to do. But I venture to guess that everyone has dreams, and things they’d like to do. And everyone should have a chance to find or follow those dreams. It is the responsibility of those of us with full stomachs to do what we can to help the others. I do not see how giving up my dream can help someone else.

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