Bad career advice
I’ve heard my share of bad career advice over the years, but no single piece of advice bothers me as much as the old adage:
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”
While the quote’s origin is contested, its promise is unambiguous — find your dream job, and everything will be smooth sailing until your eventual retirement.
Why do I think this is such bad advice? Here are the top 4 reasons:
- You may not be good enough at what you love
When I was a kid there was nothing I loved more than playing baseball. Every day when I woke up, I’d count the minutes until I could play baseball. My friends and I would play baseball before school, at all three recesses, and for hours after school. During the summer, we’d play all day every day. I went to professional baseball games often, and baseball development camp for several summers.
There was no doubt that I loved baseball, so much so that when my grandparents asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, not surprisingly, I said “I want to play in the majors”. My grandparents were kind enough to conceal their overt laughter, but I could tell that they weren’t hopeful. And why weren’t they hopeful? Because they’d seen me play and, sorry to be blunt 10-year old me, but I wasn’t very good.
This was driven home to me shortly after my 11th birthday when I realized that I was consistently getting fooled by off-speed pitches from third rate pitchers in my home town’s house league. At least I learned my lesson quickly however, which saved me a bunch of time. There were others, like George Clooney, who learned that lesson much later in life:
I remember standing in…and this [minor league pitcher] is throwing us 87-mile hours fastballs or something… and I’m just jacking these balls, and I’m feeling like a king… And the guy’s kind of looking at me like, ‘You’re an idiot, I’m just throwing you meatballs to hit,’ so he throws a curveball at my head, and the sound that it made coming towards my head, and how embarrassingly bad I fell backwards, and how far on the outside of the plate the ball ended up… I remember standing up and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m never going to be a professional baseball player.”
Now you may be thinking, OK, but that’s professional sports. Everyone knows it’s ridiculously improbable to make a living as a professional athlete. My point is that there’s a huge difference between loving what you do and being good at it.
You may love to cook, or review movies, or play video games, or make wine, or garden, or play chess. But making a career in any of these fields demands much more than love. Instead, it demands a healthy dose of talent, and a ton of hard work. Simply loving something is not nearly enough.
2. The job you love may not pay well
No matter how much you love what you’re doing, ultimately (unless you were born into wealth) your job must provide you with enough money to sustain your lifestyle. Depending on your lifestyle, and what you love, that may not be possible.
Let’s say you love pets, but you know you aren’t cut out to be a Veterinarian. Instead you decide you’d like to be a Veterinary Assistant. As it turns out, Veterinary Assistants make pretty close to minimum wage, and minimum wage can make life difficult.
Even if you’re “never working a day in your life”, if you’re not earning enough to survive, your happiness is bound to suffer.
3. Jobs are multi-faceted
The above mentioned advice seems to take a pretty simplistic view of a “job”. Most jobs I know however, are multi-faceted, and while you may love 90% or more of what your job requires, there will likely be aspects of your job that seem like work.
Returning to professional athletes for example, while I’d imagine the vast majority of them love the sports they play, I’d think none of them relish the post-game press conference after they’ve suffered a crushing loss. Or perhaps you’re a doctor who loves working with and treating patients, but you hate charting. Or a teacher who can’t stand marking papers. Or a politician who dislikes fundraising.
Loving 90% of your job is a lofty goal, but even if you get to that point, the other 10% is going to feel like work, and a day filled with that 10% is going to feel like a day of work.
4. The concept of ‘never working a day in your life’ is ridiculous
I know many people who love almost 100% of what their job entails. I’m one of them in fact. That being said, I don’t know a single person who has “never worked a day in their lives”. Why? Because even if you love 100% of your day-to-day responsibilities, there are exceptional circumstances which you may find to be work.
For example, consider these scenarios which can turn even the most loved job into “work”, for at least one day:
- Firing someone, even if it’s entirely warranted
- Business travel on a day that’s important to you (birthday of a child or spouse, while a loved one is ill)
- Dealing with a difficult colleague
- Seeing a significant project you’ve led get cancelled
- Having to communicate the death of a colleague to your co-workers
All jobs become “work” on some days, so if you’re expecting that not to be the case, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Of course, outlining bad career advice isn’t overly helpful on its own. In an upcoming post I’ll dive into how I think people should go about choosing a career.