"Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life."
I'm not sure who said that. Like all quotes that we don't know the origin of, it's attributed to Confucius -- but that's probably inaccurate. In any case, it's truly one of the worst cliches I've ever come across, and one that causes people no end of grief. It's pretty popular, and quoting it when discussing life choices has been in vogue for a while.
The idea behind it is that if your chosen career path is something you love, working on it and doing it every day won't be hard. It won't even feel like work. You'll wake up every day and want to just do more and more of it.
Supposedly, following this, if you love graphic design and you decide to start your own graphic design business, you'll always be blissfully happy doing something that you enjoy. It makes sense on the surface. It sounds like good advice when someone asks you how to be happy in their career.
It's also total bullshit.
It's bullshit because it doesn't address the fact that no matter what you do, and no matter how much you enjoy doing it, sooner or later you are going to hate it and want to quit. Sooner or later, it's going to get tough, it's going to get rough and you will dread it. Things could go wrong, or you could make some bad choices, or you could just get fucking tired. Maybe there's a good reason, or maybe there's not.
But even if what you do is your absolute calling, and there's nothing in the world that makes you happier, you'll eventually reach a place where you don't want to keep going.
"'Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life.' It sounds like good advice ... It's also total bullshit."
Because work is always going to get hard. And then get better. That's the cycle of everyone's professional careers, even the biggest and baddest billionaires on planet earth. You don't always enjoy your work, and you don't always want to do it. If your work is something you love, you can even wind up completely losing your passion and feeling absolutely zero interest in it.
Doing what you love is going to be hard.
I thought I was always going to love music. Always.
You know what it took to make me hate it? Recording sessions. Late night gigs. Long drives home. People refusing to listen. My inability to get just the right sound on a track. Any one of those things. Or all of them.
I thought I was always going to love entrepreneurship and start-ups. Always.
You know what it took to make me hate it, the first time I ever gave up? Clients not paying me. Products not selling. People criticizing me for no good reason. People criticizing me for a lot of good reasons. People not answering my calls or reading my emails or wanting to have a damn thing to do with my business.
I thought I was always going to love blogging. Always.
You know what it takes to make me hate it, every now and then? Having to write on my days off. Not being able to go to bed because I can't finish a piece. Worrying that I don't have any more writing left in me. Panicking about my work not being good enough and deleting entire chunks of it.
Photo credit: Abigail Keenan
All three of those things are passions of mine. Particularly music. I love them, for the most part. And there are times when I hate them. There are times when things just mount up and all I want to do is quit, and there doesn't seem. to be any point in going on. I've realized that just happens, every now and then. I can't usually see it coming, and I can't usually do anything to stop it coming. It'll happen all the same.
When I start to hate what I do, I'm generally aware that I have a choice. I can either give up, or I can keep on going. It's that simple, really. Option A or option B. The first is easier, but in my experience it just leads to 6 months of living on my mom's couch watching Scrubs and eating pop tarts. The second is a lot harder, and it might lead to abject failure, but it's the only way to get through without hating yourself.
Doing what you love is going to be hard. That's the bad news. Here's the good news: There's always a break, just around the corner. It always gets better. No matter how badly you've started to hate what you do, you can recover your passion for it. Sometimes it takes a sabbatical, or a lifestyle change or just a weekend off. Sometimes you have to really ask yourself what aspects of your project or career or business are contributing negatively to your life and find a way to shut 'em down.
Can you fire that one asshole client? Can you cut down on the time you're in the office? Can you change how you market yourself? Can you hire someone to do the shit that should not be dragging you down as much as it is?
"Doing what you love is going to be hard. ... But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It just means you have to harden up, armor up, lawyer up, suit up and deal with the reality of it."
Doing what you love is going to be hard. Have I said that already? But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It just means you have to harden up, armor up, lawyer up, suit up and deal with the reality of it.
As long as you're aware that you're not avoiding shitty, tough times and hard work, it's probably going to be worth it to do something you love.
At the end of the day, I don't regret starting businesses. Or writing a blog. Or even the years I spent in music. I just don't. But I also take a realistic view of it, and I don't expect to wake up every day feeling like the world is my oyster and I'm walking on sunshine.
But I do wake up with that feeling, every now and then. And so will you.
This post originally appeared on Medium.