Is ‘Do What You Love’ Just a Myth? Does it Matter?

The ‘do what you love’ lore in entrepreneurship is one of the most-often-misunderstood and most-often repeated mottos. There’s truth in the core idea. The business you build should reflect your strengths and weaknesses, and yes, what you like to do. But life isn’t that simple. heart golden egg

Obviously, when you set out to build a business, just doing what you love isn’t enough. It has to be something people want or need. It has to be something people will pay for. I love skiing and hiking and playing the guitar, but I couldn’t make money on any one of them. People will never pay me to ski or hike or play guitar.

On the other hand, you don’t just pick from a menu of hot new business ideas. You look at a mirror and consider who you are, what you like to do, and what you’re good at, not to mention what resources you have. All of that matters a great deal.

I always liked the advice of a professor at Notre Dame who suggested you should choose your major in college as if you were going to die the day after graduation. The idea is that what you like to study is the best way to choose which path you’re going to take later on. It reflects your nature, and, we hope, what you’re good at.

Last week Penelope Trunk posted worst career advice: do what you love on BNET. I hate that title because it oversimplifies the truth. But she ends up making sense, at least it does if you don’t take her title literally. It’s not really bad advice in the sense it’s normally meant.

First, she redefines ‘doing what you love’ in career terms as doing whatever you love most, something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid. That is not the real point. It’s taking the idea to an extreme:

So you will say, “But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.” But it’s not true. I mean, there are things I enjoy more, and I discover new things I love all the time.

I like where she ends up, though:

Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are.

Which takes us back to the real truth. If you’re going to start your own business, it’s going to be work, there are going to be hard times, and you’re going to have to do a lot of grunt work. It helps if you’re in an activity or business area you like. And you’re doing something related to your strengths and weaknesses.

Most of the time, you like the things you’re better at. And, no matter what you do, it won’t always be fun.

5 thoughts on “Is ‘Do What You Love’ Just a Myth? Does it Matter?

  1. Too many thoughts are evoked after reading this to mention all of them. The highlights as I see them after a 30 year, seven figure, corporate job turned sole entrepreneur:
    • The “widows that I wash” (grunt work) are not nearly as distasteful, as I am the benefactor.
    • What I thought I was starting has morphed twice in three years and will again – and I look forward to it.
    • Bring your thick skin. Rejection while in corporate America tends not to sting as much.
    • Be prepared to uncover, and quickly leverage, things that you are good at that you did not know you had a skill or passion for.
    • Every dollar earned feels different when you start with nothing but a thought and shape it into a real business.

    Thanks Tim.

    Rob

  2. Wow, I wish I’d heard that advice in college. Changed my major 9 times before settling on zoology, and today I work in finance! I’m finally starting my side biz and I really appreciate your thoughts on the road ahead. Along w/Rob’s comments. It’s good to be prepared for what’s ahead, but I know as long as I let “who I am” guide me, I’ll be on the right path. Thanks!

  3. Interesting points to be sure. It only makes sense to pursue something that you are passionate about (anything less will most likely in time bore you and if it bores you, then you will have a difficult time turning around and “selling” it to others). That said, there are always things we have to do that we don’t necessarily “like” to do, but they need to be done, so we do them. Those things should be a means to an end and hopefully, a small percentage of what you wind up doing on a daily business.

  4. Some people are fortunate that in that “what they love to do” IS “who they are.” Thanks, Penelope! But, I must admit, that this sort of person is probably not that common. Most of us love doing lots of things beyond our jobs, but, as Rob says, we could not get paid to do it. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t stop us from trying to integrate the two, if we think we can get away with it. I am on that path right now, trying to integrate what I love, with who I am. Fortunately, they are not too much different, but it still has been a struggle at times. Good post, though.

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