“Do what you love” is a tricky statement. It’s completely misinterpreted without the first part, “love what you do so you can… do what you love.” The first part alone makes us think that there’s something right in front of our eyes just waiting for us to grab it. It causes frustration and discontent with our current situation, scampering around trying to find what we love. Meanwhile, neglecting our tasks or not doing them well enough to even deserve finding something better.
This concept, the do-what-you-love, kept me dissatisfied in my workplace. I couldn’t fully appreciate what I had because I thought, “I should be” somewhere else.
Not only did I have this feeling of discontent, I was also told to work harder even when I thought I did. That distorted my idea of what the product of working “hard” looked like. I was in a state of despair. I couldn’t be proud of anything I did because it was never enough. I couldn’t tell what was “good work” if my manager always told me I was lacking. This gave me the idea that I just wasn’t good at this and I couldn’t possibly love what I do at this job. But it dawned on me just a few days ago as I was categorizing the binders, that doing hard work isn’t the goal. The goal is to do work I’m proud of, with or without people’s acknowledgement.
That’s now my definition of loving what I do: doing whatever I’m doing well enough to be proud of it. Most of the time, I wasn’t doing work that satisfied me. But I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly I was lacking. The common reasoning is time restraint but in reality I was only giving 70% of myself to each task. It may have been a certain degree of discipline that was hard to obtain when I was trying to please someone who was never pleased. The discipline presented itself a lot more when I was pleasing myself.
Ever done something so simple so well that you were proud of it? I can come up with a few things, they might be super simple but I get a little excited thinking about them. It could be the way I wrote the meeting minutes or the way I filed and sorted the binders, the way I color-coded my diagram or the way I took apart my cubicle to make an opening for the daylight and view.
Some things were effortful, some weren’t. But if anything left an impression on my coworkers, it must be some of these personal moments of pride. If I’m more intentional in having these proud moments, I’m sure I would enjoy a lot more of what I do. I find this pride in simple tasks in my personal life too, when cooking, rearranging furniture, writing, coloring, cleaning, dressing up, speaking.
Hard work isn’t the goal. The goal is having a final product that makes you proud. Sometimes I don’t stop until I’m proud of what I’ve done and that, by default, is a lot of work. Sometimes I’ve got something amazing on my first try.
Being proud of what you do is what it means to love what you do. And you’re usually proud because it manifests high quality. Loving what you do = having an end result you’re proud of = high quality.
There are times when I loved what I did and there are times when I didn’t although the task called for high quality of work. I loved certain papers I wrote, I loved certain projects I’ve done. I love this article right now. And it isn’t a coincidence that when I loved my work, people loved it too. Why I loved these things specifically is because I cared about the process and the product within its limitations. “Limitations” means the task at hand and only the task at hand, not where it’s going, not who it’s for, not the grandiose corporate picture. Within its limitations, the process was meaningful and the product was of quality.
So to interpret “love what you do so you can do what you love” is: be proud of what you’re producing now so you can build a standard quality of work that one day will grant you the opportunity to do what you love. They go hand in hand.