Just do it. This cliché admonishes. Don’t lose the spark, it says, as we go about our day. Don’t have a life without value. Work hard – hardly working. (A favorite of mine) When we buy an iPhone, enter a mall, join our friends for dinner, graduate or enter the workforce – they surround us. Carpe diem. Life is a book, and if you don’t step outside your door, you only read one page, says Pinterest. Okay, okay. These are kitschy epithets designed to fuel passion but is that the only task they accomplish?
Are they actually helping initiate a culture of self-interested egoists rather than true creatives? This is a question asked by Tokumitsu, a journalist from Jacobin magazine who espouses the ideals of labor in the creative just-do-it backbone but not at the expense of what she terms “social necessary work.” The nice thing about this question is that she reveals the hypocritical nature of the mantra Generation Y seems to be living these days – Do What You Love. You can read the original article here, which appeared on Slate.com after its first publishing: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/
On the surface, DWYL is attractive. After all, the research I am doing in the middle of the Monsoon-influenced tropics is unstable and unpredictable. This makes it exciting. It is hardly what Tokumitsu might term “unlovable” work. It might be hard at times adjusting, but it is far from what might be called hated.
The crux of the DWYL mantra lies in the concept that one should strive for a career that is based on you and ‘your hopes’, ‘your passion,’ and ‘your dreams.’ In theory, this appears to be a good motivation for work but what about the fact that not everyone is in a position to do so? I am an advocate for working in a desired field, but I am not a proponent of doing work whose only measurable result is the satisfaction of the person working. In this dictum, the consequence may not be actualized monetarily (Although this factor should not be the figurative bottom line, it should still be in the running. ) or qualified by results of others’ review of the labor. It is just measured by the passion of the worker. As Steve Jobs is quoted as saying in the article:
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
So what is the problem with this? Well for one, if I believe what I do is ‘great work,’ then is it so? Someone should have a problem with this. There is no accountability. There may not even be actual work, from a labor perspective. As the writer suggests of DWYL versus the old motivation for labor – to work hard- there is a distinction now between internal and external factors. “By contrast, the 21st-century Jobsian view asks us to turn inward. It absolves us of any obligation to, or acknowledgment of, the wider world.” she states. So, does one work for personal reasons or to produce something, make something, or create something?
“One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.”
While Tokumitsu is saying something quite fascinating here, I have observed that there are quite a few differentials outside of this dichotomy. Is there not a place in between these two ‘opposing classes’? Surely, there is an element of the unknown for people who have passion for chosen careers but are unable to simply place it in a ‘lovable’ category since it is still plain, hard work. ‘Lovable’ implies artist, actress, designer – or maybe ‘prestigious’ as in doctor, lawyer, even banker (hardly ‘lovable’ really). As Jacobin asks: what about the worker who must work simply to put in hours, bring home income, and/or support a family – the domestic servant, restaurant waiter, strawberry picker, janitor? Have we left out the importance of labor in labor itself? Has this been replaced with the meaning of DWYL passion? Then there is the profession of the unlovable but “socially necessary” work that Tokomitsu tackles, which I think definitively exists in the engineer, the social worker, the scientist, the paralegal, and the nurse. These are well-chosen, educated positions which are needed for a humane society but are not celebrated; not necessarily even part of dream careers. Loved and unloved jobs are not created equal.
Think of the construction worker who enjoys his work building but puts in six to seven days of hard labor erecting and creating – some days he truly enjoys the work and other days he wonders why he signed up for such an experience. It’s exhausting. It is certainly not a prestigious line of work in the privileged eyes of elite society, but it is intellectual work at the management level, and it confronts issues of design, spatial limitations, and balances the work of artisans and producers alike to create something. Why is it not taken seriously by lawyers, doctors, and others in the so-called prestigious lines of work? Perhaps it isn’t because it does not easily fall into the categories of the aforementioned ‘lovable’ and ‘un-lovable.’ Do What You Love is more about doing something for oneself than actually producing something.
So perhaps there are more questions. Granted, it raises some interesting ones already. Why is it that diplomats, astronauts and Emergency room M.D.s are more valued than the bartender at the local hotel? Why are we re-creating the social classes the 21st century is meant to be eliding in the modern world? Why does labor value passion over labor itself? Does passionate work even mean there is meaning in the work? Or do we just look good doing it?
Of course there is the obvious answer to the first question. High powered attorneys are glamorous. Models are hot. However, we may be ignoring a problem that the DWYL cliché creates: where is the value of actualized labor? If we can answer this, we may be able to consider the others even more carefully.
Mozambique is a country of humble existence – I see people carrying water in basins balanced on their temples and bathing in open water on a daily basis. Women scrub floors, men build things with hammer and nail. These skills should be valued too – and it is easy to forget when we live in a comfortable existence of consumer products and technology that screams to just do it now. Even when I was at home in the States, I did not have to look farther than my own backyard to see that this mantra breeds egoism that deteriorates relationships (Many friends have lamented the spoiled surfers and princesses they ran across by the California coasts). This is not just in isolation on the West Coast, as the Chinese breed of sugar daddy I came across trying to swoon my caucasian expatriate friends in Shanghai ran a-plenty. In Hong Kong, this often materialized in the form of events-addicted socialites whose claim to hard work meant standing in front of a photographer for 60 minutes per day and going to the local swanky bar for complimentary champagne on ‘Models Night.’ While this could be chalked up to character flaws from numerous elements of life, the experience of the average Generation Y-er shows that the pressure to succeed and live in a perpetual state of results based on passion for shoes, gold watches, perfect sunny vacations, and dream jobs entitles. We now live as if to believe we can have it all. Okay, so what? Well actually – it is creating (at least in the good, old USA) overworked Americans with passions for careers in specialties, like Afro-Cuban music or the philosophy of aesthetics without work. The problem? Unemployment. More precisely – one of many problems with this. See here:
While there used to be a sense that work provided for the ‘having it all,’ now the DWYL initiates a belief that work should be more about us than about…well, work. That should at least get us to start thinking.