Friday, October 7, 2011

"Love What You Do"

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. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.  — Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

I have extremely mixed feelings about this oft-quoted advice, for reasons I'll list here:

1.)  Steve Jobs, like a lot of men, was able to devote himself to the work he loved because he had a wife who took responsibility for running the house and raising their children.

2.)  Sometimes the work you love doesn't pay well.  If you love to paint pictures, or sing, or dance, or write a blog, or raise the aforementioned children, you are not likely to generate a living wage doing what you love.

3.)  A great deal of work is unlovable.  Bedpans must be changed, toilets must be cleaned, iPods must be assembled.  Nobody loves this work, but it must be done.  Our economy had a spot for one Steve Jobs, but thousands of toilet-cleaners.

4.)  Our society is not fair.  We don't all get the same shot at finding — and getting paid for — work we love.  Steve Jobs had all the advantages that accrue to tall white men.

5.)  Now that the global economy has been wrecked, with no relief in sight, people are less likely than ever to be able to do the work they love.  At this point, it's almost cruel to tell new college grads, probably carrying a huge load of debt, that they shouldn't "settle", when they're lucky to find a job at all.


  1. Dream Killer!
    Why would you say bedpans are "unlovable”? Some people consider it a blessing to serve others with grace and dignity. Don't blame the economy. Steve didn't, not even when he was living paycheck to paycheck. Oh and what on earth are you blogging about, “All the advantages?!" You so obviously have no clue. Read up, do your homework, start philanthropy, get to know someone outside your own socioeconomic status, (I mean really get to know ‘em) then post another blog that is not so myopic.

  2. Anonymous, you don't think tall white men have an advantage? That explains all the short black women I see in positions of wealth and power.

  3. I have to agree with FedUpMom. It's fine to encourage people to find work that they love (though I think few people need to be told that). But it's unrealistic to think that everyone will be able to do that. In fact, it's unrealistic even to think that everyone will be able to find a job at all -- especially in this economy.

    We should be making sure that people who can't find work they love can still lead decent and fulfilling lives -- that they have decent incomes, decent health care, and enough leisure time to spend with their families or doing the unprofitable things they love to do.

  4. There has to be somewhere in's good advice generally , but given late in the day in this case.I mean they are graduating and have already racked up the serfdom level of debt, limiting their options. He should have passed this wisdom on before lol!

    I can't imagine why a drop out was asked to speak at a commencement anyway , even Steve Jobs( who I admire). What did they think he'd say?

  5. I know that "do the work you love" is supposed to be encouraging, but I've always found it off-putting, even as a kid. I just didn't see how it could work, because the things I love to do don't intersect much with the things people get paid to do.

    To me, it just sounded like one more impossible standard that I could never meet. Kind of like, "go out and have a high-status, highly-paid career and also be skinny (HA!) and well-dressed and also raise well-adjusted, high-achieving kids, and also keep a clean uncluttered house." I'm getting the vapors just thinking about it.

  6. "Go out and have a high-status, highly-paid career and also be skinny (HA!) and well-dressed and also raise well-adjusted, high-achieving kids, and also keep a clean uncluttered house."

    I love it! Our culture's values in a nutshell. We say it to everyone, whether they're disabled, sick, or growing up surrounded by drugs and violence. Even when people of color were legally barred from living in low crime neighborhoods or sending their children to decently funded schools, they were still supposed to magically grow these bootstraps.

  7. Another problem with Jobs' remarks: lots of people, before or after college, have no idea what they "love." They may be generally competent, or incompetent, but it's rare to find the kind of focus Jobs exhibited, even though his changed from time to time. Indeed, our schools and colleges, by forcing kids to jump through hoops, don't encourage the dedication of time that Jobs required.

    Indeed, this kind of talk imposes a different kind of pressure. "What do I really love?"

    Sometimes, interests go the other way. BECAUSE I'm "stuck" in a certain kind of work, I start to get interested in it.

    FedUpMom's Mom

  8. Hi, Mom! Thanks for writing in.

    I agree with your point. Another way to say it is that most people are not Steve Jobs. He's giving advice based on his experience, but the truth is that his experience is not most people's.

  9. But FedUp, remember. He wasn't speaking to a general audience. He was speaking to Stanford grads. In 2005. Before the housing bust and banking crash.

    Jobs' Stanford video has gone viral, following his death. If it hasn't gone viral many times before. But again, Jobs did not write this speech for a general audience. What would we expect him to say at a Stanford graduation?

  10. Even the Stanford graduating class of 2005 contained many people who were not Steve Jobs.

  11. They don't have to be. What makes Steve Jobs such an outsize hero is that he is so rare. America loves this kind of fairy tale. Jobs came from working class parents. He didn't graduate college. He was counter culture. He began in a garage, not in an office. He was the antithesis of the button down competition.

    Hi speech was inspirational. That's all. It intrigues because it is so refreshingly different that the standard issue dogma. Even if it's unreachable for many.

  12. I agree with HomeworkBlues; this was (is) an inspirational speech to a particular audience and very much contains his counter-culture message: don't blindly follow what the rest of the world tells you to do.

  13. If you find it inspiring, that's cool. I found it interesting but not particularly inspiring.

    Another issue is that we all respond to the environment we happen to find ourselves in. Steve Jobs was lucky that his environment fit him so well. For instance, he was lucky to be a young man at the height of the California counter-culture. He wasn't all alone in his desire to explore alternatives; he was part of a movement of young people. We don't have quite the same thing today (although maybe the next phase is gearing up.)

    Does Reed College even offer calligraphy classes any more?