Why I don’t love the “do what you love!” mantra

The “do what you love!” philosophy seems to be the work mantra of our time. But there’s a growing resistance to it’s message. Perhaps a growing realization that it’s not as easy or even as desirable as it sounds. And today, as I contemplate the ancient text The Bhagavad Gita I feel called to write about why I don’t buy into this message.

In yoga, “doing what you love” isn’t always the best way to practice. Doing what you love in a yoga practice most likely means you practice similar poses, in similar ways, over and over and over again. This can actually be detrimental to your body. It can reinforce unhealthy habits and perhaps more importantly it can hinder growth and development. If you want to walk the path of spiritual evolution change is most certainly a good thing. As in yoga, so in life. Thus it seems to me that sometimes doing all of what you love and none of what you don’t may not be the best way to grow, develop and contribute.

Beyond a person’s own individual development I also worry that the “DWYL” movement leads to a devaluation of the work of the vast majority of people on this earth. Most people do not do jobs that make them want to stand on rooftops and shout “I LOVE what I do!”. These people do jobs that enable our society to function as we, collectively, have agreed we wish it to function. What if everyone stopped collecting the garbage, clearing the snow, processing the speeding tickets, practicing the law or the medicine? While I’m sure that there are people in all of those fields of work that do love what they do, my guess is that many, many more do not. Is their contribution less-than because it’s coming from a place of necessity rather than one of pure and exalted love?

One of the unintended side effects of this way of thinking is that real, hard work is not seen as valuable. It has led, I think, to a marked change in work ethic. We hear over and over and over about my generation’s sense of entitlement. I think a big part of this is that we’ve all been immersed in the do something you love mantra! We all really want to love what we do, and so, when we don’t love it we just don’t do it. I want my daughter to grow up knowing that sometimes work is just work is just work and yet, it has to be done and it has to be done well. I want her to know that doing good work is meaningful, even if we don’t love every moment of it.

And finally, one major flaw in this line of thought that makes it, in my opinion, unsustainable is our innate desire to improve and become more of who we really are. When and how do we know that we love what we’re doing “enough”? Isn’t it always possible that there’s something right around the corner that we’ll love more? It seems that without cultivating a sense of contentment (in yoga terms santosha) alongside this lust for love we’ll never find true happiness beyond the surface level bliss that comes and goes so easily.

And that there may be the crux of the problem. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing something you love (of course!). The problem presents itself when we are continually looking beyond our current circumstances, trying to find the thing that we love the most. The reality is that love is right here, waiting for us to open ourselves up to it. The possibility of loving whatever it is that you’re already doing is there. The possibility is the point; the work to cultivate contentment and love, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, is the yoga. Do what you love, when it’s taken at face value, adds to our suffering rather than removing it.

I think we should turn the DWYL concept on it’s head. Love What You Do is a much more attainable and perhaps valiant goal to strive for. Yes, we need to make changes in our lives when something (like our work) is not serving us in a healthy way, but if the problem is only that you do not have a giant, bliss-filled, happy-party every time you do your work then I posit that the problem is the unconscious patterns of your mind, not your job! Learn to love what you do. Practice contentment. Work for the sake of work itself. Do a good job for the reward of knowing you’ve done a good job. Sometimes do what you love, but sometimes just do what you have to do…and love it!
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.” The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaran

4 thoughts on “Why I don’t love the “do what you love!” mantra

  1. Angelika

    Love your post! It so nicely ties into our yoga sutra discussion from this weekend! However, if we are content how will we ever improve? How will we work on our ahimsa, satya and asteya if we are just content with where we are now? Just a thought 🙂

    1. meaghanburridge Post author

      Good thinking Angelika! We are ahimsa, satya and asteya. I Am That. When we do the work of yoga or spiritual practice we reveal more of these qualities within ourselves and we come to know ourselves as mind/body/heart beings more fully. When the work is being done from an ego-less place it serves our highest purpose. It’s when the ego gets in the way that problems arise. It’s the different between wishing to “Do What You Love!” and seeking the work that fulfills your dharma – the work that is your highest calling. There is a difference and it is subtle (but also not) and it is very difficult to tease one away from the other moment by moment. But a worthwhile endeavor I think!


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