Job and Career Success: Why it's CRUCIAL to Do What You Love

It's not often that I disagree with Alan Sklover. He's the brilliant and dedicated attorney who helps employees level the playing field with employers in his legal practice and through his excellent and comprehensive website, Sklover Working Wisdom.

Today, however, I disagree heartily with him. Or at least with the Wall Street Journal article by Carl McCoy that he posted and supported on his blog.

The gist of the Mr. McCoy's message is that graduates shouldn't be told by commencement speakers to "do what you love." Instead, he offers this:
Maybe there’s another way to encourage new college graduates to think about their careers. Maybe all those commencement speakers would send more young people into the world likelier to be happy in their jobs if the speakers talked about love as a consequence of meaningful work instead of as the motivation for it.
No. He's wrong - and Alan is wrong for supporting Mr. McCoy's thinking.

No matter where you are in your career arc - from new graduate just entering the job market to long-time employee looking at years yet to go before retiring - it is absolutely crucial that you do what you love. After all, you're spending at least a third of your time doing it - year in and year out. And when you're not actually doing it, you may very well be either thinking or talking about it.

Which means that you're spending too great a portion of your life to be doing something that has no meaning to you.

That's not the "meaningful work" that Mr. McCoy cites. Sure, it's great if you can find that. But "doing what you love" isn't about what your job title or career category is. It isn't even about the industry in which you work.

It's about finding a job that allows you to access and utilize your skills to do the things that bring you the most satisfaction. Personal satisfaction.

Doing what you love, as Mr. McCoy as a "starving artist" attests, doesn't necessarily net you a big income. But it does ensure that the vast majority of the time that you sit at your desk or walk a retail floor or work with manufacturing robots, you're always interested in:
  • What you do
  • How you do it
  • What the outcomes are
  • Why what you're doing is important to the person who receives it - whether internal to the organization, out to the supply chain or into a customer's hands and, most important of all
  • How you can do it better.
Job satisfaction comes from engaging yourself. Management won't do it - no matter at what level. That's because no one knows better than you what you're capable of - which, sad to say in most jobs, is far more than is being asked of you.

Doing what you love means taking away the limitations that organizations place on you and fulfilling your definition of yourself.

That's why, when I'm mentoring anyone from graduates to executives and Board members, my message is always the same:
  1. Do what you love in a place that allows you to do it or
  2. Find another place.
The biggest problem that every employee at every level has is the belief that he or she is stuck. That there are no options. That you won't find another job or the ever-popular "better the devil you know" way of thinking.

Free yourself from that thinking and you'll free yourself in your current job. Then, start doing what you love. All the time. When you do, if the organization's management is scared or simply isn't smart and they try to stop you...find someplace else.

Don't waste the most important commodity you have - time - limiting yourself to someone else's definition of you and your capabilities. It's a waste of your life - and you don't have to take it.

Because there really are smart organizations out there that know that having people who do what they love is the only way their enterprise can or will succeed.