In a controversial Atlantic piece, Miya Tokumitsu takes the concept of “do what you love, love what you do” to task for being the “secret handshake of the privileged.” She says that this widely embraced ideal can actually undermine workers by telling them that they shouldn’t work for money, but for the sheer love of it. And that this can cost us all.
Let me tell you straight: It’s wonderful if you love your job, but at some points in your life, yes, you will have some jobs you aren’t crazy about, because you need the money, period. We all gotta live. Obviously, you want more for yourself and so do I. But my fear is that we’ve put all our love in the task basket, instead of where it should be: In our relationships.
Because while it’s all well and good to do things you have a talent for, the thing that could actually make your work even more rewarding and—I’ll say it—enjoyable, isn’t so much the actual work you do but the people you do it with.
I read about this study of emotional culture in a long-term care setting in the Harvard Business Review, in which Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill examined the effect of companionate (non-romantic) love on well-being and performance. They looked at several outcomes (including that of patients and families), but what they also found was that “employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.” Arguably the best marker for this: They showed up for their jobs more often.
As you can imagine, working in a long-term care facility is probably a lot less lighthearted, and creative as, say, an ad agency. The stresses are high in both, but very different. And what a great crucible for studying the effect that fellow employees have on each other. Answer: A lot.
One of the best and longest jobs I had was as an editor at a national magazine. That really was the job that people in publishing would kill for, especially those still answering another editor’s phone. I knew it was a good gig and I loved it.
But while that work was incredibly rewarding on its own, you know what made it better? Not the better assignment. Not the cooler interview. It was walking in every day and seeing my friend Sarah who was usually at her desk when I got in and who invariably turned around to ask how I was. It was going with Olessa for tea in the afternoons, or taking the bus uptown with Ana at the end of the day. No one misses late nights, but those nights weren’t so bad when we hunkered down together and ordered in together. The day my boyfriend moved away, it was those people who dropped their uber-creative projects for a while to support me as my mascara streamed down my face.
I’ve long since left that job. I still do work I love—mainly from home, and I do miss the easy camaraderie of having people around. When I think back to my time there, I don’t miss the work, the tight schedules. I miss the people. The connection I felt with them was more real than any deadline—which let’s face it, were all kind of made up.
There’s so much talk about work-life balance and how much time we should spend on this or that, when to walk, eat, or sleep. But the fact is, everything—everything—would be far easier in our lives if we were able to be that kind and connected to each other. If we were that much more willing to go out of our way to be humans instead of employees, and not just coworkers, but friends. (Jan Bruce, co-founder of meQuilibrium, knows this well: Read how connecting something greater eases stress.)
You may have a sweetheart in your life to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. But that significant other is just ONE of the many people you have the opportunity to give to and love each day. Jobs will come and go (as will partners). You’ll learn new skills and forget others. But what will make you a more resilient, contented person will never come solely from the ego boost of doing a good job. It will come from the people you’ve loved along the way.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Now go hug your cubicle mate.
(Read more about how to shift the tone of your work day.)