Sorry, work is not meant to be fun

“Pursue your passion” is one of the worst pieces of career advice.

Instead, pursue what you’re good at, pursue what makes you money but don’t ruin a personal interest by turning it into a career.

Photo by Maksim Romashkin on

While it is true there are many examples of people who have chased a dream and got rich making it a reality, for every Meryl Streep there are thousands of Hollywood waitresses struggling to make ends meet.

For some there is a middle ground. People who have turned an interest in photography, children or music into a middle class income. However, for many, the moment their passion turned into a means to pay the mortgage they lost control of their vision. I know photographers who spend about 10% of their time taking pictures. The rest of their day they’re marketers, accountants and human resources professionals. The 10% they do spend taking photographs is often bound by unreasonable and uninspiring client demands. Worse yet, they’ve ruined their hobby and some still struggle to pay the bills.

Almost every artist I know who use their skills to pay the bills hates their jobs just as much as the rest of us. Once a passion becomes a business it rusts from exposure to corporate bureaucracy, politics and client demands.

Ever notice how a band’s first album is often groundbreaking but subsequent albums fall flat? It’s because the first album was basically a unbound creative hobby. In contrast, the sophomore album suffered distractions from corporate stakeholders, deadlines and notes. Many bands collapse under the weight.

I’ve been there myself. A fun musical hobby (d)evolved into a business and it just became another source of stress with no real payoff.

I think it’s important to see the value in your work. I think it’s helpful to be generally interested in what you spend your days doing. But ultimately work is work. It’s not meant to be fun. Rather, work is the way to fund the unencumbered pleasures of life.

Work is the way to fund the unencumbered pleasures of life

It’s also important to remember that – like the man in the picture above – there are many jobs that are neither interesting nor fun. They just need to get done. They’re nothing more than a means to an end, but the world needs coal miners, garbage men and underwater welders.

How does a garbage man get satisfaction from his job? By being a great garbage man. By providing for his family. By understanding his contribution to society. But nobody is going to argue that being a garbage man is “fun”. Perhaps it’s a blessing to have such a clear cut interpretation of your role.

Unrealistic expectations of what work is supposed to provide set people up for disappointment. Moreover, those who rely on work for self actualization can end up with shallow, broken lives that only appear successful on the surface.

Unless you’re one of the lucky few, work is just something you have to do to provide for the other parts of your life.

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  1. notabilia

    Of course you are right in what you say here, which will not get you fast-tracked to the top of the line of career counselors, particularly within the scam-based industry of academia.
    Your “great garbagemen” reference reminds me of the study that found that 90% of a sample of college professors rated themselves as “above average.” Whoops!
    As with so many of our interconnected, overlapping social crises, there is nobody to complain to about this. People need a paycheck, and can tell themselves any number of lies to keep on facing work nonsense, or just hate the whole damn thing, and love the paycheck.