“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class. Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and co-sign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can bestow DWYL as career advice upon those covetous of her success.
If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.
Yeah, my inner life today is no richer than it was when I worked at Steak ‘n Shake.
I don’t think we should measure the value of a person’s professional life by whether they have esteemed or lucrative work. The best formulation of professional value I’ve come across is from Tim O’Reilly: “Do things that need doing.”
Stocking shelves? Needs doing. Serving food? Needs doing. Collecting garbage? Needs doing. Editing wikipedia pages? Needs doing. Figuring out how to maximize fees on checking accounts? Doesn’t need doing. Engaging trolls on the Internet? Doesn’t need doing. Volunteering at animal shelters? Needs doing.
Ultimately, for me at least, the measure of work’s value is not expressed best by money or love. The question is whether something that needs to be done is getting done.
Poverty anywhere is poverty everywhere.*
Why is that? Why are other people’s problems my problems? Are we all together in this? How can we be together in this if I don’t know who they are, why are we here? If I can’t feel them as I can feel my body. Do my toenails know about my hair? Do my fingers know about my heart?
Somewhere I read: I often wonder if life is easier for other people or if they are better at faking it.
I get to the outskirts of the city and I see all those buildings, and it’s not the big sprawling of tiny houses that bothers me, it’s the big, huge buildings and the tiny flickering lights that make me think of ants, and working bees, and insignificant little lives, with anonymous problems. I just can’t tell if I’m scared because I know that deep down, I’m just one more working bee, in the middle of its working life. Dead and forgotten already, in the grand scheme of things. Maybe I’m scared for all those little bee people I imagine, living in horrible places that I’ll never see, but that I can sort of imagine, because they are in a way, just like mine. With that weird kitchen smell that kitchens other than your own have. With their children and their laundry and their skid marks in the WC. With their fights and flat screens and unpaid bills and salary rises and sudden unemployment. Why do I care about them? Why won’t they ever know that I am here, trying to imagine who they are?
* Sounds revolutionary? James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, said that in 2002.