Follow Your Passion into Oncoming Traffic

I am sour.

Expanding on yesterday’s post on the pressure we feel to have careers that realize the “follow your passion” and “do what you love” ideals, here’s Miya Tokumitsu:

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, [“do what you love”] distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

As a young student actor, I can remember a time when I’d look at all the other people in the world who did something other than theatre, and wonder how they could go on. How could they find any joy in their lives if they weren’t doing what I was doing? What do you do, fix things? Drive something? Cook or clean or sit behind a desk with spreadsheets? How do you even contain your despair? How could you have gone so wrong?

I was a fucking imbecile.

I didn’t stay that way. But I sure recognize this. Here Tokumitsu riffs off of Steve Jobs’ (peace be upon him) commencement speech to Stanford, which was centered on the do-what-you-love theme:

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?

It’s not even just that blue collar laborers are invisible to us, but so are all the folks who perform all the crucial intellectual and administrative and even creative jobs that we all require, but aren’t ‘disrupting’ and ‘innovating’ while living a millionaire’s version of La Vie Bohem.

So not only is follow your passion-as-career bad advice, not only is “do what you love” a cruel expectation, but it erases a blessing some of us are already mind-bogglingly lucky to have: that we are able to do at all. As I noted from a Patrick Rothfuss quote yesterday, if you have a hobby you love and you have the economic freedom to pursue it in even the smallest degree, whether or not it’s your job, you are wildly fortunate.

Here’s Barbara Ehrenreich on those who don’t have that freedom. Which is many, many, many people:

What I discovered is that in many ways, these [low-wage] jobs are a trap: They pay so little that you cannot accumulate even a couple of hundred dollars to help you make the transition to a better-paying job. They often give you no control over your work schedule, making it impossible to arrange for child care or take a second job. … in some ways, it is actually more expensive to be poor than not poor. If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.

But you know, if they’d only do what they loved and followed their passion. I wonder how much longer we can all keep pretending our culture makes any sense.

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