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“Do What You Love” Can Be Terrible Career Advice

do what you love

Most of us are now familiar with Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address to the graduating class of Stanford University.

The first time I heard it I was entertained and inspired. It seemed like he was talking directly to me when he said, “you’ve got to find what you love.” This advice was really thought provoking at the time, as I was then working as a very unfulfilled corporate lawyer.

While in many cases this simple charge of finding what we love is enough to permanently place us on the path of career empowerment, sometimes this advice doesn’t work, and can leave us feeling confused. In fact, in other cases, doing what you love can actually be terrible career advice. Here is why:

Many people can’t equate what they love with a career option.

I knew that law wasn’t right for me, but I didn’t know how to replace it. One day I took out a sheet of white paper and on the top of the paper I wrote a headline “what I love.” Then I proceeded to list as many of my loves as I could think of. A problem shortly materialized – I wasn’t likely to get paid to do a lot of these, let alone make a living to support myself.

Almost my entire list was comprised of hobbies and activities, not career options. I really couldn’t think of anything in the line of work that I loved. I’ve talked with many other people who have experienced a similar thing. When they list their dream job they really struggle because they don’t have a dream job.

Also, passion can dissipate really quickly in the face of massive failure.

This is something that author, and Dilbert creator Scott Adams writes about at length in his entertaining book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. He suggests that passion is one of the most overrated attributes. People can sometimes be passionate about really bad ideas. Business loans (from his experience as a commercial loan officer), are granted far more often on the basis of sound numbers and financial projections, than they are on the passion of the applicant. Also, as any experienced entrepreneur knows – passion can dry up really quickly when the venture goes south (and it is amazing how the inverse is also true – that our passion grows as we start experiencing more success).

So what should a person do who can’t determine a career that they love? 

Allow me to jump back to my white paper story. After I listed all the things that I loved, and realized that it was very unlikely that I would get paid for any of them, I then made another realization. I realized that all the activities that I loved had certain values associated with them, and that these specific values were experienced in different career settings.

For example, I loved activities that associated the values of risk, adventure, relationships, and freedom (sounds like an entrepreneur to me). I also loved activities where I got to use my mind to analyze puzzles and solve problems (these are values that a business consultant experiences all the time).

When I put it all together I concluded that I held certain values higher than others, and if my career path allowed me to experience those values, on a day-to-day basis, then the odds of my fulfillment would be greater. I put it into practice and it worked, and I soon interviewed others who were happy in what they did and they had similar experiences: they got to do what they valued a lot of the time.

This all might be semantics, but if you’ve ever been stumped by the puzzle of “doing what you love” as a career option (as I have), all you need to do is simply look behind what you love and see what values are represented. Then design a career path where you can experience these values often.

About the Author

Ryan Clements is a business consultant, sales trainer, speaker and writer. He consults to companies and entrepreneurs on marketing and sales strategy, and is a frequent speaker and trainer in the areas of sales, marketing, entrepreneurship, productivity, leadership and motivation.  He also writes widely on these subjects and has published a book and given a TEDx talk on career fulfillment, a topic which he speaks often to schools and students about.  For speaking, consulting or training requests please visit his website at