In the flurry of Steve Jobs related items that were thrown at you last week, you most likely saw quotes from his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. This quote, in particular, appeared on my Facebook feed no fewer than ten times:
You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
(Full text of the commencement speech here)
I understand why people find this inspiring or profound. But this is absolutely terrible advice from a practical standpoint.
Most of us are never going to get paid to do what we love. Work is something we do to support ourselves. Ideally, we don't hate it. That's the best most of us will ever do with our employment – we can consider ourselves fortunate if we don't actively loathe it. But love it? Steve Jobs got paid to do what he apparently loved, and good on him. He is not like most of us, though. He had a lot of talent and he happened to love something that was beyond lucrative.
I am biased here, not only because I am a negative bastard in general but also because I deal with so many people in the demographic Jobs was addressing in this speech. Many undergraduates are far too practical, choosing career paths that neither make them happy nor suit their talents simply because they have been promised that it will make them rich. An equal number of them, however, could stand to be more practical. The number of people who plan to make a living in creative fields (writing in particular) or whatever is the latest fad career portrayed on popular TV shows vastly exceeds the number who can conceivably do so. And let's face it – unlike Steve Jobs, most of us simply aren't good enough at the things we "love" to make a living off of them.
The kind of advice Jobs is giving is very common; we're all supposed to encourage people in this way. Is that a good idea? Looking back on my life, I don't wish I had followed my dreams or any of that crap; I wish I had not chosen a profession I like in which there are no jobs and at which I am not good. Let's face it, most of us have pretty impractical dreams. They're certainly not practical as careers – the kind that pay the bills – for many people. Unless you're fortunate enough to really, really Love devising consumer goods for which people will pay a ton of money, it might not hurt to think about a career path in slightly more practical terms.