Having a child changes your perspective on things, as every parent knows.  Recently, I’ve been thinking more about the advice I’ll give once my kid starts talking about what they want to be when they grow up.

A common response I hear whenever this question is posed (by someone of any age), is “Do what you love.”  In a perfect world, that is absolutely the best answer.  It’s the answer I’ll give when my child is young and lives life with no preconceived notions of what’s possible.  

The reality is, as idyllic as it may be, doing what you love isn’t always the prudent decision.  When you’ve got bills to pay and loans to honor, the first thing you need is a paycheck.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but it really shouldn’t.  It’s just the fact of the matter.

A job is a means to an end.  

We work to make a living, which includes providing for our families and taking care of our obligations.  I would define a “Dream Job” as an occupation that you would do even if you didn’t get paid for it.  My guess is that there is a very small subset of the population who would describe their job this way, and those people are the ones who can comfortably say they are “doing what they love.”  

At the opposite end of the spectrum would be the group of people who absolutely hate their jobs.  This is the group you definitely don’t want to be in.  If this does sound like you, you’re number one goal in life should be figuring out how to get out of your job and into something you don’t hate. Life is far too short to spend it in misery.

I suspect most people fall somewhere in the middle, and I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with that.  In fact, while I think “doing what you love” for a living is likely not very realistic for most people, I also think the constant refrain we hear from a lot of sources that we need to do exactly that is misguided.  Maybe more controversially (because I can’t claim to be one of the lucky few who has their dream job), I think the whole concept is probably overrated.

What am I basing my position towards “doing what you love” on?  A few things I’ve noticed, some obvious and some not so obvious.

1.  Most people don’t have the skills to make a living out of their passions or hobbies.  

I would rather be on the golf course every day than driving to the office, so why didn’t I just become a pro golfer?Obviously, it’s not that simple.  That’s an extreme example, but it can be easily applied to other things in life.

2.  If doing what you love is so great, why are so many retirees unhappy and bored?  

I can’t count how many patients I’ve seen that tell me retirement is boring.  Wait, what?  I thought retirement was supposed to be the ultimate goal?  Turns out, when you don’t have a job to go to anymore and can spend all your time on the hobbies that you love, your hobbies lose a little bit of their luster.  

I can’t say why that happens, but I could imagine that maybe it has something to do with the fact that hobbies are an “escape” from real life for a lot of people, and once you don’t have a regular job to go to anymore you’ve suddenly lost something to escape from.

3.  I think people like to be challenged.  

Who wants to go through the rigorous training of most health professions because they think it will be fun?  Nobody I know.  So why do it?  Because it’s a challenge that (supposedly) has a reward (hopefully, a high paying job) at the end.  

I realize that having your dream job or doing what you love for a living doesn’t mean that the job has to be easy.  It can be a challenge.  Still, as alluded to earlier, there is something to be said for being able to “escape” work back to your normal life.  

The Bottom Line

I will always encourage my children to follow their dreams.  I want to be realistic as well, though, and let them know that they aren’t failures if their careers don’t work out just as they imagined.  More important than them getting into something they absolutely love, I want them to get into something that brings them success, that they enjoy most of the time, and that gives them a sense of accomplishment.

It doesn’t always have to be sunshine and roses, and quite honestly that philosophy doesn’t jive with success and accomplishment all of the time anyways.

I remember something a friend of mine told me once, when discussing his hopes for his own children:  “I just hope they pay their own way.”

What he meant was, he doesn’t want to raise people who grow up expecting something from the world.  He wants to raise kids who know what it’s like to work, to build things, to not always get their way, and to feel like they are making contributions to their own lives that matter, even if – and really, especially if – there is some adversity involved in getting there.

I can’t argue with that.

What do you think?  Are my thoughts on “doing what you love” totally off base?  Do you agree with my philosophy?  Let us know in the comments!