Why You Should Like Your Job Instead of Loving It

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April 19, 2024 at 9:28PM UTC

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s questions like this one that teachers, parents and other adults asked me all the way from preschool to college. Those questions made me believe that I was meant to love what I did professionally. Whether I was going to be a firefighter, astronaut or writer, I grew up thinking that work would reflect my passion — so much so that it wouldn’t feel like work at all.

Since entering the professional world, the illusion of loving work hasn’t been shattered but rather lost its shine. It’s not that I don’t like what I do, my coworkers, and my company, and that I don’t appreciate my job. I like my work — but I will never say, regardless of what job I’m in or company that I work for, that I love it.

The Problem of Loving Work

We’re told to love work because loving what we do will make work easy, happier and more enjoyable. Yet what happens when work inevitably fails us? When we’re disappointed about a project; when we’re not meshing with a colleague; when it’s not what we thought it would be; when we’re laid off; when we’re burnt out. 

We can love work, but work doesn’t love us back in the same way; we give more to work than work can ever give us, even if we enjoy what we’re doing. 

Sarah Jaffe, author of “Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone,” believes that a “labor of love” — the ideology that work is more than just a way to make a living — is “a scam, a con, a false promise bound to be broken.”

How does that bond get broken? Sometimes, in a deathly way. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in multiple industries — especially service industries — have seen an increase in death and abuse. “10 months of the pandemic, workers in 10 different industries in California experienced more than a 30 percent increase in deaths,” Jaffe notes in THe Ezra Klein Podcast Episode “The Case Against Loving Your Job.” “30 percent. For restaurant and food service workers, it was over 40 percent. For warehouse workers, it was nearly 60 percent.”

It’s not just deaths; abuse also became rampant, both physical and emotional, during the pandemic. For some industries, that abuse is external, from customers; “According to one survey, 62 percent of restaurant workers said they’ve received abusive treatment from customers,” Rogé Karma of “The Ezra Klien Show” said in conversation with Jaffe. Internally, harassment during the pandemic increased, too. 25 percent of respondents from a Project Include Report reported an increase in gender-based harassment in the virtual working world. 

Yet the case to not love work isn’t just about the horrible extremes — the death and harassment that can sometimes come with the job. Work can negatively affect us with overwork, microaggressions, blurred boundaries, toxic coworkers and bosses. There are so many ways that work can let us down. 

Work doesn’t fundamentally change because we love it. Loving work might mean we don’t care as much about working a little more or doing that somewhat tedious task. But loving work won’t change a toxic culture or a system that’s meant to overwork its employees.

For many, loving what you do for work isn’t even possible in the first place. We might have to take the first job we can find instead of deciding and cultivating our passion because we need the money to take care of our family right now. We might not be able to afford the degree that can land us our dream role, or even work in a field we really enjoy because it doesn’t pay as well as others.

The idea of loving work is a way to soften the blow of how much work wants from us and takes from us. Liking work lets us find enjoyment without dedicating our lives to our careers.

The Case for Liking Work

If we shouldn’t love work, how can we just “like” it? For me, it’s a matter of identity and boundaries. Liking work means I care about my job, but I don’t use it to define myself. My work is a part of who I am rather than most or all of who I am. I have other passions, hobbies, things I like to do. 

In her article “Loving Your Job is a Capitalist Trap,” Erin A. Cech argues that we shouldn’t ask ourselves, ‘“How can I change my career path to do work that I love?’ but rather ‘How can I wrangle my work to leave me with more time and energy for the things and people that bring me joy?”’

When we love work, we also center it as the most important thing in our lives. When we like it, it is just one important thing of many important things that matter to us. We get the time and energy to do the other things that matter — that make us whole.

I’m able to like work, not love it, because I’m allowed to be myself and invest in things that give me joy outside of work. It’s not just some mindset shift that I’ve convinced myself to believe. I can like work because I work for a company that values work-life balance, clear boundaries and believes in me both as an employee and an individual person.

Liking work requires companies to prioritize workers as whole people, not just people who work for outputs. 

It's time to let us detach ourselves from the idea that we must love work — and instead, let us “like” work and love our non-work lives fully.

Do you like or love your job (or none of the above)? Why? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.

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