Is it realistic to tell people to “do what you love”? Or is it simply an elitist mantra. The passing of my grand-mother gave me the answer.
This week my grandmother, Angela Di Gioia, passed away at the wonderful age of 97 and a half. Don’t be sad for me, nor her, I believe neither one of us was sad about this event. My grandmother lived a long and amazing life and by the time of her passing she was ready to move on. I have no regrets when it comes to her passing; I said all that I wanted to say, conveyed all the love and respect I meant to, I have learned and will pass on what I valued the most and I believe she was able to do the same with me.
The passing of my grandmother lead me back to thinking about an article I read several months ago regarding the mantra “Do what you love”. The author viewed this as a myth, a vision of possibility available only to the elite; but is it? I don’t think so, as long as you can expand your definition of “do.”
Possibly an elitist myth
I am totally guilty of encouraging people to follow their dreams and do what they love. In America especially, such a large portion of our lives is spent in the work place that it seems a waste to stick with a job that makes you miserable, or isn’t fulfilling in some way. However, one has to be pragmatic, you can’t just up and change your job without any consideration for your financial needs or responsibilities. So the statement is amended to: “If you are lucky enough to have the freedom to do so, do what you love.”
I find the elitist perspective is to assume that only professions that are liberal or creative or extremely lucrative provide true fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. I was very fulfilled as a waitress, when I worked 50 hours or so per week post college; I did my job well, I proved to myself that I was able to earn my keep quite legitimately, and I thrived on the positive interactions I could get. It is not something that I could derive fulfillment from for years, but at the time it was the right place for me. A job or activity is not fulfilling because of what it is, or how much it pays, what defines fulfillment is your own set of values and needs.
A universal possibility:
So let’s say, however, that one is in the position of disliking their job, but being unable to leave for financial reason. I believe the “do what you love” mantra can and should be expanded to other areas of life. Is it possible to be very satisfied in all areas of life? Sure it is? Is it common? Nope… So when there is nothing you can easily do about one area of your life, the idea would be to build fulfillment and joy in other areas. With regards to work, it might mean that your job is just a job, something you grind away at and do because you have to, but outside of work you create a life that is rich with value and meaning and fulfillment. I believe that is universally attainable.
What does this have to do with my grandmother?
My grand-mother grew up in a small town in southern Italy and had a 5th grade education, because girls were expected to help at home, not expand their minds. She was sent to marry a man she hardly knew and had to give up the man she loved, because at that time in her life arranged marriages still occurred, and she was a dutiful daughter and did what she was told. She was plucked from her home town in southern Italy and sent off the Paris, without any knowledge of French. She entered a family where she was expected by her mother-in-law to be a servant wife, and was lucky enough to have a husband who just wanted her to be a contributing wife and mother. He treated her with respect and kindness and eventually they developed mutual care and maybe even love. She lived through two world wars, one depression, breast cancer and a double mastectomy when it was a risky procedure and the death of her husband over 15 years ago.
She was a simple woman with simple pleasures, but she found a way to derive satisfaction from the things she did. If we were able to ask her if she lived well, and whether or not she did what she loved I think she would give two replies: 1) “It never occurred to me to consider either, I just did what I needed to do and made do with what I was given.” If pressed further on the issue, however, I believe she would say this: “Yes, I guess so, I figured out how to find pleasure and derive satisfaction from the things and the life I had.” Do what you love would have had another meaning for her, but I think it still could have stood as a mantra – the “tweak” the adjustment in her version would have been “find what you love in what you do and what you have.”
In honor or my grand-mother: What is one way in which you could derive more fulfillment from your life as it stands today? It may be through a perspective shift, or through a shift in your actual focus. Please share.
Mine: will be to make a concerted effort to get 30 minutes more sleep, more sleep means more patience, which means more joy in my daily interactions.