On a Monday morning, as I sat in the Grab car that is weaving through Saigon’s nutty morning traffic going a new job I love, a thought came to me, “Doing What You Love is a Luxury.” I was immediately filled with gratitude as I bask in this very luxury that I couldn’t afford just a few years ago.
The Luxury to Disregard Pay
A decade after I began that expensive graduate degree, I’m finally putting it to good use toward sustainable development here in Vietnam. The catch is that it took a decade to pay off said degree and to build a certain level of financial freedom to afford this job. My new role is a solid 85% pay cut from the previous gig, counting beans for a tech giant. Granted, it’s a different country, market, and industry, but the reality remains that taking a job solely for the work and not the pay is pure luxury.
Yet, there are plenty of altruistic souls who take jobs they love while carrying a heavy financial burden from student loans or family support obligations. If you fit into this category, I have the utmost respect. The financial stress that accompanies this decision negates any luxury and renders it a pure sacrifice.
The Luxury of Opportunity
Even if we are willing to take whatever pay to pursue our passion, the supply and demand of skills and opportunities play an essential part. To be in the right place, at the right time, with the right profile for that perfect opportunity is a luxury that many do not encounter. Often, we take jobs that are less than ideal while we wait for that optimal fit.
In hindsight, my bean-counting job prepared me in many unexpected ways to be good at my current role. Perhaps my former frustrated self would have enjoyed the journey more had I known what I deemed to be corporate nonsense could actually help me to navigate the non-profit realm. A friend once told me to take what I can out of every job, and when the perfect opportunity arrives, then I’ll be more than ready. She was right.
The old adage that success doesn’t happen on a straight line remains applicable. Forgo the unpaid internship or low-pay entry-level gig if you cannot afford it, and build transferable skills elsewhere. I used to get frustrated by speakers who share their career paths as some haphazard path that I simply could not replicate. Now I see the value in that seemingly random route. Prepare to seize every opportunity and let the dots connect, as they always do.
The Luxury of Time
Before our dots connect to that ideal profession, doing exactly what we love, we need to endure the grind. Some stages of life require us to work in a soul-sucking job and then attempt to pursue what we love with what little energy and time that remains. Time is limited and precious, and to do what we love outside of work requires the luxury of time.
In my corporate years, I spent my Saturdays taking French classes. This activity gets me away from the computer and allows interaction with a different group of people. I was able to cultivate this interest because I didn’t have children to take to Saturday activities. I could spend Sunday afternoon in cafés to write that occasional blog post because I didn’t have aging parents to care for.
The popular opinion that tells us to build a side hustle doing what you love either negates the other popular advice to prioritize sleep, or believes people do not have multifaceted lives. A well-rounded life requires time for family, friends, career, health, fitness, and sleep. We all only have 24 hours a day. What gives?
The Luxury of Choice
To have this very discussion is a luxury in and of itself. My immigrant parents most certainly did not do what they love to put food on the table for us. I see doing what we love as the apex of that Maslow’s needs triangle. Basic elements for survival must be taken care of before we can venture into this discussion of how to do what we love.
Living in developing countries has given me this perspective time and again. I have chosen to take my current job at a hefty pay cut. But for my Vietnamese colleagues, this is merely the current market rate. Even within the U.S., if you can make a decision to take a job in a different city because the pay is better, or because it’s an ideal job, then that is the luxury of choice that many in the world do not possess.
Our ability to choose is determined by so many factors beyond control; where we were born, what passports we hold, what education we received, what opportunities are available, and so forth. The world is not a fair place, and freedom of choice is one exceptional luxury.
Think Twice Before Giving the Advice to “Do What You Love”
I try to pinpoint the first time I heard the advice, “Do What You Love,” because it certainly was not the theme in my Taiwanese household. The WorkLife with Adam Grant podcast on The Perils of Following Your Career Passion began with a series of commencement speeches that all center around this theme. Perhaps this is all part of that elusive American Dream, along with a house, a car, and 2.5 kids?
The next time, before we tell another confused college kid to “just do what you love,” we should instead preface the advice with, “know what you love to do, but do what challenges you every step of the way until you get there.” After all, going after what you love is a luxury not immediately attainable by many, and can lead to mounts of frustration and disappointment.