An article titled “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’” written by Gordon Marino was published in NY Times opinion section earlier this month. (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/17/a-life-beyond-do-what-you-love/)
Marino poses the question “Is ‘Do What You Love (DWYL)’ wisdom or malarkey?” He concludes the article with these words, “Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.”
I humbly question Marino’s understanding of DWYL and his article’s premise.
His first contention (credited to a Slate article) is that DWYL ethos is elitist and degrades work that is not done from love. Hmmm! Do all the people who have choices and exercise their choices based on love, without hurting anybody else, ‘elitist’? Does exercising freedoms by some degrade the worth of people who happen to not have those freedoms? If enough people feel and declare that they find fulfillment in doing what they love, shouldn’t we aspire to test it for ourselves? Yes, many of us may never get to that point but that does not make that truth any less true or, at least, a thesis worthy of experimentation.
His next argument is that for kids who belong to economically challenged background, DWYL is “not the idea that comes first to mind; nor should it.” I agree that there is a hierarchy of needs in human life. I understand that self-fulfillment comes after the basic needs (physiological, security, social, ego) are met. But doesn’t the same hierarchy of needs dictate us all, irrespective of our economic backgrounds? Shouldn’t we all aspire to address our highest needs? Yes, we should know and understand that real world expects and needs us to be self-sufficient and productive contributors to the society. Sometimes it means that we have jobs that help us put food on the table and have a roof over our head or spend time taking care of our families. But that does not mean that we ignore our innate sparks and banish the desires that refuse to go away. It definitely does not mean that we consider our aspiration to seek what we love ‘malarkey’.
Let’s look at a common misunderstanding that DWYL is in some way being irresponsible. It is a misconception to believe that when we follow our vocational love, our life suddenly turns into self-aggrandizing egotistical spectacle of selfishness. Irrespective of what we choose to ‘work’ on in our lives, we still have to spend umpteen hours improving our skills, we still have to mend our hearts when we face failures and rejections, we still have to log in the hours where we create and serve and produce. There are no shortcuts in life. We still have to grow up as humans. The single most advantage of doing what we love is that our life is in harmony. We are able to create better with lesser input. Our innate desires are aligned with our natural strengths and talents. We get into the ‘flow’, a state of self-forgetness, more often. And once we achieve that rhythm in life, we truly come alive and are able to contribute to our families, our communities and our societies to our maximum capacities. Wouldn’t you agree that if we choose to not aspire for that harmony, we are doing injustice not just to ourselves but also to the larger world that would be a better place because of our contributions?
Marino proceeds in his article with a question by asking if it is ethical for a doctor to put away his stethoscope and follow his passion of skating (the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, AKA Slomo)? My answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’ Ethics are defined by the culture and the times we live in. I may understand for a doctor to be judged unethical if he shies away from his stethoscope in today’s Syria where the country is in turmoil and its citizens need medical care more than ever but there is nothing wrong with a self-sufficient man in California to live a life that brings him fulfillment and growth (I am even skeptical about judging the Syrian doctor).
Marino’s concluding assertion is that respected figures like ‘Nelson Mandelas and Martin Luther Kings did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists.’ He continues to say ‘that they did what they had to do.’ This is the only time where I find myself in agreement with Marino. We should all do what we have to do. But what we have to do should be decided by our own hearts. Sometimes our hearts tell us that we have to fight the injustice and free a nation or a race. And sometimes, we have to follow our heart’s desire and do what we love to do. Why? It’s because in both the cases if we don’t do it, we can’t go to sleep in peace, which to me, is the only sign of success. Mandela and MLK and all the other respected leaders in this world did not do what they did because somebody had told them that that is what they ‘should’ do. They led because they listened to their inside voice that would not leave them alone if they did not follow their strongest desire. Yes, human desire does not always lead to selfish degeneracy. It, more often than not, is the driver of all that is sustainable, valuable and admirable in this world. I believe in the innate goodness of human heart and feel that our desires, when originated from the centered and still place within ourselves, are nothing to be scared of. They are sacred and pure and are the only vehicle with which our souls speak to us. They will always lead us to our own unique north stars. The path to our north stars can be complex and meandering with lots of false turns in it, but it serves nobody if we close our eyes to it. So to me, these desires, that show up as glimmers of what we love, are the best arbiters of what we should do with our time on this earth. Any other guidelines, coming from any external sources, can get lost in translation and may unwittingly mislead us.
I hope this thought by Howard Thurman resonates with you as much as it does with me – “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”