DWYL (Do what late stage capitalism tells you that you should love)

I recently heard Miya Tokumitsu being interviewed about Steve Jobs' famous “Do what you love” commencement address.  She has written eloquently about the late-capitalist wish fulfillment implied in this motto; that unlovable work should not only not happen to 'people like us' but shouldn't be seen or thought about at all. 

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?

A further critique of "Do What You Love":  As a therapist I work with people in their late twenties who feel that they are somehow psychologically unwell because they have not discovered their life's great passion. They have been told by the culture that they should be fully satisfied and thoroughly successful in their social, romantic and work life, drivers of change at every moment.  They believe that life can be an unending climb to success and that if they are 'right' all that climbing will feel GREAT!  To be anything less than full of love for life (including work) at every moment is a mark of some fundamental wrongness in them. They are discouraged and bewildered by their lack of passion though they have experienced relatively little of life. They live in terror of being soulless drones in marriage and in work and carry the secret shame of not feeling suitably passionate to escape this fate.  (Or not passionate about the right things; the internet is built to be terrifically engaging but our culture doesn't view hours spent intensely focused on porn or playing World of Warcraft as DWYL). 

"Class, take chances, get messy, make mistakes."

"Class, take chances, get messy, make mistakes."

The fact is that a person's twenties are early to discover lifelong passion.  I vastly prefer Ms. Frizzle's advice to Steve Jobs'.  (There may need to be a future blog post about the psychological phenomenon of frizzophilia; sexual desire for Ms. Frizzle.)

I tell clients to focus on trying things out, making mistakes, and picking themselves up when it doesn't work out in love and in work.  Perhaps they will stumble upon something that grabs them.

But passion is not guaranteed.

Some people are, by temperament, not very passionate.  This is another thing that the DWYL approach elides.  It seems to me that love is portrayed in the DWYL approach as a near-rapturous state, fully energized, intensely focused that does not mellow with time.  This betrays a misunderstanding about love and about the variety of human temperament.  A passionate temperament is a mixed blessing; passion can lead people to wonderful accomplishments but can also lead them to reckless self-regard and cruelty.  Those who are less passionate can often be steadier companions and kinder partners.  Shame about being imperfectly passionate and fear of being locked into a life without total fulfillment keeps these twenty somethings from moving in any direction. 

In a happily directionless part of my twenties, I read George Eliot's Middlemarch, which ends with this very un-Jobs-like valedictory for its heroine...

The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.

Thoroughly contrary to the spirit of the age. Precisely what we need.