The other day my friend came to me for advice. She’s going to start a PhD, but she’s worried she can’t handle it. Thing is, her concern is something I hear only too often, from too many people.
“I just don’t think I’m cut out to be a scientist. You hear all these stories of all these people who are passionate, driven. Who want more than anything to learn, to understand. But me? Sure, I like what I do, but it’s not all I want to do. I’m just not that passionate. I’m interested in too many things. I don’t think I can do this all day, every day, my whole life.”
You hear this all the time. “Do what you love.” “Follow your passions.” This advice sounds great, but is it really?
The activist giving their all at a non-profit, living in poverty. The soldier who wants to serve their country, sacrificing their youth and health for their squad. The college grad at a startup, burning out to build the next Facebook. The artist, slaving away in obscurity. All of these people are following their passion, doing what they love, but are they happy? Most of them are nowhere near. They’re just burning themselves out, while others take advantage of their naivete.
I told my friend: “do what you love” is terrible advice. If you do what you love, you’ll stop loving it some day, and on that day, you’ll have nothing to go on. A better idea is to do something you can tolerate. Something you like. And then, make it lovely.
As much as we like to believe in grand narratives, they aren’t what make us happy. The things that make us happy are smaller, more mundane. Happiness is good quality of life. You want a job that makes you happy? Find something you can tolerate. Then make it great. Live close to work, enjoy a walking commute. Work with happy, friendly people who you enjoy seeing every day. Optimize the little things. At the end of it all, a lifetime of contentment is worth more than constant striving towards an unrealistic passion.