In an opinion pice in the New York Times, professor Firmin DeBrabrander argues that you should not approach work as your passion but as your duty. Looking for passion at work, he says, will make you stressed and is bound to fail anyway.
I think that’s complete nonsense! I know – what a shocker :) But worst of all it’s poorly reasoned nonsense that relies on a string of terrible arguments and deliberate ignorance of the research in the field.
Here are the top 5 fails from DeBrarander’s article and why you should most definitely seek work you’re passionate about.
1: He blames the long US working hours on people’s passion for their jobs
The United States offers a curious paradox: Though the standard of living has risen, and creature comforts are more readily and easily available — and though technological innovations have made it easier to work efficiently — people work more, not less.
Why is this?
One theory is that Americans have come to expect work to be a source of meaning in their lives.
There are no studies showing that people who find work meaningful work more hours than those who don’t.
If you want to actually know why working hours are still on the rise in the US, I think it makes much more sense to look at some of these factors:
- Bad management practices
- Workplace cultural norms
- Economic insecurity caused by a hugely challenged middle class that are one pay check away from financial disaster.
- The high cost of college educations and the huge amount of debt that many young people graduate with – meaning that they absolutely must work or face personal bankruptcy.
Put people with huge financial insecurity in a workplace that expects and demands 60, 70 or 80-hour work weeks, and they most often have no option but to go along and work themselves to death.
2: Being passionate about your work means that you experience constant bliss
Most people are certainly guaranteed to fail in this pursuit [of passion at work]. Even people who love their jobs will report they must do thankless tasks from time to time. Few, if any, experience nonstop bliss, where sheer passion sustains them through long hours on the job.
Notice what DeBrabrander did there? He just redefined being passionate about your work to mean that you experience nonstop bliss and sheer sustained passion.
This is what’s known as a strawman argument, where you exaggerate, misrepresent, or just completely fabricate someone’s position, to make it easier to attack.
Just to be clear: Being passionate about your job does not mean that you experience nonstop bliss. Everyone has bad days at work – and that’s perfectly OK. And of course every job contains a mix of tasks that you enjoy and tasks that suck – and that’s OK too.
3: Young people burn out because they seek passion at work
There is plenty of evidence that our high-octane work culture has serious consequences. It is at least partly responsible for high levels of burnout among millennials.
This is an especially bad argument because studies show that people who find meaning at work experience less stress and burnout.
And while there definitely is an increase of stress, burnout, depression and mental problems among young people, it’s intellectually lazy to just conclude that it’s caused mainly – or even partly – by their search for passion and meaning at work.
Young people are also facing many other pressures, including a global climate disaster that no one is doing much about, while they are of course the ones who will have to live with the consequences of that inaction. Might that be a source of stress for them? No, says DeBrabrande – their real problem is that they expect their jobs to be meaningful.
4: If you seek passion in your work, you will fail
A recent study of priorities among young people found that achieving one’s career passion ranks highest of all… Finding a fulfilling job is almost three times more important than having a family, teenagers in the study reported.
It is daunting to contemplate. Most people are certainly guaranteed to fail in this pursuit.
Got that? If you seek passion at work, you are almost guaranteed to fail. Really? How would he know? Of course, he’s previously redefined passion at work to mean constant bliss and if that’s your goal, of course you will fail.
And just to make it worse, the study he links to in support of his claim is not even about passion at work. The actual finding is that 95% of US teenagers surveyed say that “having a job or career they enjoy” is important to them.
5: Passion means that work is the ONLY source of meaning in your life
We might begin by rejecting the notion that work should consume our lives, define and give meaning to them…
Again, the article dishonestly redefines passion to mean that work consumes your life and gives meaning to it.
In reality, passion for your job simply means that you are passionate about the work you do – not that it’s the only thing are passionate about.
In fact, studies show that people who are passionate about their work are happier and more active outside of work as well.
Why you absolutely should seek work you’re passionate about
This kind of attack on happiness at work is nothing new. Many serious people are coming out of the woodwork to declare that happiness at work is stupid, impossible, naïve, silly, manipulative and/or bad for you. In the video above we cover their 20 most used objections to workplace happiness and why they’re wrong.
DeBrabrander’s analysis is poorly argued and of course also wrong. Everyone should absolutely seek work they’re passionate about. There are many reasons why, but the most important are these:
- It will make you happier at work
- It will make you happier in life
- It will make you more successful at work
- It will protect you from doing harmful work – whereas not trying to find meaning at work makes it more likely that you will end up doing work that exploits or harms others
- Work is where you will spend many of your waking hours – of course you should spend that time doing something you care about
- Work is where you will invest most of your energy, skills and competencies – all of that effort should be invested in the service of a cause you care about
Paradoxically, I actually think DeBrabrander agrees! When he talks about approaching work as duty rather than passion, he bases this on an understanding of duty that comes from stoic philosophy. I have many, many issues with stoic philosophy – not least that it is based on the idea that we are all subjects to a predetermined fate – but it has recently become very fashionable, especially among silicon valley tech bros.
In the NYTimes pice, DrBrabrander recounts The advice of Seneca, one of the most prominent stoics to define duty like this:
Seneca’s advice to Serenus is to focus on doing his duty. He must perform the job he is best disposed and able to perform, as determined by his nature, and the needs of those around him. And he must forget about glory or thrill or personal fulfillment — at least in the near term. If he performs his duty, Seneca explains, fulfillment will come as a matter of course.
Duty, in this definition, is not just about having a “Shut up and do your job” approach. It’s about doing work that you’re good at and which meets the needs of those around you.
BUT THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT MEANINGFUL WORK IS!
If DeBrabrander had been the tiniest bit curious about the research in this field, he would have found that this is precisely how Amy Wrezniewski and others define the “calling” approach to work:
In the “calling” orientation, people are working not for career advancement or for financial gain, but instead for the fulfilment or the meaning that the work itself brings to the individual. People who see their work more as a calling see the work as an end in itself that is deeply fulfilling and regardless of the kind of work they’re doing, they tend to see the work as having a societal benefit.
It’s ultimately about working for something bigger than yourself.
This opinion piece is poorly researched and dishonest – so of course the advice it gives is bad.
Seeking passion and meaning at work is the path to more career happiness and success and less stress and burnout. It’s also one way you can help create a better world, by making sure that all of your professional skill and energy is spent in the service of something that you can clearly see is making the world a better place, rather than in just obtaining a pay check or career advancement.
I have to say, if you make your career choices with no consideration for where your passions lie, I honestly pity you.
- Jobs, careers and callings – why having work you care about makes you happier and more successful
- 5 reasons why you can’t motivate employees with money
- Terrible advice from Mark Cuban: Ignore your passion and just work hard
- The best and clearest company purpose I’ve ever seen
- The meaning of life is happiness… just not your own
Should workplaces measure how happy their employees are? And what are some good and bad ways to do it?
We have written an ebook that you can get completely free to help your organization figure that our. The book covers topics like:
- Why traditional staff surveys don’t deliver the expected benefits
- Some of the most important results from our international survey on staff attitudes towards satisfaction questionnaires
- What workplaces gain from measuring employee happiness
- How to measure workplace happiness more reliably and effectively
- Real-life experiences from a workplace that found a much better approach
Our regular CHO Academy in June sold out very quickly and had a long waiting list so we added an extra one in November. That one is now also sold out, so we’ve added an extra extra Academy in Copenhagen on December 8-11 2019.
If you want a deep dive into the theory and practice of creating happy workplaces then this is the training for you.
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The whole thing takes place on September 23-27 2019 during the International Week Of Happiness At Work – also arranged by our partner network. Check out the website to see all the other activities happening that week around the world.
It got to the point where we couldn’t start a meeting, have lunch in the cafeteria, or even go out for a beer without spending half an hour complaining about him.
We whined about his attitude, his stupidity, his meddling, his spinelessness … hell, even his dress sense came under fire. But then again, he is the only manager who has ever interviewed me wearing a narrow 80s style purple, fake-leather tie.
But did we ever tell him? Nooooooo! While we were bitching and moaning to ourselves, he blithely went on as usual because no one ever complained to him. Which might’ve made sense when you think about it…
Looking back, I’m not sure that complaining to him would have worked – I think he was incorrigible – but one thing is for damn sure: Our moaning about it did not improve things one little bit.
That kind of chronic complaining in the workplace, justified or not, leads to no good. In fact, in can be downright toxic and can help make a department or even a whole company a terrible place to work.
Here’s why constant complaining is so bad:
1: It makes things look worse than they are
When people complain, they focus only on what’s wrong. Things may be mostly fine in the company, but complainers only talk about the problems, annoyances and peeves they perceive.
If things in a company are 80% good and 20% bad and you spend most of your time thinking and talking about the bad 20% – the situation will look a lot worse than it really is.
2: It becomes a habit
The more you complain, the easier it gets. In the end, everything is bad, every situation is a problem, every co-worker is a jerk and nothing is good.
The more you focus on the negative, the harder it gets to switch into a positive mindset.
3: You get what you focus on
According to Wikipedia, Confirmation bias is:
…a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.
In other words, what you already believe influences your perception of everything around you. That’s why constant complaining makes you see everything in a negative light, because your subconscious mind tries to make new observation fit with what you already know.
4: It leads to onedownmanship
A complaining session might go something like this:
The other day, my boss came in 5 minutes before I was leaving and asked me to finish two huge projects for him. I had to stay two hours and missed my football game.
Yeah, well my boss told me to work this weekend AND the next.
Hah, that’s nothing! My boss…
This type of interaction rewards the person with the worst story who can complain the loudest. Not healthy!
5: It makes people despondent
Not only does constant complaining make you see the workplace as worse than it really is, but because you’re constantly hearing stories of how bad things are and how they’re constantly getting worse it also destroys all hope that things can get better.
This of course makes people less likely to take action to improve their situation, because everybody knows it’s doomed to fail anyway.
6: It kills innovation
Because the situations looks so hopeless, people become less creative and innovative. What’s the point of coming up with ideas and implementing them – it’s never going to work anyway.
Also, chronic complainers are the first to shoot down any new idea.
7: It favors negative people
The way to get status among complainers is to be the most negative. To be the one who sees everything in the most negative light.
Any attempt to be positive or cheerful will be shot down and optimists will be accused of being Pollyanna, naive and unrealistic.
8: It promotes bad relationships
People who complain together unite against the world and can create strong internal relationships based on this. But these relationships are based mostly on negative experiences. That’s not healthy.
It also means that you can only continue to be a part of the group if you can continue to complain, miring you even deeper in a complaint mindset.
9: It creates cliques
Being positive, optimistic and appreciative makes you more open towards other people – no matter who they are. It becomes easy to connect to co-workers in other departments, projects or divisions.
Complaining, on the other hand, makes people gather in cliques with their fellow complainers where they can be critical and suspicious of everybody else.
10: Pessimism is bad for you
Research in positive psychology has shown that people who see the world in a positive light have a long list of advantages, including:
- They live longer
- They’re healthier
- They have more friends and better social lives
- They enjoy life more
- They’re more successful at work
We sometimes think that pessimists and complainers have the edge because they see problems sooner but the truth is that optimists not only lead better lives, they’re also more successful because they believe that what they’re doing is going to work.
Constant complaining in the workplace is toxic. It can drain the happiness, motivation, creativity and fun from a whole company. Wherever it’s going on it must be addressed and handled properly.
I’m NOT saying that we should never complain at work – quite the contrary. If you see a problem in your workplace, complain to whoever can do something about it.
What we should avoid at all costs, is constant bitching and moaning, where we’re always complaining about the same things, to the same people, in the same way, day in and day out.
So what can we do about it? Well first of all, each of us can learn to complain constructively. This means learning to complain in a way that leads to the problem being fixed – rather than to more complaining. Here’s my post on how you can How to complain constructively.
Secondly, we can learn to deal with the chronic complainers we meet at work. Unfortunately, our traditional strategies like trying to cheer them up or suggesting solutions for their problems don’t work because complainers aren’t looking for encouragement or solutions. Here’s my post on how to deal with chronic complainers.
Finally, you can train your own ability to be positive. Just like complaining can become a habit, so can being appreciative, optimistic and grateful. You could declare today a positive day, you could take a few minutes at the end of every work day to write down five good experiences from that day or you could praise a co-worker.
Try it and let me know how it goes!
But what do you think? Do you know any chronic complainers at work? What is their impact? How do you complain, when you see a problem?
Please write a comment, I’d really like to know!
Here are some related posts about workplace complaining:
I am back from doing a workshop on happiness at work for the staff at the Cambridge International School in Tashkent. This was our first gig in Uzbekistan and that means that we’ve now worked with clients in 52 countries!!!
Here’s the full list:
Antigua, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Curacao, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Guatemala. Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, USA, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.
I just cannot stop watching videos of the Kyoto Tachibana high school marching band. Their energy is SO contagious.
We’re speaking at some awesome events around the world – join us and learn how to make workplaces happier and more succesful.
We’re also contributing to the first Global Online Happiness At Work Summit in September, which you can attend for free!
The Summer holidays are right around the corner here in the northern hemisphere and I am really excited for it. No matter how much you love your job, you should still look forward to some time off, where you can do something completely different.
But it’s important to do your vacation right. If not, you risk ruining the whole thing by doing emails at the pool or by feeling bad about the work you didn’t do before going on vacation. That’s not doing anyone any favors – not even the workplace – because time off from work is a prerequisite for happiness and productivity.
So here are our 4 best tips for having a happy vacation.
1: Actually take a vacation
I can’t believe I even have to say this, but in many countries people don’t take the vacation time they’re entitled to. One person wrote this comment on my blog:
I’m 34 and haven’t had a real vacation since my childhood vacations with my parents. The only way I manage to take an entire week off at a time (I work in IT) is when I’m able to schedule a week or two of “unemployment” between jobs, and in those periods, spending money on a trip is not wise.
I’m tied to my email/pager even on weekends and holidays and on the scattered “vacation” days I can take. Most Americans only get 2-3 weeks of combined sick and vacation time in any case, and professionals are expected to read email and be available, even on their days “off”.
I wonder how many people are able to have a real vacation these days!
US workers typically get very little vacation time, and often don’t even take all the vacation they do get. The Japanese have a similar problem where many workers don’t take the vacation days they’re entitled because they feel they’re letting down their coworkers.
Take your vacations. And if you work for a company that refuses to understand that human beings need time off from work, quit and go work for a company that actually cares about its people.
2: Get organized before you go
Clear out any outstanding work and your email inbox. This will give you clarity and control of any tasks. This sounds boring but it’s quite satisfying to get your work organized and go on vacation with an empty inbox.
And if you know there are important tasks that you can’t get done before you leave, hand them over to a coworker in plenty of time. Make sure to hand over the task with all necessary information so it’s easy for your coworkers to take over. That also keeps them from having to disturb you on your vacation, so you’re helping both them and yourself.
3: Don’t work on your vacation
Don’t bring the company mobile and don’t read work-related emails. Take a real vacation and let your brain do something completely different.
Instead, spend some time doing new things you’ve wanted to try for a long time but haven’t had time for. Go rollerskating, windsurfing, fishing or whatever strikes your fancy. Can I suggest swing dancing? It’s amazing!
Or maybe just kick off your shoes and go lie in a hammock. Stare out at the water. Have days with no plans and time for reflection.
4: Close your email inbox completely
If you have some vacation time coming up, and if you’re like most people, you will put up an autoreply email just before you leave, saying that you’re gone, when you’ll be back and who to contact if it’s urgent.
I have talked to many people who mention both of these as a source of stress and I’ve just seen too many parents on family vacations handling work emails on their phone/laptop by the pool, when they should’ve been playing with their kids.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative: Close your inbox while you’re away. This may seem like a weird idea but some workplaces are already doing it. Here’s how you can close your inbox completely on your vacation.
I’m taking all of July off and I will be doing exactly that.
For crying out loud: Take your vacation time and make it a good one.
- Every month this company forces one employee on a 2-week vacation.
- The fundamental unfairness of the “out of office” autoreply.
- 5 awesome corporate email policies.