How to Do What You Love, the Right Way

Every time I start a new job I take my dad to see my office. He loves seeing where I work, and I love showing him. It’s a thing. As much as I enjoy this unspoken ritual of ours, there’s always a predictable response from my dad that serves as a clear indicator of our large generation gap. At some point he’ll ask a question along the lines of, “So… no one has an office? You just sit out here in the open?” I’ve tried many times to explain the idea of colocation and collaborative work, but I don’t think it’s something that will ever compute for him.

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This isn’t a criticism on how he’s used to doing things (especially if he’s reading this… Hi Dad!). But it shows how our generation’s career goals have changed from “I want the corner office!” to “I just want a space where I’m able to do good work.” We’ve mostly gotten over our obsession with the size and location of our physical workspaces. But we haven’t completely managed to let go of that corner office in our minds: the job title.

Even that’s starting to change, though. This tweet from Jack Dorsey has received over 1,700 retweets so far:


In episode 60 of Back to Work, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss what they call “work as platform.” The basic idea is that we need to stop looking at work as a thing you do for a company. If you view your career like that, your success will always be linked to the success of the company, as well as your ability to survive within that particular culture. You will be at the mercy of people who are concerned about their own careers, not yours.

Instead, if you think about your work as platform, your attention starts to shift to using whatever job you are doing to develop your skills further, so that you’re never at the mercy of one company. Here’s Merlin, from about 31 minutes into that episode of Back to Work (edited down slightly):

If you think just in terms of jobs, you become a little bit short-sighted, because you tend to think in terms of, “What’s my next job?”, or “If I want good jobs in my career, what do I put on my resume?” So in terms of what you can do to make the kinds of things you want, and have the kind of career you like, I think it’s very interesting to think about what you do in terms of having a platform for what you do.

There’s always this thing about “doing what you love.” Well, doing what you love might not ever make you a nickel. And if doing what you love sucks, no one is ever going to see it, like it, and buy it, which is problematic. That’s not a branding problem, that’s a “you suck” problem. So the platform part is thinking about what you do not simply in terms of what your next job is — it’s a way of thinking about how all of the things that you do can and should and do feed into each other.

I think it’s worth giving yourself permission to take a dip into the douche-pool, and think a little bit about what platform thinking might mean to you. Because if you are just thinking about how unhappy you are with your job your horizons are going to become pretty short, and your options are going to be very limited.

So here’s how I want to pull this all together. Just like we’ve moved on from the idea that the big office is a big deal, we have to let go of the idea that a big enough title is equal to a successful career. Much more important is that we figure out what it is that we want to spend our time and attention on — and then work at our craft to make that our platform. Take a realistic look at how much agency you have at work — it may be more than you realize — and try to get the responsibilities that interest you most, just to see where it takes you.

This is also why side projects are so important. They help you use the areas you’re truly interested in to hone your skills by making something real, just for you, because you want to. And as you get really good, you’ll be able to use those skills more in your current role, which will almost certainly make for a more enjoyable job. But it could even turn into a new role at your company — or who knows, maybe even your own startup.

If you go down this path, little by little you’ll discover that you suddenly start loving what you do more and more. Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job and starting a coffee shop. Most often, it means building your own platform, and crafting your own work, one step at a time.

6 Reader Comments

  1. Great article! Made me think about when I brought my grandma into our office here at Udacity. “What if you need quiet for a phone call… and, wait a minute… where are the phones? How do you even make a phone call?”

    Oh grandma… 🙂

  2. To be fair, I’m 32 and feel exactly the same way about open office layouts. Hate them with a passion. I’d be more productive at home.

  3. @Scott, this is heading slightly off-topic, but I’d agree completely about open offices. Somehow, this has reached the point that it’s assumed that this is the ideal work environment. We’ve swung 180 degrees from cubicle farms, when the real ideal is likely somewhere in between, to accommodate different work needs, preferences and personalities. (see for example, the popular book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

  4. The idea of making your life’s work a platform versus a resume-builder resonates especially with me as a soon-to-be college graduate. I have moved from job-to-job quite a bit during my undergraduate career, particularly to build my resume and gain experience in various industries. Recently, I started working at a digital marketing agency that focuses on positive work-life balance and it makes a huge difference in my day-to-day activities. We have an open-seating and open-door policy, where employees get to work wherever makes them feel most comfortable. We have flexibility in our hours that allow us to work from home if necessary. The president of the company asks the employees how they are feeling daily and even makes time to chat with each of us on Friday before heading out for the weekend. Personally, I think I have found my ideal work environment in that it fosters creativity, collaboration, and independence, which I believe are important essentials for a successful digital agency (even if my parents don’t quite agree with the office structure and layout). In regards to your other point about the importance of side projects, I recently discovered that some side projects are often necessary for your work and the advancement of your career. Although everyone in my agency is certified in Google AdWords and Analytics, not everyone knows how to use Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. This can at times be annoying to the Tech Team as they have to take away their time from coding and web development to help the Marketing Team resize an ad. In order to maximize everyone’s time, I think it would be extremely beneficial for me to learn these tools and increase my skillset.

  5. This has been the best thing for me to read lately, I trained as a designer but got more involved in development as time grew on, Now I do front end development which I also have found that I love. Now I am learning about actual programming, and most of what I have learned has been on the job while working for other companies and seeing that there was a need and I could fill it with skills, that I could easily pick up. Doing what you love doesn’t have to mean you have to love what you do, it means learning to love what you are doing at any given time.

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