If You Love Your Job, You’ll Never Work A Day In Your Life… Or Will You?
How Motivation Affects Our Lives
It’s been said a thousand times before, and it’s something that we all strive for. “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.” The meaning here is simple to grasp: you may be actually working but you’ll be enjoying it so it won’t feel like work. While that’s all fine and dandy, the issue is more complex than this and the idiom leaves out several layers that are worth exploring. This may be the ideal end point for most people, but many still wonder whether doing what they love for work will cause them to get burnt out.
Examining this phrase at face value would make it appear objectively true. If you loved cooking, for example, then spending your work days cooking probably sounds like a dream come true. You’re doing something that you already wanted to do anyway, and to top it all off you’re getting paid for it. Likewise, if you love playing music, the ability to make a career out of that is probably one of the things you want more than anything else.
That was the case for me, as I grew up certain that I would be a famous rockstar. Though it may have started out as a childish dream at first, I took it very seriously as I got older, focusing on music classes in high school and then eventually majoring in Music for college. I geared my entire life towards music, knowing that if anything could help me to “never work a day in my life,” it would be that.
And then, earlier this year, I quit music. Okay, I didn’t quit music, but I stopped pursuing it as a career. I found that I was putting so much pressure on myself to make a career out of the thing I loved so dearly that I had drained all the fun out of it. Thinking about practicing or even writing music was daunting even though the task used to be something I’d do in my free time. It may just be a simple anecdote, but does this one instance disprove the old adage mentioned above?
The short answer is no. In truth, there are a lot of other factors that played into me making that decision. I had just gotten another job as a video game journalist that I really love, the Coronavirus pandemic threw other aspects of my life into turmoil, and I began to prioritize other things above music. I feel like I quit music, rather I just changed direction. Even so, it’s worth trying to figure out what exactly is going on here. If I truly love music, and I do, how could it become a burden like it did?
Two Types of Motivation
The reason I got burnt out of music and why the person that loves to cook might not want to do it as a job is a product of the two types of motivation. According to researchers Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, motivation tends to fall into the categories of Intrinsic Motivation or Extrinsic Motivation. This is one of many concepts the two put together in their Theory of Motivation from 1985, and is a major factor in the aforementioned examples.
The video above by Game Designer’s Toolkit explains the concept brilliantly, and though he links it to video games and their design, it can really be applied to anything. To summarize, Intrinsic Motivation comes from within, and is what happens when people do a task for the sake of doing it. By contrast, Extrinsic Motivation comes from some other source, and is what happens when people do a task in order to receive a reward. Understandably, the former tends to last longer than the latter.
A person that is intrinsically motivated will perform the task at hand for the sole reason that they like to do it. One might play a baseball with friends because it brings them joy, or in other words, they are doing it for the sake of doing it. There doesn’t have to be any kind of monetary or other tangible reward, they are going to do it even without those things because they are intrinsically motivated.
An extrinsically motivated person might perform the same task in hopes of receiving a reward for it. Moving on with the previous example, a professional baseball player is extrinsically motivated as they are playing the game for money. If you told a famous baseball player that he’d be playing the rest of the season without pay, odds are he’d walk out. When the extrinsic reward vanishes, the extrinsic motivation does too.
It’s Not Black And White
Of course, it should be said that none of this is black and white, and the theory itself is more complicated than the version presented here. People are rarely 100% intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to do something, as it is usually a combination of the two. The batter playing with their friends might have dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and is practicing to work towards that, and the professional baseball player probably loves what he’s doing from an intrinsic standpoint as well, but the difference in their motivation is clear.
If You Love Your Job…
This is great, but what does it all mean? Moving back to anecdotes again, I’m now working as a staff writer for a gaming website, a job that I could not be happier with. Video games have always been a huge passion of mine, so how could I pass up the opportunity to make money by writing about them? This was definitely my mindset early on, but I’d be lying if I said that mentality hasn’t faded over time.
I still love what I do, but there are times when I wake up and want to do anything but write. Sometimes I can’t even play video games and enjoy them without thinking about something I’ve written or something that I could write. I have to reiterate, I love what I do, yet I still feel like I’m getting up for work every day.
All of this is to say that the phrase “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” isn’t entirely true, or rather it shouldn’t be taken too literally. It’s very possible to get burnt out on something and there is a certain risk in turning a hobby into a career. That doesn’t mean that hopeful people shouldn’t try, as I’ve never been happier than I am now that I get to think about video games 24/7 and get paid for it, but rather that it might be wise to lower expectations just a bit.
Above all else, it’s important to keep that spark of intrinsic motivation alive no matter what. Don’t let the extrinsic reward become what’s most important about the task, and be sure to continue doing it as a hobby too. In my case, that means playing video games for fun outside of my duties as a writer, but it will take different forms for different people. Do what you love because you love doing it, and if you happen to be getting paid for it, that’s great! Just don’t let that become why you do it.