Of Work and Love: In The Ancestral Mating Ground of Stupid Myths

In life, important goals and emotions are the ancestral mating ground for bull shit.

This is why there are so many songs about falling in love, dating, and breaking up, and so few songs about what it is like to wake up next to someone who you have been married to for 30 years.

Everyone gets all excited about the mythical goal of love and relationships. We want to get swept off of our feet in a whirlwind of passion, with the right person, with the right personality, who will love us forever, and we want the feeling to last even though they never put away dishes.

Then, after some trial and error, we figure out that no one knows what “LOVE” – the perfect mythical kind – is supposed to feel like. Even the happily married people are still making it up as they go.

It turns out that the goal is not what we thought it was. It’s way more confusing.

We talk a lot about the excitement of finding It, and the pain of losing It, and not much about the quiet realization that It is a figment of our imagination. The subtle thing that you have to figure out afresh every day is way better.

Same With Work You Love

At the ancestral mating ground of bad ideas, myths are propagated about the perfect career.

A lot of famous people tell a story about how they always did whatever they are famous for. As three-year-olds, they wrote books, acted for their siblings, and planned major corporate takeovers.

And when you find something that is meaningful to you, it does look great in hindsight.

But it is almost impossible to figure out what you love and should do now just by looking backwards.

It annoys the crap out of me when people tell that story because it is so un-helpful to all the people who are trying to get to where they are. It just perpetuates the myth that you always should have known what to do with your life. And it makes everyone feel awful that they don’t already know.

How Work-Love Is Like Relationship-Love

In both cases, we are encouraged to choose from the catalog. “Would you like to be a firefighter or a doctor?” “Would you like to marry a doctor or a stockbroker?” “Would you like to date someone attractive or someone nice?”

And both categories mean nothing. It’s entirely possible to be a doctor volunteer firefighter who is married to a doctor who trades stocks who is both attractive and nice.

It’s just unlikely. And it is unlikely because most people prefer to live lives they actually want. Not lives that look great on paper. They just have to figure out what they want by way of a lot of trial and error, and errors tend to hurt.

Both are supposed to be governed by some mythical, fated emotion – preferably accompanied by the booming voice of God shouting, “Do that and you will be happy forever!” People are supposed to Know.

Except people don’t Know. They very rarely have The Feeling.

They have to do a lot of soul searching and figuring out to recognize the feelings they do have, and then trust the feelings enough to go with them. Even after making a decision, they still have to remake it everyday and renegotiate what that choice means to them.

And people change.

Both also exist in the mysterious In-Between, between you and the other. This means that there is a constant negotiation and balancing act involved. There are no certain answers. How the other people feel and act matters almost as much as what goes on inside you.

In short, they have to love you back. And if they don’t, you have to make some heavy decisions about when to wait until they love you, how to creatively help them love you, and when to let them go.

In practice, that usually means that things almost never turn out the way you expect, but there is a lot more love involved, in different ways, than you realized.

What That Means For Work You Love

Just loving something isn’t enough to make it your contribution to the world. Just like you don’t marry everyone you love.

What is important is figuring out a balance between what you love, what you want, and what will love you back. Being good at what you do counts too – just like ‘getting’ the person you are in a relationship with. That makes things easier.

When you say, “I love this, so I’m going to do it”, usually you have no idea what you are talking about. But that is okay, because you need the trial and error to find what does work.

Usually you will end up doing something you don’t expect, but that is okay too.

And once you do find work that you want to marry, that loves you back, it will be a constant reinvention. You will learn a lot as you grow with it, but it won’t be all flowers and candy.

And that’s what real love is. It makes you better, rather than just being easy.

However, this also means that loving your work is important. You wouldn’t panic and marry someone you hated just to look acceptable to your friends. There are relationships and jobs that are just not right for you right now.

You deserve work you love. Work that loves you back will pay you in a lifetime of happy, peaceful moments and ripening satisfaction.

The search for work you love is worth it. Not easy, not clear, but worth it.

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