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Do what you love. It’s a seductive little phrase, clear and urgent in its call. It promises a path to happiness, a simple test to run against every decision you make that will guide you to a fulfilling, meaningful life. It’s an imperative — a command, not a request.

It’s also total bullshit.

Now, I believe many of those who preach that you do what you love do so with the best of intentions. But “do what you love” — and it’s cousin, “quit your day job” — presumes many things about you: that you have sufficient wealth, time, and emotional support to single-mindedly pursue a career; that you have access to a network that can and will enable you; that the work you love is valued in today’s capricious and frequently stingy economy. It presumes that you are among the most fortunate people on the planet.

And maybe you are. But imagine how the “do what you love” edict rings to those who are not.

At its best, “do what you love” is a friendly pep-talk to the dissatisfied elite. At its worst, it’s exclusive: the ugly side of the American dream, the one that judges those with the least as being the least deserving. If only they had the will or ethic to pursue their dreams! If only that was all it took.

So here’s some advice that’s considerably less sexy than “do what you love” but ultimately more useful: do what you can. Seek out the roles and skills that both suit you and are sufficiently rewarding in compensation to make your life work. You may find you end up loving part of that work, and if so, grand. But remember there’s plenty more space in your life for love, and your work neither deserves nor is likely to support the most of it.

Your love is bigger than what you do. 

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One year ago

Ever since smartphones have become the new normal, it’s a common sight to see people engrossed in them. You know the stance: head down, eyes mesmerized by a four-inch screen of a world that exists intangibly. It is a world that connects the threads of our lives while it simultaneously disregards the immediate environment and context.

Paying attention — I mean, really paying attention — requires more meticulous effort than it used to. Because now, our superficial interest is diverted to distractions that we want to direct it to, rather than allowing simple happenstance to dictate where our true attention should go.

A few losses come to mind as a result. There are likely more, but these three are at the forefront of my mind.

  1. Serendipity and chance
  2. Respect
  3. Safety
  1. Serendipity and chance

    Before we had smartphones to sneak away into, people were present in their environments. Sure, we’ve been immersed in various portable music players and books for a while now, but smartphones are multifaceted attention hogs.

    Allowing yourself to be open gifts small, quiet moments that may brighten your day. There is a tangible feeling when you’re involved in your community, at the local level. You could very well meet your next partner in crime. You may engage spontaneously in conversation during a flight with your seat neighbor. Or, what often happens with me and my wife, we find money on the street. True story.

  2. Respect
  3. I don’t mind seeing your smartphone or device sitting on a table — I don’t like the bulkiness in my pocket either. However, I do mind if it is face up and silly notifications are turned on. That feature was disabled the first day I purchased my smartphone, and I question why people need it. Is the fear of missing out such a compelling reason to not give thoughtful consideration to the wonderful person in front of you?

    I see your eyes, they’re glancing at that screen.

    Notifications should be nonintrusive and passive rather than the other name we give them: alerts. Your friend posting a photo of their coffee or updating their existential state of being is, nine times out of ten, not earth-shattering news.

  4. Safety

    This is a practical and an important point. Smartphones are expensive. Smartphones are easy targets for thieves. I’ve seen phones snatched from submerged owners or even casual tourists walking around the city looking at Google Maps. It’s a shame that we live in a time when private property isn’t respected and that thievery exists, but it does. Don’t be the person who’s shouting, “Hey! That’s my phone!” while chasing someone rapidly through the streets of the city.

    Or that person with their head down and BAM! Hello, tree/light pole/other pedestrian.

    Then there’s the ridiculous looking-at-your-phone-while-crossing-the-street individuals. Fancy being hit by a car? I certainly don’t. As my dad is fond of saying when people seem reckless with their lives, “So fatalistic!”

When I was a teenager and then in my early 20s, the only way to get in touch with someone was by picking up a phone and purposely calling them. It made the connection deeper in comparison — hearing the quality of their voice and tone. And before three-way calling or call waiting, you were locking the phone down for just one person at a time. I recall scrambling for coins or phone cards to call friends at pay phones when I wanted to hear their voice or bug them or just catch up.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Fondness is all I seek.

I’m not advocating to go back to those times, believe me. I am advocating for basic norms of respect for the people around you.

Let’s respect each other, engage and be in the moment. Let us enjoy the presence of each other’s company and use the absence of technology to get into a conversation. Practice your speaking skills. Enjoy the moment — your moments. The quiet, the people watching, taking in your surroundings and letting things happen to you rather than turning your brain to the ON position all the time. OFF isn’t an idle matter — it’s a state of being.

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