We have all heard the following advice; follow your passion, and you will never have to work another day in your life – at least, some version of this aphorism. It is a mantra that exhorts all of us to improve ourselves, leave that boring job, and fulfil our dreams – and by doing that, work will stop being an exercise in monotonous drudgery. Sounds good, right?
Do what you love (DWYL) sounds great in principle, but it actually encourages employee atomisation of the vast majority of work under capitalism. Turning our focus exclusively inwards, this mantra, by focusing on our individual happiness, encourages us to ignore the welfare, safety and happiness of our collective working conditions. Self-betterment is a fantastic goal – more power to you – but not when it is an excuse for narcissistic satisfaction at the expense of other workers.
Monetising our passions sounds sensible, but it is the philosophy of the hustler, the grifter, the duplicitous real estate agent (No offence). There are professions which require passionate commitment – nursing, paramedics, health care – and that’s great. We are all familiar with the stories of a person, working in a dead-end job, finally getting up the courage to leave, change careers, become a pastry chef and win cooking competitions. If that is you, then more power to you. Making the world a better place is a goal to which we can all aspire.
Work is just work, and not necessarily the place to find your passion. Being a responsible, reliable and diligent worker is good enough – no need to follow the mantra of ‘follow your bliss.’ It is dismissively easy to tell a person ‘go and get a better job’, as if it is just a matter of changing shoes or clothes. The nature of work under capitalism has changed, and with more privatisation, there is increasing casualisation, job insecurity and precarity.
Time magazine – you know, that bastion of loonie-leftie Commie propaganda – ran an article stating that loving your work is a carefully cultivated myth under capitalism. As the traditional blue-collar manufacturing – and heavily unionised – workforce declined since the 1970s and 80s, the sense of collective bargaining has been replaced by a highly individualistic DWYL ethic, all the while ignoring the fact that work – the employing entity – will not reciprocate worker loyalty.
The late Steve Jobs epitomised this trend of ‘following your bliss’. Wearing a black turtleneck jumper and blue jeans, he constructed an image of himself as the ordinary worker doing what he/she loves; the smart talking, casual approachable person who successfully followed his passion. That’s all well and good, except that this image disguises the dispiriting reality of soul-destroying monotonous factory work which makes the wealth of corporate tech giants possible.
Amazon, a prime example of a tech giant, has a long history of mistreating its warehouse workforce, setting a gruelling schedule of speed ups, and handing out punishments to those deemed to be underperforming. Amazon workers have complained of being treated like robots, with work consuming their entire lives.
While we associate horrendous overwork with 19th century manufacturing, online distribution warehouses, such as those operated by Amazon, exhibit all the qualities of a dehumanising panopticon. The warehouses are not called by that name anymore – they are ‘fulfilment centres’, in line with the DWYL mantra.
There is no sense in advising Amazon workers to simply ‘follow their dreams.’ There is no alternative but collective organising of the workers, to ensure safe and humane working conditions. Sarah Jaffe, labour reporter and journalist, writes that while we remain wedded to the idea of ‘loving our work’, we will ignore the erosion of health, safety and welfare measures which have prevented work from becoming an unsafe place for our physical and mental health.
Silicon Valley, the hub of the tech companies which implemented the personal computer revolution, is plagued by homelessness and inequalities. Ninety percent of the Silicon Valley workforce are actually economically worse off now than they were twenty years ago. However, the top ten percent – the wealthy – have increased in wealth. Jobs have steadily moved away from higher and middle salaried positions to lower-paid, less secure jobs.
The IT place where ‘follow your dreams’ should display its empowering possibilities actually has all the trademarks of an unequal capitalist system. The DWYL philosophy cannot disguise the economic realities of the exploitive corporate structure. We all have to work to deadline pressures, overtime hours and weekends; there is no excuse for tardiness. However, being good enough at work is perfectly okay; save being passionate for your hobbies, sports and non-work interests.
Being a diligent worker is one thing; depriving yourself of sleep, neglecting family and non-work life to become an automaton is quite another.