“Few words in the language are as ambivalent as ‘work,’ and as emotion-laden,” wrote Peter Drucker in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Underscoring that truth with gusto is an essay by art historian Miya Tokumitsu, who argues in Slate that, when it comes to work, the mantra of “do what you love” is foolish and damaging.
“DWYL”—Tokumitsu’s acronym for do-what-you-love—“is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment,” she writes. “Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning, especially the crucial work of caregivers.”
Drucker certainly wouldn’t have agreed with everything in Tokumitsu’s essay, which at some points turns into a screed against capitalism. But he would have found it to be provocative and, in some respects, quite valid.
As Drucker observed, the entire notion of deriving fulfillment from one’s career is a recent one. “For most of history, earning a living was something you had to do because, after all, you had to eat,” he said in an interview with Industry Week. And the notion of loving work would have struck our forefathers as preposterous. Even work that’s fulfilling, Drucker pointed out, always entails some element of grind and drudgery.
Like Tokumitsu, Drucker also felt it was crucial—precisely because the solution wasn’t obvious—to address the question of how to grant to the manual laborer the same sense of fulfillment in work that is enjoyed by the more elite knowledge worker. It was something he brought up in the 1940s, and it was still something that occupied his thoughts in the 1980s.
“The problem is social status, recognition, self-respect,” he wrote in The New Realities. “There is thus a real need to make non-knowledge jobs, many often requiring little skill, as productive and self-respecting as possible.”
Drucker found that a few service-work companies had succeeded in doing this for their unskilled workers, calling such efforts “beginnings only.” “They do show, however, that the job can be done,” he wrote. “And it needs to be done.”
What do you think of “do what you love” as a work mantra? Is it an elitist sentiment?