It’s a privilege to do what I do, making websites for nonprofits as my own company. Every day, I work on projects that help people help people, getting rid of one frequent hurdle between starting an organization and making change in the world. I get to “do what I love,” a phrase that gets thrown around a lot on Twitter and employment/life-advice articles.
But that kind of privilege rings a little hollow in some ways. A few months ago, Mandy Brown crystallized why on The Pastry Box: ((In later post, Brown also linked to the fabulous Ta-Nehisi Coates piece on reparations in The Atlantic. As she wrote, “Nothing I have to say is more important than what Ta-Nehisi Coates has said here.”))
Do what you love. It’s a seductive little phrase, clear and urgent in its call.
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.
The more important “privilege” in my life is my unearned identity as a straight white young able-bodied male from a very well-off family. Thanks to that privileged upbringing:
- I had the opportunity to learn how to make websites at summer camp.
- I had a summer job making websites that I got through family connections.
- I spent four years at a liberal arts college just focusing on my communication and personal skills.
- I knew that I could afford the risk of moving to a new city with no job and try to make it on my own.
- People assume I’m probably good at techy things without any demonstration of that being true.
There are plenty of people who don’t have that kind of privilege and therefore don’t have the time, resources, energy, or network to end up in a field where they can “do what they love.” That doesn’t make their work any less important or their societal value any lower.
So it’s true that it’s a privilege to do what I do—it’s fulfilling and interesting and fun and pays well enough—but it’s critically important to remember the personal privilege that helped me get to this point in my life. I absolutely worked hard and struggled at times through the experiences that earned me the skills I have, but I started in a position in society that let me “do what I love.” ((For more on privilege and working hard, read John Scalzi’s ever-relevant “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.”))