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Lucy Mangan: “‘DWYL’ – easier said than done”

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“This week I was congratulated by an acquaintance on finding a way to ‘DWYL’ – Do What You Love – for a living. It took me a while to work out why I immediately wanted to punch her in the throat, but I’ve done it now. Worked it out, I mean, not punched her in the throat.

I’m only aggressive on the inside. Whether that’s because God made me so short is something I often ponder, but that might be a discussion for another time.

Obviously it was infuriating because the acronym is a piece of modern jargon abbreviated, and who actually says those things out loud? It’s one short step from that to saying ‘ROFL’ instead of laughing when someone’s told a joke, at which point it’s your bounden duty to take out a knife and stab them (I swear I’m only like this on the inside. That said, if someone ever actually said ‘FWIW’ in front of me, I couldn’t honestly say what I would do in the first few white-hot seconds thereafter. So be warned). But beyond that, it’s the concept that distresses me. It’s one of those insidious ideas that creeps into our language and our lives because it sounds so unobjectionable – so positive, so helpful, even – when in fact it’s nothing of the sort. Doing what you love (and therefore loving what you do) for a living is the ideal. And like most ideals, it is virtually impossible to achieve. I wake up every morning and thank a God I don’t believe in (especially after he made me so short) that, because of a fortuitous combination of circumstances over which I had almost no control, I am one of the incredibly lucky few who get paid to do something they enjoy. Not in the sense that my every waking, working minute is filled to the brim with happiness, but in the sense that I am doing something rewarding which suits my temperament and talents better than any other job I could be doing right now.

The problem is that ‘do what you love’ is not treated as an ideal. It is habitually used in a manner that suggests it is a sensible goal, an eminently realistic ambition. And when you couch an ideal in these terms, you do two things. First of all, you set a lot of people up for unhappiness when they ‘fail’. And secondly, you effectively establish the presumption that all those people who don’t manage it aren’t trying hard enough or are too thick to pull it off. It’s the X Factor problem – anyone who doesn’t manage to become famous in a world supposedly full of opportunities to become a household name is just lazy and doesn’t really ‘want it’ as much as they should; and not because the odds are still incalculably stacked against stardom being visited upon them – but in a professional (and markedly less pitchy) setting.

As a mantra, ‘DWYL’ implies that there are as many great jobs as there are people who want them. Who does this benefit, do we think? Sure, it fuels some pleasant dreams of escape while you’re working in a poorly paid and/or unsatisfactory job, but while you’re dreaming, who is actually profiting – literally, in most cases? Could it be the directors, managers and companies who can get away with shoddy behaviour and practices if most of their workforce believe that they only have to put up with it for a short time because it’s just a stepping stone to something else, something perfect? Could it be the people who set pay grades or who determine such things as the minimum wage or the legal terms for contract hours and other working conditions, maybe?

It also contributes to the growing mentality that says work should be the priority in all our lives by further blurring the distinction between work and pleasure, which in turn allows bosses to exploit more and more people to a greater and greater degree. This doesn’t mean that every individual who urges somebody to ‘DWYL!’ (exclamation mark optional) is bent on effecting your willing subordination to The Man. Usually they are entirely well-intentioned people who don’t even deserve the punch in the throat that instinct dictates they will surely receive at some point. But two older dicta will serve us better: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. After that, just follow the money to see whose interests are really being served.”

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