What Does It Mean To Love What You Do?

“Do something you love.”

I hear that all the time. I hear it from articles, from entrepreneurs, from books. But the problem with it is that for a long time I had no idea what it meant. Seriously? Do something I love?

First off what hell is love? Second how do I find what I love? Third how do I know if I love something? In short telling me to do “what I love” is basically telling me nothing. Thanks for nothing self help books.

So how do we start figuring out what we love? Let’s start off small. Just kidding, let’s attack one of the biggest questions of our lives: how do you define love? 

Love is the desire to have something forever.

“What? That’s a horrible definition of love. That’s literally meaningless,” I hear many people thinking. And to be honest I felt the same way when I first heard it. Love is so much more than that. It’s a deep abiding passion, an incurable madness, it’s poetry of the soul. 

I agree. But what does it mean to say you love something? What does it mean to say you love a person?

It means you want that thing or that person in your life forever. No matter what happens. No matter if things get tough, if the relationship goes sour, in good times and bad. When people say love is crazy this is what they mean: you’re willing to sacrifice your happiness, your sanity, your very soul for someone or something else. Love is becoming a part of something bigger than yourself. That’s why it’s one of the most beautiful and noble things a person can do.

Now that we know what love is, the next question is how do we find it? Most of us do what any self-respecting red blooded American would do when faced with a question like this: we’re proactive about it goddamnit! I mean we can’t just sit around waiting for love to find us, we have to go find it ourselves, right? They leave no stone unturned, no activity untried, no speed-dating event unattended. 

The problem is this: it doesn’t work. Why? Because the stakes for every interaction are too high. If you’re actively searching for that activity you love, for something or someone you’re passionate about, then you’re constantly asking yourself: “Do I love this?”

And that’s a losing proposition from the start.

Let’s say in the spirit of finding something you love, you decide to try piano. You buy a piano and take an hour long lesson. Then afterward you say, “Do I love this?” Well of course not! You’d be crazy to love something after an hour. So you sell the damn piano (it was too big for your apartment anyway) and move on to the next thing. There’s no time to waste right?

After many years of doing this and never finding love, if you’re lucky, you’ll begin to realize that like many things in life what you love wasn’t out somewhere else, hiding where it needed to be found. You’ll realize that the answer was inside of you the whole time. In fact it was right in front of your face. All it required was a little introspection. 

What you love is very often not something that you feel immediate passion for. It doesn’t smack you in the face after 10 minutes and tell you that this is something you’re going to do for the rest of your life. That happens only very rarely, or in the movies. 

Love doesn’t start out as a hurricane that sweeps through your life and changes everything in an instant. It starts out as a seed. Barely alive, easily overlooked, fragile and small. But given attention love grows. Given proper care it sprouts and springs up through the dirt. Given years to blossom it buds flowers and grows branches, snaking its way through your life until it consumes it entirely. Given enough care the thing that you love becomes the lens through which you see the world. 

But it’s so easy to miss because it starts out as something so tiny. It starts out as something that you did without even realizing it. When you’re bored on a Saturday afternoon, your friends aren’t around, and you’re looking for something to do. Maybe you sit down and play piano. Maybe you write on your blog. Maybe you fire up TextMate and start coding. 

Everyone has something like this. And even though it may not look like it, that is the seed of love. Because it may start as something that you just do when you’re bored. But given attention and time you start to get better at it. You start to figure out the ins and outs, to gain skill. You probably don’t even notice that this is happening.

I started coding in 10 years ago. I wish I could say that I LOVED it from the beginning. That I was passionate about it, and that I knew instantly that it would shape my life.

Nope, not even  a little bit.

It was just something I did when I was bored on the weekends. But given time and attention it has grown from a seed quivering silently underground into a Redwood tree with long, slender branches touching every corner of my life and roots planted deeply in my soul. 

I know that I can’t imagine my life without it. And that, I believe, is what love is. 

If you liked this post you should probably follow me on Twitter. Or check out my startup Airtime for Email.

There’s a great discussion of this post on Hacker News. Check it out here.

16 Mar 2012, 7:42pm | 10 comments

  • DrMomer

    While I was waiting for a Calc III course video to finish downloading, I was wondering, “What the hell am I doing?”I’m a business graduate, with decent pay and outlook. Yet, for the past six months, I have been drawn to programming. It started out as curiosity – with the amazing course provided free by Harvard & Prof. David J. Malan at cs50.net.At the moment, I’m working through Discrete Mathematics, Calc II, teaching myself Ruby/Rails and moving towards Elementary Probability & an Intro to Algorithms course. So I go over to Hacker News, waiting for the video to download, and happen upon this post. Thank you for reminding me why I’m doing this.Mo

  • Dan Shipper

    “Thank you for reminding me why I’m doing this.”Hearing form people like you is why I do this stuff. Best of luck with everything you’re doing – feel free to reach out if I can help you at all 🙂

  • Vas Sudanagunta

    The following is from an interview of Hawksley Workman by NPR, which you can find at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123697946:RAZ: You really have to read the lyric sheet when you listen to this song, I think, at least for the first time. There’s some great, great lines in there. And there’s one that really jumped out at me: The scars you get together are the scars you really covet.Mr. WORKMAN: Mm-hmm.RAZ: This is a song, I guess, about staying together through tough times.Mr. WORKMAN: Absolutely. You know, I think that we are led to believe that love its fleeting, but I reckon when you get a little older, and your boat gets battered around a bit, you realize that love is really more a decision, and it’s an opportunity to exist with somebody at their best and at their worst. And in doing so, the reflections that you get in one another become the scars that you covet because those are those simple secrets that are yours alone.And those things are not celebrated in movie love. That’s the real stuff that we all fear, that I think is very easy to walk away from. But I guess I’m lucky.My folks aren’t together, but I know people that are together and that are old and together, and their journeys come with their bumps and bruises. And I think that if you are of a mind that you will ultimately celebrate those bumps and bruises, even though they might be years in the making, they will be the things that you celebrate and that you cherish and that will be the character of your relationship.

  • Virendra Rajput

    Thanks Dan !!!For reminding me why I love to do programming !!!

  • Dan Shipper

    No problem!!

  • derekandree

    Oh to be young. Dan you have a refreshing view on business. To love what you do is so cliche. To do what you do because you are obsessed with it (aka love it), that is what life is about. Whether that be a relationship, a business, a volunteer program, being a father, being a mentor or any number of things we do in life that are meaningful.Meaningful stuff — I am obsessed (love) to do things that make a difference and have meaning.

  • Michael

    Thanks for writing this great article!!

  • Diane McCartney

    Dan: Wow, what a great article! I’m 60 years old and nearing the end of a wonderful career full of many twists and turns. Most of those years felt passionate, but, for some, I felt very stuck. What you say in your article, especially your definition “Love is the desire to have something forever.” is exactly what I would say after all these years of trial and error.Kudos for your patience, commitment and discipline to find what you love. And thank you for sharing it in such a succinct and passionate way! Best wishes for a continued wonderful life! Diane

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  • Claudia Bethke

    Hi. Would someone give me the word that means you have died doing what you love; such as a gardener dying while planting flowers or a vintner dying while harvesting grapes. It is not a common word. I would like to use it in an eulogy. Thank you!


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