By Jonathan 4 Comments

The Labour of Love

As I was putting around the house this morning I suddenly had the old saying, “it’s a labour of love” running through my mind. They kept popping up over and over, and I kept shrugging them off as just another random thought. It’s been a long week, and I have a lot of odd and ends to catch up one today, I didn’t have time to give it any further consideration.

But then it’s suddenly became clear, and that random thought became the basis for this blog post.

I have talked before about how it important it is to do what you love. The truth is that if you do not love doing what you spend the majority of your time doing (and for most of us, that means our job), you are wasting your precious live. Our time on our earth is short, and the older we get, the faster it seems to pass us by, so why do we resign ourselves to doing what we have to do instead of what we want to do?

I think I know the answer.

We think that doing what we love will be too hard.

Or maybe more accurately, we tried a couple of times and it wasn’t easy, so we gave up. We bowed out of the race, we conceded the game, we submitted to our destiny forgetting one very important detail: we are the creators of our destiny.

Why of why did we do this?

Because we made on critical mistake. We imagined that if we loved doing it, it would be easy. We somehow go it into our heads that the only hard things in life that are hard are the ones that we don’t want to do, and if it was so hard to do what we love, then maybe we didn’t really want to do it that badly.

I have used exactly that rational many times in my life. It’s helps to take the sting out of failure, and absolves us of the responsibility for it. It’s a cop-out, and get out of jail free card that makes us feel better, but the problem is…

…it’s a big lie.

In fact it’s so far off the map it’s not even funny, and I think evidence of our brains amazing ability to bend the world to our beliefs and make something imagined seem like the truth.

Let’s look at reality for a moment. The truth. The straight goods.

Most of the things we enjoy most in life are HARD, and require work. Here are just a few examples from my own life:

  • I enjoy going hiking and camping. But there is nothing easy about lugging 50 lbs of gear on my back through mountainous terrain, setting up camp, gathering water, cooking on a camp stove, and then doing it all in reverse the next day.
  • I love playing video games. But sometimes I get so frustrated by a difficult section of a game I want to quit, and yet I still press on. I may get frustrated, I might even complain,  or even stop having “fun” at times, but I am still enjoying the game. If it was easy, it would be boring.
  • I love white water rafting, but I’ll tell you what, it murders my body and I am in pain the next day. It’s hard work to keep that raft upright and on course.
  • I enjoy cooking and baking delicious foods. But no one could ever argue it’s easy slicing and dicing and mixing, getting sticky and greasy, having to wash my hands a bazillion times. But I still like cooking, a lot.
  • I like to stay fit and healthy, and enjoy working out at the gym, but no one would ever call it and easy thing to do. I have to force myself, even though I actually enjoy doing it!

The funny thing about all of those examples is that until I sat down to write this article, I never considered how hard they actually were, I simply didn’t see them in those terms. I had to think it over for a while to discover exactly why that is, and I have come up with the following.

In every example above, I have only ever focussed on the benefit of the activity. The work involved has never really be a consideration. When I decide I want to cook something, I never think about how much work it will be, I only think about the fact that I want to cook it, and how good it will taste, or how much I will enjoy sharing it with people. When I sit down to play video games, I never thing about how it’s going to occasionally make me want to throw the controller, I only think about how fun it is to get lost in another world, and participate in the story as it unfolds. When I go for a hike, I rarely give much thought to how hard it is going to be, I tend to focus on how good it will be for my body, the photographic opportunities I will come across, and so on.

When I made the belated decision to learn to type, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew that the payoff would be worth it. I’d be a better writer because I’d be able to get those fleeting sparks in inspiration down before I had to thin about it too much and the words left or transformed into something less interesting. As a result, I rarely focussed on the difficulty while I was learning, only the payoff, and I ended up becoming a reasonably competent touch typist in a very short time span.

On the other hand, when I set out to learn guitar, I ended up giving up completely after a few months. I think learning a musical instrument and learning to type are very similar, as both are about muscle memory and being able to string sequences together. So why did I succeed at learning to type, and fail and learning to play guitar? It’s not because I wanted to learn guitar less, if anything I wanted to learn it far more. No, I think the difference was that when I was trying to learn guitar, I spent a lot of time in web forums frequented by guitar experts, and the prevailing opinion around there was that learning guitar was hard, most people would never get any good at it, and you needed a teacher if you wanted to have any hope. Well I couldn’t afford a teacher back then, and every time I sat down to practice I thought about how hard it was going to be, how long it would take me to get any good at it, and how I needed a teacher because I couldn’t tell if I was getting anywhere or not. I completely lost site of the reason I wanted to play guitar, the payoff. I was stuck thinking about the work.

We succeed when we focus on the “love”, we fail when we focus on the “labour”.

There is no escaping the labour of love. Despite the tricks out brain plays on us, everything we love is also requires labour. Do not dismiss what’s important to you because you think it will be hard, that’s a lie you are telling yourself, a trap that will cause you to fail miserably, or perhaps not even try. Do not convince yourself that anything hard is not worth doing, the opposite is true. Put your focus back on the payoff where it belongs.

To use a classic example, relationships are hard, but they are harder when you expect them to be easy. If you expect them to be challenging, and you embrace that challenge as being worth it every step of the way because the payoff is important to you, you will very likely find success in your relationships. On the other hand, if you spend all of you time thinking about how hard it will be, you may just find yourself a confirmed bachelor or bachelorette for life (which is fine if that’s what you want, this is only an example).

A final thought; how long do you suppose the human race would survive if every expectant mother thought of nothing but the labour instead of the love she feels for the child growing inside her?


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  • Jonathan says:

    “I think a lot of people have passions which don’t translate so much to money. For example, if you’re interest is the creation of abstract art, or writing fiction, or something else for which the supply outstrips the demand and direct usefulness, I don’t think you should feel like you need to do it as a job to take it to the highest level.”

    Ah, Kris, do you know who you are talking to?

    I think some of us can get away with only partaking in our passions as a hobby, and I envy those people.

    I myself am of purely artistic temperament, and have yet to find a “job” that I haven’t hated, or even found tolerable over the long term. For those like me, it is imperative that we find a way to do what we love for a living, even if it means a more modest lifestyle.

    Thanks again for your insightful comment.

  • Kris says:

    I think the problem is people confuse what they want and what they love. Speaking in terms of the neurological correlates of either of these things, what we love is a very complex question which isn’t easily reducible, whereas what we want at the moment is pretty much entirely based on the mesolimbic dopamine systems, a more or less straightforward system studied for it’s role in drug use which is very conserved throughout the evolution of vertebrates. It is really the system which controls all movement and direct motivation directly, but without the complex input of someone or something that we love it is essentially running off instinctual needs. Hence, despite the fact that we as humans have more computational power in our brains than any other species, if we don’t use that power to create genuine interest in something, our direction in life is little more meaningful than that of a mouse.

    Of course, as humans, almost everyone comes to love something, but much less people actually compound this love into more than transient excitement. Just my two cents.

    Personally i’ve always known I like science, and being a scientific researcher seems natural to me, so I can’t imagine not doing labor that I love. On the other hand, though, I think a lot of people have passions which don’t translate so much to money. For example, if you’re interest is the creation of abstract art, or writing fiction, or something else for which the supply outstrips the demand and direct usefulness, I don’t think you should feel like you need to do it as a job to take it to the highest level. I think a lot of people could be happy with a hobby that they love and a job that they like or tolerate. Besides, some jobs just suck, but we need someone to do them.


  • Steve Rice says:

    Enjoyed your article and thoughts on this, Jonathan. It’s interesting how we don’t consider the effort required for the things that we “love” because the energy and focus put into those things energize us instead of drain us.

    So glad to have found your site through the Blogging Mastermind Group on FB. Will be checking back. Hope you’ll post there regularly.

    • Jonathan says:

      Good Morning Steve!

      I am glad you found my website soon. I am really looking forward to checking yours out as well. The name, “Karmic Kappuuccino” has really got me curious, I’ll definitely spend some time there ASAP.

      I’ll certainly be doing my best to keep the articles coming, though right now I have a big project in the works that is taking up a lot of my time, so blog posts will probably be a bit more sparse for a while.