The Problem With “Do What You Love”

I love eating pasta, binge watching zombie shows, and swimming in the ocean. Sadly, none of those three activities are going to pay my rent and one of those is actively detrimental to my fitness (while the other would be if I ate as much pasta as I’d like to).

I can’t go a week without being exhorted to “Do what you love!” This is usually used in terms of career options but I’m seeing it used in regards to fitness as well.*

The reality for all but the upper-middle and upper-class is that “doing what we love” almost never pays the bills (and, let’s be honest, even in those hallowed halls most aren’t doing what they love–though some may love screwing over the poor, in which case, go fuck yourselves–they’re just doing what pays the bills, albeit much larger bills than you or I will ever have). Doing what we love, whether it’s making art or helping people or watching the undead gnaw on the living, is simply not a viable way to make a living. At best, we can have a day job that allows us to follow our passion at night and on weekends. Or maybe “what we love” has never been a consideration and instead we feel called to help people (a field with notoriously small margins), despite the fact that’s it’s stressful, pays poorly, and the organizations are often dysfunctional.

There is no shame in not paying rent with “what we love” but the ongoing exhortations from women’s magazines and Tumblr memes and Pinterest pins reveal a profound disconnect from most people’s realities, and a profound lack of understanding of the capitalist machine.

In the same vein, setting fitness/exercise/training up as an avenue to “finding/doing what you love” is misguided and ignorant of most people’s lives. Most people in North America don’t actually exercise at all. And for those people who are overworked, over-stressed, and overly sedentary, the idea that they will suddenly love exercise is laughable. And so when they start exercising at the behest of their doctors or their children or their aching joints and don’t immediately love it, it’s pretty easy to give up. “Maybe I’m just not the type of person who enjoys exercise.”

And the well-meaning exercise-lovers will swoop in: “No, no! Of course you are! You just have to find the right exercise! I ran for a straight year before I started to love it!”

But if you can’t even run to the end of the block without gasping, if you’ve spent a lifetime hating (and avoiding) exercise, how likely is it that you’re going to hear that and dedicate yourself to a year of running with the hope that you’ll stop hating it at the end?

There are people who love exercise, love movement. My brother is one of those people. There are people who love certain types of movement–I am one of those people–dancing and biking are my jam. And there are a whole lot of people who have spent their entire lives hating movement. Maybe they have always been fat and have faced ridicule and discrimination for it. Maybe they have a physical disability that impacts their ability to move in pleasurable, non-painful ways. Maybe they are naturally book-readers and couch-potatoes and would happily sit on their couch surrounded by pillows and books 24 hours a day. Maybe they’ve just never found the right exercise, sure. But maybe there is no right exercise. Maybe there is no type of movement that will make their hearts sing and bodies come alive.

That’s okay too. But–and it’s a big but–movement is important. It is important for overall physical health, for immune health, for joint health, for cardiovascular health, for mental health. And it’s important for easing the burden of everyday responsibilities.

And I think that needs to be the tack that we take, as we try to bring our loved ones into the fold of regular movement. And I think that, along with improving accessibility, needs to be the tack we take on a policy level.

Not because it impacts our healthcare spending, but because it impacts our quality of life. Because weightlifting means carrying groceries and grandchildren and moving boxes is a lot easier. Because dancing lets us connect with our bodies and our friends. Because walking gets our blood moving and is easy on the joints. Because martial arts make us feel safer. Because swimming in the ocean washes away a week’s or a year’s worth of stress as you frolic like a seal. And because running will be imperative to your survival in the coming zombie apocalypse.**

So let’s move away from the privileged idea that we can all “do what we love,” in both jobs and exercise, and instead remember that there are a lot of things we do in life because we have to and they’re good for us. If we’re lucky and diligent a lot of us can do the things we need to be doing (moving our bodies, making a paycheque) in ways that we don’t hate. And maybe we can find some small aspect of it (our colleagues, our deadlift PRs) that we actually like.

*Hat tip to a conversation on Fit is a Feminist Issue’s Facebook page today.

**I’m like 95% kidding–but it’s also like 40% of why I run.***

***Judging by the art I found for today’s post, I’m not the only one.

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