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Why ‘Do What You Love’ Is Terrible Advice

June 13, 2017, 11:00 PM UTC
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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice do you have for college graduates entering the workforce?” is written by Frank Talarico Jr., CEO of Goodwill of Orange County.

People always seem to give college graduates entering the workforce the same piece of advice: “Do what you love.”

I have been a business leader for nearly 20 years, and I have yet to meet anyone who achieved success and happiness following that advice. It doesn’t matter if you do what you love. In fact, if you wake up tomorrow to a job that “doesn’t feel like work,” you’re going to wake up in another 20 years and wonder how you could have possibly wasted the most productive years of your life.

Don’t do what you love. Love the outcome of what you do.

Love the advances you are making in your field, and the contributions you make to your community, mankind, and (if that’s your thing) your own pocket.

Love the feeling that your hard work—and it should feel like hard work—is making a difference to people who need it. Yes, your personal passion needs to be part of the equation, but go deeper than your own fulfillment. Where do your passions and the betterment of the world intersect?

That is a question that I believe this generation will answer. And for that, I am jealous.

When I was growing up, the generation before me said I could shape the future. It sounded to me the way it probably sounds to you: like the impossible rhetoric you’d read in a greeting card stuffed with cash from your grandmother. But in the case of newly minted graduates, it’s really true. This generation is tasked with reshaping the complexion of this planet we all live on. The possibilities are limitless.

Fortunately for you, we are entering a phase in American history that is unprecedented, one in which doing good for the world is becoming good business. We saw it recently when 30 top corporate executives from major American businesses issued an open letter asking the president to remain in the Paris climate agreement. These companies and more—as well as some cities—then pledged to remain committed to carbon reduction goals even after the U.S. officially pulled out.

That’s what business looks like now. It’s doing well by doing good and working hard. I see it every day in my own work as the CEO of Goodwill of Orange County. It’s a challenging, complicated business with thousands of employees, 24 retail stores, a board of directors, and all kinds of complex problems that I’m passionate about solving. We use words like “innovation,” “enterprise,” and “entrepreneurship.” We are a big business.

But we are in the business of doing well by doing good. We eliminate barriers to employment for people with disabilities or who have a criminal history. We work to change the business community’s perspective about military veterans transitioning back to civilian life.

I love the outcome of what I do: finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems and changing the nature of the nonprofit world to more aggressively help those we serve.

In today’s world, you no longer have to choose between doing good and doing well. The future is so clearly in need of innovative solutions for global problems that giving back is simply good business.

So when you take those first steps onto your career path, remember: Don’t do what you love. Love the effect of everything you do.