Inspirational Phrases That Are Actually Hurtful

May 12th 2016

Tricia Tongco

Thanks to Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media, we’re all too familiar with inspirational quotes.

Their appeal is hard to resist, serving as "mini-instruction manuals for the soul," as author Cheryl Strayed described them in her collection of quotes, "Brave Enough."

But there are some motivational phrases that seriously need to die.

Not because they’re cheesy, but because these life mottos only apply to people who have the privilege to put them into action.

It's time to retire these motivational quotes:

  • Do what you love
  • Follow your dreams
  • Quit your day job
  • Anything is possible
  • Pursue your passion

These ubiquitous phrases embody an inspiring narrative of finding your own path and making a living from creative work, whether it involves selling handmade laptop covers on Etsy, raising funds for your documentary on Kickstarter, or designing sleek websites.

But the reality is that only one in four U.S. professionals (and 30 percent of global workers) say they can earn a living from their childhood dream job or in a related field, according to a 2012 LinkedIn survey of 8,000 professionals.

Why is that percentage so low? For people with limited resources, the jump from vision board to real life is a nearly impossible leap to make, motivational quotes notwithstanding.

To "quit your day job" and "do what you love," you need a safety net, flexibility, and a passion that also happens to be a marketable skill, according to The Manual. (One of the most profitable creative career choices? Web design.)

The inspirational slogans are classist. But they're also presumptuous, assuming that every individual has a calling. In reality, people have interests and hobbies that they love, but not passions. Or, if they do have a passion, they might want to keep it private, pursuing it for stress relief: They don’t feel comfortable turning it into a full-time job. Or maybe their day job funds their passion.

So what should people focus on instead of their passion?

For those without a calling, author Elizabeth Gilbert has this piece of advice:

If you can let go of passion [and the pressure and anxiety surrounding it] and just follow your curiosity, your curiosity might just lead you to your passion.

For those of you who don’t have the resources to follow your dreams, you can shift your focus to developing the ability to find meaning in your work, which is the best way to feel engaged and fulfilled at work, according to a 2014 Energy Project survey.

How can you find meaning in your work? In order to answer that question, a Stanford research project asked nearly 400 Americans whether they thought their lives were either happy or meaningful — or both. Happiness is associated with being a "taker," focusing on what you get from others. Meaningfulness, in contrast, comes from being a "giver," suspending what you want in service of “the greater good.”

To put it simply: Amp up the meaning in your work by dialing back your tendencies to take and dialing up your acts of giving. That advice doesn't necessarily fit on a quote card, but it's valuable nonetheless.

[h/t The Manual]