On Making Money Doing What You Love
My name is Ben and I’m 36 years old. That technically makes me a millenial. An Xennial (half Generation X, half millenial) if you want to split hairs, but avoiding a label doesn’t make it any less true. I’m 100% part of this generation of people who believes they were born to achieve greatness. Meh. It ain’t so bad to admit if you’re self-consciously drinking the Kool-Aid.
For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve been writing myself into all sorts of dead ends, been parts of multiple projects I never really believed in and spent an obscene amount of hours inside my own head, dreaming of a life I’ll never have. I have a frugal, but fulfilling job in media, a home with a loving spouse and an aging dog and a certain amount of existential freedom. I can be who the fuck I want to be and the people in my life would be cool with it.
So, I’ve been thinking lately: should I want more out of life? Should I pursue making a living writing novels or a more public media job? I dedicate countless hours outside of work to writing and podcasting. Why shouldn’t I dedicate my life to it? Well, I don’t think I should. Unless what gives you pleasure is making money, you should leave the things that give you pleasure free of financial burden.
Hear me out.
The great lie told to millenials
If you Google the title of this essay, you’ll get over 1,6 billion hits. Not millions. BILLIONS. Making money doing what you love is a question that preoccupies a lot of people with access to the internet. But it mostly preoccupies millenials. People of my age and younger.
That’s because we were brought up this way. By well-meaning parents who sacrificed in order to raise us right and provide us with an education that would magically open the gates of the universe to us. Our only existential duties are finding happiness and fulfillment. But that’s only when you’re growing up. From birth to whenever it is you finish school. Then, you stop being your parents’ problem. Spread your wings and become someone happier and more successful than them.
But the world is changing faster than our values. The job market is getting increasingly more cramped and you have to latch onto something if you want a little time in the sun. Happiness and fulfillment are taking backseat to wages. Your life becomes a transaction of time for money between your employer and you. It makes you instantly miserable: you don’t work in your field of study, your field of study wasn’t reflecting your interest, you become alienated.
So you either pretend to be happy (hello Instagram) or turn to what you love. Writing, drawing, playing guitar, whatever. And it becomes your exit strategy. Being your own boss. Working freelance or owning a business will be your way of triumphing over a system that shaped you to pursue feeling your don’t even understand. But it’s a slippery fucking slope *.
The reality of passion and money cohabiting
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for you getting paid doing what you love. Start a YouTube channel. A Patreon account. Do what you need to do to profit from skills you spend hours tirelessly honing. But if you enter a relationship of dependency towards your passion, it’s going to corrupt your relationship to it.
Because it will change the very reasons why you’re doing it. Pleasure, craftsmanship and creativity will give way to sustenance and survival. While I’ve avoided this situation myself, I’ve seen horror stories over the years. Writers pitching to any publisher within earshot stories in genres they hate, because it’s what sells right now. Passionate and driven musicians who start wedding bands in order to put food on the table. Even worse, people who quit doing what they love because they can’t sell it. Because “it’s not worth investing the time” they said. It’s always a major fucking tragedy to me.
Whatever it is that drives you, it’s not worthless if you can’t sell it. And it shouldn’t be worthless to you if it can’t support you. Whether it’s writing, gaming, music or your obsession with Game of Thrones, it’s what makes you you. It’s what makes you get out of bed in the morning, run back home at night and sleep with a head full of cool projects. Don’t let financial imperatives get between you and this intangible, but powerful thing. Not only a day job will allow you freedom and a certain budget to finance your passions, but it’ll also give you a structured schedule.
And, most important, if you dedicate yourself to your craft with abandon, money will eventually follow. Maybe not enough to support yourself (it always depends on what exactly you do), but it’ll find you.
Doing things for the right reasons
My point is: you shouldn’t chase the Holy Ghost of getting-rich-doing-something-you-love. If you’re into something, let passion and craftsmanship guide you. Do things for the right reasons and it might get you there anyway.
For example, I have a friend who publishes books **. He crafts the most gorgeous-looking books I’ve ever seen. I’m lucky to own a few of these (they’re all limited editions) and they hold a special place on my bookshelves. He makes a living off it, but books craftsmanship is a passion to him. He would do it even if he had a day job. In fact, he did it for a long time while holding one. He’s the best I’ve even at it. His business is a continuation of passion and drive that fructified into a profitable endeavor. He’s doing it for the right reasons.
Be kind to your passion. Treat it with respect even if you feel it doesn’t respect you back. Martial artists and dancers spend decades longing for purity of movement. Sound geeks invest an obscene amount of time and money into finding the optimal configuration for airwaves to echo against the walls of their home. Their primary reward is not monetary. It’s living up to what they love. Any profitable endeavor that might emerge from their quest is a byproduct and not the outcome they sought after.
I’m 36 years old. I have a passion for writing that doesn’t feed me, but it’s fine. I have a day job to do that and the freedom to pursue what I love outside of it. That’s worth all the money in the world if you ask me.
Perhaps I’m not there yet, but life’s good on the path.
* Don’t get me wrong. I ain’t blaming boomers for the ills of millenials. Many of us are parents and replicating the same toxic behaviors. If anything, it’s a late capitalism issue. But that’s for another debate.
** Well, I have many friends who publish books.