I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I’d have enough money to pay my rent, at the very least. (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so rent ain’t cheap, for the record.)
When I was younger, I took it as a guarantee that pursuing my heart’s desire would earn me money. I started blogging, I wrote a memoir, I launched a publishing company — all things I loved — but the money did not flow in. I felt resentful because wasn’t this a promise? Do what you love and the money is supposed to follow! But it didn’t.
Now years later I recognize the two aren’t necessarily tied together. The dream of course is to make money doing something you love, but it could very well be that you do something you love and the money comes from somewhere else.
Did you know at least back in 2017 the author Ted Chiang worked as a technical writer? This is someone who has won numerous literary awards, had a short story turned into a movie starring Amy Adams (Arrival), and teaches workshops on science fiction. But writing fiction is not how he made a living at that time.
In an interview with the sci-fi magazine Interzone, Chiang said, “I don’t get that many ideas for stories. If I had more ideas, I would write them, but unfortunately they only come at long intervals. I’m probably best described as an occasional writer.”
He also told an interviewer, “I don’t want to try to force myself to write novels in order to make a living. I’m perfectly happy writing short stories at my own pace.”
I find that incredible. Someone as successful and well-known as Ted Chiang doesn’t try to make a living with his creative work and instead allows money to flow in from technical writing. That’s pretty much exactly counter to what I would have predicted, and also goes against conventional wisdom in a capitalistic culture. If you have a gift, monetize it and make it how you support yourself!
Chiang reminds me there’s another way to be, which I’m finding to be true for myself as well. Money doesn’t have to be tied directly to what I love doing. I’ve received money from focus groups, from random donations, from out-of-the-blue assignments. Money can come from anywhere, from everywhere, and that I think is really what’s meant by “Do what you love and the money will follow.” There’s something about contributing to the world in a way that makes a person come alive that seems to gets rewarded by the universe. And not necessarily in a tit-for-tat way. Some of the work I do is for free, but I’m still getting paid in other ways, through other avenues like freelancing for news publications.
I guess what I’m saying is I find value in being open, in knowing the universe can provide in magical ways. And also that my art doesn’t have to support my life. It’s perfectly acceptable to be like Ted Chiang and let stories come when and how they will without the pressure of making a buck from them. Same thing in my business — I write for busy professionals and I tell stories of transformation because I love it, but the bulk of my money right now comes from freelance work for news publications. And that’s OK. I’m doing what I love and the money is following, just not how I thought it would.
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