The first freelance article I ever wrote appeared on TheGridTO.com, and I never got paid for it. It was a short news hit about The Occult Shop’s new location on Bathurst Street, which was just down the road from where I lived at the time so it was an easy piece to write. I felt so cool going down there with my old dictaphone and a notepad, interviewing the dreadlocked store owner, and taking photos of all the witchcraft paraphernalia on the shelves and in the display cases. I was new to the game, so just the excitement of writing the story and seeing my byline was payment enough. The money didn’t matter to me. All I cared about was doing great work.
The attitude I held as an absolute novice was correct, but over the ensuing years I lost this attitude and started to care more about how much money I was going to make instead of doing the most meaningful and impactful work that I could do. This lead to extreme stress and unhappiness because, as you may already know, it is difficult to make a living as a writer, or in any creative field for that matter. There’s a lot of competition out there and over the years I discovered that most outlets don’t pay much for content. Time and time again I was disgusted at the rock bottom rates I was offered and turned down many possible gigs becuase it wasn’t worth it. I should not have even applied to those gigs if all I cared about was money.
The want of money is the lowest motivation one can have in pursuing meaningful work. How many people have you known or heard about, people who are wealthy or famous, who are absolutely miserable and depressed and in rehab centers recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism? These are people who would seem to have everything going for them. They have to means to afford just about anything that life could offer, but they are still unhappy and looking for an escape. Why?
It’s simply because the old adage is true: money can’t buy happiness. There was even a scientific study that proved this. It looked at how much people earn and how it correlates to their level of happiness. The study found that beyond $75,000 a year, a person’s happiness does not increase due to money alone.
Why, then, do so many of us care so much about how much money we make? We do we pursue money so fervently thinking that it will solve our problems and make us happy? To be sure, you can’t be happy if you’re living on the street, but you need many other things than just a roof over your head and clothes on your back. There is still the need to do meaningful work. The need to do something that matters and is remembered.
Alan Watts said, “If say that money is the most important thing, you will completely waste your time. You will go through life doing things you don’t enjoy doing just so you can go on living, which is to go on doing things you don’t enjoy doing, which is stupid. It is better to live a short life doing things you enjoy, rather than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
How many people would be spared from the joyless pursuit of wealth at the cost of their own self-actualization if they heard this quote? In pursuing money as our highest goal, we direct ourselves to whatever vocation it is that will allow us to attain maximum wealth. But that’s a recipe for unhappiness. It’s more meaningful to instead focus on doing work that you believe in, and that satisfies your inner being rather than work in a 9-5 office cubicle job just because it pays a lot of money. If you hate what you’re doing, if it isn’t providing real fulfillment and satisfaction, is any salary high enough to make it worthwhile?
Imagine yourself in your old age looking back on your life; will you be happy to say that you suffered decades of unhappiness and unrealized dreams but at least made a lot of money? I don’t think you would. At the end of your life you would mourn all the passions you didn’t pursue, all the work you could have done that might have changed lives. That is a great tragedy that no one should be comfortable with.
In my career I became very frustrated and unhappy becuase I wasn’t writing about what I wanted to write about. In putting money as the most important goal, I ended up writing on subjects that didn’t interest me just so I could make a paycheque and go on writing about these things that I didn’t care about. Like Watts said, this was stupid. It was a terrible career path. I became frustrated and unhappy because the work was meaningless to me. I became a writer because I wanted to affect change on the issues that matter to me through investigative storytelling, but I had not been living up to my true ideals becuase the want of money got in the way.
Now I have a different perspective. Instead of worrying about how much money I’m going to make, I instead think about how I’m going to do great work. If I instead direct myself towards doing great work that I believe in, then money and success will follow.
Happiness and success and wealth should not be pursued; they ensue from doing great work. If I do work that I believe in, if I feel passionate and purposeful about it, the money doesn’t matter anymore and the work is its own reward.
For anyone, not just those of us in creative fields, feeling strongly about the work you’re doing is the only way to become truly successful and sustainable. So forget about how much money you’re going to make, and instead think about what kind of work would provide real meaning and satisfaction. Each individual has their own answer to that question, what’s yours?