Is “making it” a choice?

I had a conversation with a beloved yesterday that prompted me to reflect on dreaming, pursuing one’s dreams, and trying to monetize passions.

In trying to share my perspective on the matter, I gave my beloved the impression that I was making the point that monetizing your passion will always ruin it. Woof, what a Scrooge I felt like to have that reflected back to me.

Instead of trying to deter anyone from making money doing what they love, I was trying to complicate the narrative. And I was mostly speaking to my personal situation — I love writing, but the idea of trying to live off of it would require sacrifices that could threaten my passion for it. Mostly in the form of having to come up with and pitch ideas of articles that I think would be conventionally successful, would please a broad audience.

And the reality is that I want to write about what I want to write about. And dear Universe, if you want to pay me to do so, I will happily comply. I’m also not against trying to pitch stories to publications that feel aligned with me. But there’s a pressure that comes with trying to support yourself off of your passion, trying to make it fit into the system that’s writing your checks.

More so, I was trying to make the point that many people do not pursue or invest in their passions if they don’t believe they’ll achieve conventional success from them. I was trying to speak against measuring the outcome of doing something that brings you joy through the lens of how much money you make, how many clicks you get, how many accolades you acquire.

I was trying to contextualize the American desire of striving to be the exception as often chasing your own tail — it’s a distraction from why it is that you do what you love.

I also want to clarify that I’m not inherently against someone trying. Because anyone who can play the game and hold onto their passions is a champ, truly. I’m simply not one of them [at least for now]. And I want to let others know that’s okay.

Towards the end of that discussion, he explained to me that much of what was motivating him to “make it” as a designer was not simply getting paid to do what he loves but to escape the rat race.
“I’m tired, I don’t know how long I can keep doing this.” He then cited that he was worried about how he was going to afford taking care of his parents.

Ah, I thought to myself, well that’s a different story. The desire to escape the constant grind of work culture under capitalism is reasonable and I’d say fairly universal. And if you’re going to work the rest of your life, of course the preference would be to do something that brings you joy and fulfillment. I could relate to that, of course.

But I was not talking simply of finding a job that is enjoyable (enough) and pays you well (enough) when I was talking about pursuing your passion as a career. I believe we often have multiple passions — I would love to make money helping people, like through therapy or helping run a community program.

What I was speaking to directly was my passion for writing, my creative cravings. Trying to sell art seems as though its always been tricky business. The pressure to compromise, to do what fits the mold of what sells is a perpetual demand. Well, until you’ve hit a high enough level of success that you can bear the risk of creating things that do not resonate with people.

Which brings me to some Elizabeth Gilbert quotes that concisely capture the essence of what I was trying to say. This is from her book Big Magic, in a chapter in which at age 16 she vows to be a writer the rest of her life:

“I didn’t make a promise that I would be a successful writer, because I sensed that success was not under my control… In fact, I didn’t put any conditions or restrictions on my path at all… Instead, I simply vowed to the universe that I would write forever, regardless of the result… I also promised that I would never ask writing to take care of me financially, but that I would always take care of it — meaning that I would always support us both, by any means necessary.”

Let me repeat: “I sensed that success was not under my control.”

This is the point I was so clumsily trying to make yesterday. The idea that you can strive and strive to “make it,” and you may never get there. And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. So long as the person striving doesn’t get discouraged or internalize it as a personal shortcoming or allow it to deter them from the pursuit.

“Making it,” unfortunately, is not something that all of us can achieve. There’s an inherent exceptionalism, a desire to be in the small percent of people who attain the type of success we glorify here in America: stardom, fame, and loads of money.

But I want to reiterate: there is nothing wrong in wanting this, in endeavoring for this. Heck, best of luck. For my beloved, I would love for him to get to that point. Because the alternative is terrifying, the question of how the fuck we’re going to survive this game of living and working in America, of trying to work out how we’re going to care for ourselves and the people we love with limited resources.

My point is that “making it” is not something we can simply choose. And those that do aren’t inherently better than us. There’s a strong element of luck (and often privilege) to how things pan out in this country. I’d also say much of it also comes down to how attractive and charming you are.

There is so much out of our control, so much of being in the right place at the right time.

What I want to encourage is for people to pursue their passions anyway, to invest in their dreams whether or not they come true the way they’d imagine them. To be robbed of dreaming, or to only seem them as valuable insofar as bringing them to fruition, seems like a tragedy to me.

For those of us who make it, congrats. For those of us who don’t, congrats as well. Whether or not you monetize your dreams or turn them into a career isn’t the point. I hope more than anything that they may always be yours, for you and by you. That no external outcome be the determiner.

May we learn new means of measurement, like how much pursuing our dreams brings us to life, reminds us of our divine nature, helps others get to know us, and inspires others to do the same.

And look, working sucks. Working jobs you’re not passionate about sucks. Trying to find a job in what you love is admirable, and I support you in it. Wanting to figure out how to take care of your parents without killing yourself trying to do so is a more than reasonable desire.

But I personally find it helpful to remember that most of us will fall in the majority who do not get an escape from the struggle. And may we remember that even in this place that feels like failure, we’re in rather good company.

❤ ❤ ❤

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