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.

❤ ❤ ❤

Writing as Communing with the Page

I want the words to come easily, fluidly. I always want the words to come easily, fluidly. I want my thoughts to flow nicely and neatly, to coincide with my feelings in a symphony of expression and ideas, with a sense of understanding and nurturing development.

This has rarely been the case in my decades of experience with writing, or at least this is what I tell myself. Writing has felt like a sludging through thick mud on the way to a place I don’t even know if I want to get to.

But if I’m being really honest, writing has mostly been fluid and easy, nice and pleasant. This is why I’ve written so infrequently, so inconsistently — because I was waiting for writing to feel good.

What got lost in this waiting is the reality that I can find ease and pleasure in the midst of writing instead of waiting for it to strike me.

Much has been developing within me in relation to writing — understanding around what it means and how it works. This is in large part thanks to these women (thus far): Elizabeth Gilbert, Julia Cameron, and Natalie Goldberg (side note: if anyone has suggestions for women of color authors on writing, please share!).

I’m not far enough into Natalie Goldberg to know for sure, but I can speak confidently that Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron view writing as a spiritual practice.

And wow, how liberating, to view writing as something divinely inspired as opposed to an egoic pursuit. Trying to be a writer in the conventional sense has often been depressing, discouraging, and seemingly hopeless.

At one point in my life, I thought I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. But then I learned he was kind of an asshole and (trigger warning), he killed himself. So, not exactly the ideal I want to work towards.

Even more relevant, I simply couldn’t work with this ego-driven perspective. I couldn’t feel sustainably inspired to write from a place of: my thoughts are important, are worthy of demanding attention. The “my” part made me cringe, made me turn off and turn inwards, away from sharing.

Part of this was insecurity and self-doubt, of course, but part of it was also a genuine and valid turning away from an overblown sense of self-importance. (I love the definition of humility as not making yourself too big or too small — it’s being right-sized. So, to be clear, I’m not against a healthy sense of self… nods off to AA for teaching me this one).

My writing feels important when it helps people. Everything else feels masturbatory, in service of me. Which isn’t to say I’m not here for journalling and solely personal writing — I’m saying if my goal is to impress people, to prove I’m smart and capable and articulate and can use big words, I’ve missed the point.

So, this new framework of writing really turns me on. It’s led to me writing every day, which I’ve only done rarely, in bursts, before it fizzles out. This perspective feels sustainable, and it also feels nurturing — writing has become a time for me to connect with Spirit, to listen deeply, to check my judgments at the door as I convene with the page.

I’ve also developed a deep gratitude for the page as a place of refuge.

The older I get, the more I realize my dad’s right that life is about relationships. And not just relationships with people, but relationships with everything, such as the page.

The page is kind to me. The page listens. The page doesn’t judge. The page is always here to receive me. And in turn, I do my best to honor the page and express gratitude and reverence for it. I mean, how lucky am I? That’s really how I feel at this point in my writing journey, which I’ve been on since I was a child (and am now 31).

Previously, the idea of being a writer felt like a goal forever out of grasp. These days, it feels like a calling, a given. It is the result of me showing up to the page and offering myself to it, and to Spirit, to be guided.

I mean, what a freaking relief, right?