The atmosphere was hypnotic. I found myself jumping up and down, making a complete fool of myself as everyone else around me did the same. Onstage, the keynote speaker beat his fists into the air as dance music blasted from the speakers, washing over his captive audience.
It was day one of a three-day event, a conference geared towards inspiring seminar attendees to put aside their fears and start living their passions. The entire event was filled with speakers who shared their experiences of breaking free from their corporate nine-to-five jobs to embrace their life-long dreams of entrepreneurship, which led to greater liberty and mass success in both their professional and personal lives.
In the weeks that passed, I continued to follow up with attendees (mostly through Facebook) to see how they would proceed to change their lives as they had promised during the many testimonials made over the three-day conference. Beyond the enthusiasm they continued to show, I started to see a trend in their online behavior, one I have no doubt that you have seen too.
They began to sell. To advertise. To boast. Promote. Pimp. Hustle. Whatever you would like to call it. In short, they came from that seminar celebrating their passion, before morphing into entrepreneurs looking to monetize it.
There are no shortage of conferences and public events that encourage the masses to follow their dreams and get paid for it. Life coaches, consultants, speakers and industry executives who have conquered their own professions come down from up on high to bless us lay people with their wisdom (so long as they are compensated first). Like a televangelist on Sunday, they preach their good news: you too can earn a living by doing what you love. The audience disperses, a few lucky ones later find their own path to similar success, they go on to preach a similar message to a like-minded audience, and so on and so forth.
So what’s wrong with that?
It is not my intention to paint all such consultants and coaches as charlatans or those that listen to them as suckers. I have a few friends that make their living by doing such work with a degree of authentic passion I hope to one day possess. Rather, my intent is to dispel the notion that we — creatives, entrepreneurs and other aspiring professionals — must monetize every aspect of our passion all the time in order to get ahead of the competition.
This advice may seem germane at first glance but know that it is an easy trap to fall victim to. I found myself in similar circumstances over the past two years as I sought to broaden my reach as a writer. I attended the aforementioned event and others, joined networking groups, sat and ate with peers, along with so much more. In many of those situations, I would meet a sage professional who would listen patiently as I told him or her of my writing and how I would like to sell more books to finally break even on my invested novels. The conversation would then shift as the sage intervened.
“You know what you should do? You should sell your services as a consultant! People out there are willing to pay someone to show them how to write a book.”
The advice, which I received from several well-meaning people, took me by surprise at first. Then I began to ask myself, “What if I did try to market myself as a consultant?”
So I gave it a shot. I put together a few Facebook events, paired with some book readings, all with the intention of dispensing the knowledge I had gained in writing my short stories and books.
A couple of people attended them. At one, no one showed. However, the lack of interest didn’t bother me. More so, I was disappointed in myself that I had given into the notion that my help had to be purchased.
In pursuit of my own dreams as a creative, I have approached dozens of professionals in publishing and film. Those I reached out can be divided into three camps:
- Professionals who didn’t respond
- Professionals who responded that they couldn’t help (e.g. “I don’t have time”)
- Professionals who said they would help if I purchased xyz services from them
The latter have frustrated me to no end. I am sure they have frustrated you too. Yes, I realize that the pursuit of any career involves the investment of time and resources. Education must be sought (and paid for). But along the way in every single profession, we as a society have lost our soul. The call for help — and our response to it — is seen less and less as a charitable act, as a way to “give back,” and more and more as a business opportunity.
I was reminded of this again when I recently read an online post from an adventure website. The author had recently visited a remote village in Tibet that is on the cusp of a tourist boom. To paraphrase, the writer interviewed a local who told him, “Before the tourists, we used to help each other. It was a community. Now, everyone expects to be paid for their services, no matter how small.”
Yes, you can make money from your passion. But for your work to remain your passion, there must always be a tie to authenticity, the kind that ferments and grows from a community of like-minded individuals who can learn from each other and foster beginners into experts. In my own case, I have suspended any notions of making money from my “help” to others. On the same accord, I have doubled my efforts to assist other creatives, with whatever limited resources I have. I listen to ideas. I offer feedback when asked. I edit when I can. And always, I encourage, knowing there may be nothing in it for me and everything in it for one other artist.
I hope you consider doing the same. Not for your own sake. For passion’s sake.