The Flawed Thinking of “Passive Income”

I am what you might call a “working man.” I’m also a bit of a workaholic, but that’s its own blog post. What I mean by “working man” is that I work to make a living. The term is usually used for those that do “blue collar” work, but I apply it to anyone who goes to some kind of effort to earn a wage whether it’s from someone else or working for themselves. In other words, they earn money by creating value in the world. Yes, that does include the arts.

Not too long ago, my social media feeds were positively beset by sponsored articles and boosted posts talking about “passive income” and “easy ways to make money.” If the bad car salesman lingo wasn’t enough to indicate the lack of value these articles offered, their suggestions surely did:

  • Start a blog and run ads on it! You’ll make money for nothing!”
  • Write a book and self-publish. You only have to write the book once!”
  • Sign up for one of our apps/partners and earn money taking quizzes or being a secret shopper or telling us what you bought!”

I can’t speak to the efficacy of that last one, but I know the first two pretty well at this point. If you think writing books or a blog is the easy way to a life of wealth and leisure… this post is for you.

A man counts money sitting in front of a laptop
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Is Passive Income a Thing?

Yes, but also no.

Passive income is popularly defined as money you earn without having to work for it, usually through things like royalties or investments. For example, if you invest in a stock and that stock increases in value, your wealth just increased without you having to do anything related to increasing the value of the stock (provided you then sell it before the value decreases.) Investing in real estate might also be considered “passive income” since, as a landlord, you might develop the land or collect rent on it.

It can be argued, however, that both of those things involve some form of labor. An artist earning royalties still needs to do something to promote themselves and keep earning. Investors need to stay on top of their investments because all investments involve risk and knowing when to get out is vital. Landlords are also usually responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the properties they rent out. Even if those things are handled by other people, someone needs to be creating the value that the person collecting “passive income” amasses. If it’s not them, then who? Think about that next time you negotiate with your boss for a raise.

“But surely Matt, compared to owning property or investing, having a blog or writing a book and selling copies isn’t THAT much work?!”

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Super Awesome Blogging Secrets!

Until you get used to all the ins and outs of blogging- CMSs, SEO, scheduling, social media seeding and the like- running a blog is HARD. If you don’t write well, regularly, and material your audience wants, you’ll be waiting a long time before you even see a dime.

I’ve been writing this blog for over 9 years. I still don’t know everything about SEO (but I know a few tricks,) I’ve learned about a couple different CMSs, and I keep a pretty regular schedule. I also write very well and promote my blog regularly.

With all that in mind, some time ago I decided to try running ads on my blog just to see how much it would net me. Ads tend to earn based on the number of clicks, the number of views, or both. Surely with all the work I’ve done, it couldn’t be that hard.

When the ads appeared, I saw a drop in readership. The ads broke up my writing awkwardly and were peddling the same kind of spurious clickbait trash I mentioned above. Few things are more awkward than reading an excellent piece about the emotional toll culinary life takes just to have two paragraphs separated by and add that screams about how “DOCTORS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK TO REMOVE HORNETS FROM YOUR ANUS WITH VINEGAR.”

After 8 months of suffering through this ridiculousness, I finally checked how much money the ads had rolled in. 5 cents. For 8 months or making my reading experience miserable and losing a chunk of my audience, the path to easy riches this was certainly not.

I was considering making the work involved in “just write a book!” its own section on this post, but I realized I could easily sum it up in a couple of salient bullet points.

  • WRITING A BOOK IS HARD. Seriously. Writing a book alone is an accomplishment, and writing one that people actually want to read even more so. Even Amazon will spit your book back out if it thinks it’s completely worthless or contains hateful nonsense. Amazon loves its bottom line more than it loves you or your “freedom of speech.”
  • SELF-PUBLISHING MEANS SELF-EVERYTHING. Need to advertise your book? That’s on you. Arrange a book tour? Also you. Distribution? Anywhere beyond to folks publishing the book is YOU. The business and financial responsibilities involved in selling books? Hey guess what IT’S YOU.
  • KEEP WRITING. The best way to to sell your book is through your next book. You have to keep producing. If you want to retire from writing, you better have some other ways of making money or have done a LOT of work that means you can live of of royalities… and keeping your name alive in peoples minds so they buy copies.
Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory puckering his lips pensively.

Ad Astra Per Alia Porci

John Steinbeck used this Latin phrase as his motto- “To the stars on the wings of a pig”- to describe himself as “a lumbering soul trying to fly.”

If you really want to make a living writing- something I have yet to fully accomplish after nearly a decade– it is definitely not going to be “passive income” and you are going to want to spit in the face of anyone who suggests such. You have to love the work. You have to love the struggle. You have to love working hard in a state of terrible freedom.

And if you’re going to run ads on your blog, make sure they don’t ruin the experience of READING YOUR BLOG.

Stay Classy,

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“Do What You Love”- The Best Easiest Worst Hardest Advice Ever

We’ve been short-handed for a few months now, and a COVID scare has the whole cafe on a staggered schedule until everyone on staff gets a negative test. In practical terms, that means that I need to bake fresh pies for the case and the entirety of the next days wholesale in under five hours.

I’m dashing around the empty kitchen, checking three ovens and answering texts from my boss and fielding questions about the schedule from staff… until it clicks. I stop trying to do the work and do the work, the Ancient Baking Wisdom flowing for heart, to muscle, to fingers. I clock out and leave the next shift instructions about what’s available and when the wholesale will be done. I was in The Zone, and doing what I loved paid off.

That’s good, because something I loved had to.

Image of a quote written in crayon that reads "Do what you love and you'll work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally."
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Creating An Eye in the Storm- Meditation for the Culinary Professional

The more busy and chaotic daily life is, the more we crave moments of stillness and quiet. However brief they are, in whatever way they come, and no matter how adrenaline-addicted you think you are, everyone needs space to breathe. In the last few posts, I’ve often explained how I craved those moments. With the combination of a toxic workplace and my own anxiety, not feeling like I ever had space to stop and get my bearings took a serious toll on my mental health and made a bad situation worse.

Fortunately, it’s possible to create those moments for ourselves and it’s worth the effort to try. After all, the more stillness and composure you can create for yourself, the more you exude it for other people. Even with my anxiety, learning to meditate has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. If other people I work with ever told me they appreciate my competence, patience, and ability to keep my cool in a crisis, it’s because I learned to slow myself down. You can too.

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Accepting Moments of Monotony

Behind every exciting or awesome thing you have ever seen, done, or experienced, there was a lot of mindless boredom.

Someone coils and organizes every cable for that rock concert and goes through every switch on the light and sound boards. Before that big hiking adventure, there was a lot of packing, planning, and organizing. In the kitchen, every meal you have ever had- simple or complex- involved someone doing a lot of dull prep work.

This is “paying your dues” on the micro scale. It can be meditative, or it can be mindless. It can be soothing, or it can be drudgery. Either way, if you want that big beautiful pay off, there’s always some bullshit that needs to get done first. If you can “embrace the suck,” you can embrace the bullshit too.

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Shadow Work- Doing Your Side Work in the Dark

Therapy has a bit of a misnomer in people’s minds. We tend to go to therapists and psychologists looking for “cures.” That’s how it works with other health fields, right? If I have a toothache and go to the dentist, I expect the dentist to drill, clean, fill, or whatever else is needed so that I no longer have a toothache at the end.

Therapists don’t work like that though. There is no “curing” mental illness. Instead, care and therapy is directed toward pathology- figuring out how and why a person becomes ill- and managing it to make the experience of that illness less disruptive to daily life. Medication and psychopharmacology is one option where the illness is severe enough that the pathology indicates a chemical imbalance in the brain. “Talk therapy,” what most of us think of when it comes to sitting down with a psychologist, is more like giving people the tools they need in order to piece together their own problems.

Therapists act more like a trail guide than a doctor, giving us the tools and advice we need to face our challenges- but we still need to face them ourselves. Carl Jung called two parts of this practice “Light” and “Shadow work-” and just like skipping Leg Day at the gym, you don’t want to skip on the Shadow work.

But the shadow is merely somewhat inferior, primitive, unadapted, and  awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities  which would in a way vitalize and embellish human existence, but
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