When faced with the struggle of others, doing nothing can be the best- and hardest- thing to do.
The willingness and desire to help others is one of the most beautiful things I see in people. It doesn’t get a lot of (the right kind of) press, but our capacity for empathy truly is one of our strengths as a species. When it comes to helping others though, it’s hard to keep your desire to help from overriding whether or not you are helping.
I got a very object lesson in that in the last few weeks, and a dear friend of mine has reinforced it.
In my case, I missed last week because I literally had no energy to do anything after a 60-hour week in the bakery. I wanted to write, I had ideas of what to write about… but the tank was on “E” and I was running on fumes for the downtime I had.
I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get out of a field that is effectively lying in the bed of intransigence it made and now dealing with its legendary well of desperate labor suddenly running dry. A lot of my older friends and colleagues are staring down this situation and realizing that “the free market,” capitalism, and truthfully any economic structure looks great until you find yourself on the underside of it.
So why am I not part of this grand exodus? With my skills and experience, I could march into nearly any job fair run by one of those hospitality giants, lay down my resume, and conduct a bidding war for my services. More money, more benefits, fewer responsibilities (at least to start), and a clear career trajectory for rising in their company. Sounds like a no-brainer, so why not go for it?
Because I refuse to waste time working toward what I don’t want.
Back when I was a Scout, I learned one of life’s most important lessons by way of a story from dated, semi-racist book that exuded the “Noble Savage” trope. The book was “Gospel of the Redman” by Ernest Thompson Seton (who was himself a former Chief Scout of the BSA,) and the story taught me that we all define happiness and success for ourselves. It was about a man selling onions.
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.
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?!”
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.
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.”
Several years ago, back in New Jersey, I walked into the casino bakery in a sour mood, knowing it would pass in a few hours.
The sour mood wasn’t uncommon- the casino job wasn’t the most rewarding gig in the world, and I griped a lot to Emily and my housemates. This time, however, the fact I was going to a job I wasn’t enjoying was secondary- there was other, external issues weighing on my my mind and, perhaps appropriately, I have forgotten what was so terrible about those days five years later.
What I do remember was coming in, putting my tools up, and chatting briefly with Karen. “It’s so twisted… I almost find myself looking forward to going to work. Here everything makes sense even if it sucks, and I have control over it.” Karen nodded sagely and said, “You’ll realize that as you move along in your career, Matt. Your family and friends love you, they support you, and they absolutely care about you succeeding- but they will never understand this life.”
When you realize that you want to bend your time, energy, and life around something- in or out of the usual rat-race, regardless of whether other people understand why- that’s a precious moment of self-knowledge that you shouldn’t ignore.