Not In It For The Money
By Malarie Gokey
“If you don’t love the doin’ the done don’t count no matter how good it is.”
– James McBride
Maybe you were five, 11 or 18 the first time someone asked you this question: What do you want to be when you grow up? At the age of five, answers came easy: Firefighter! Cop! Singer! At 11, they grew more complicated and cluttered. You think now that being a singer is a silly idea and you don’t really want to swagger around with a badge catching bad guys either, so you mold your answer more carefully. The question gathers momentum with each year. Like a boulder, it picks up debris as it rolls downhill. Your dream, perched on the precipice, is fragile—only you can protect it. A boulder of expectations is crashing down the hill ready to smash it.
What are you going to do with your life? What are you going to do with your life?
Stop. You reach out, two strong arms, two firm hands. Stop. Quiet those voices and consider what lies at your core. It is your dream and it is fragile—only you can protect it.
1 obsolete : outcome, result
2 a : degree or measure of succeeding
b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence
We are at odds with our own definition of success. An outcome which is favorable or desired is not always congruous with the attainment of wealth or power. There is always the easy route. We can find out which professions will hand out the biggest pay checks or ensure a swift rise to power. It’s easy to measure success by money. After all, it’s only numbers. Measuring satisfaction and happiness, determining what is a favorable or desired outcome for our lives, is much harder.
If we consider the old adage “Money can’t buy happiness” true, then all that striving for wealth and power will be for naught. Money cannot give you the satisfaction of living your dreams. At the end of the day, you sit like old Scrooge, alone with your dusty coins, counting and recounting in the darkness.
That novel you were writing, that painting you set aside, that violin you packed in a box, is still waiting for you. True happiness and satisfaction do not come without some degree of struggle. You must fight for your dream and if it should die slowly, it is your duty to revive it.
1: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition
2: to proceed with difficulty or with great effort
There will be those who will oppose you. They will tell you that your dream is foolish, impractical.
What good is art with an empty belly? What good are poems with back rent due?
Retort: What good is money without happiness? What good is life without a dream?
Take it from Vincent van Gogh who never sold a painting in his life or E.T.A Hoffman who died drunk and indebted with his pile of manuscripts. Yes, it is hard. Yes, you will struggle. You will endure. Not all moments will be like this. There are those moments when you step back and see the fruits of your labor. There are moments when pride fills you like a balloon and you think, Just look at it. Just look at what I’ve done.
1: to bring about (a result) by effort
2: to bring to completion : fulfill
3: to succeed in reaching (a stage in a progression)
Accomplishments are not handed down from some benevolent God in the sky; they are sought after and worked towards. Do not expect that your first poem will be published, your first painting “discovered.” Expect that it will take effort. After a long succession of late nights and endless revisions, you believe you are in purgatory. You want to throw your painting out the 6th floor window. You want to toss your $1,000 laptop in the incinerator.
Not a good idea. Breathe. Close the laptop, hid your paint brush and to be safe, your scissors. Take a walk around the block. Should walking fail to bring relief, run. Isn’t this what they call running from your problems?
Come back to yourself. Take a look at what you’ve accomplished. Usually it’s not half bad. And if it is, you’ve learned something. The only mistakes that waste time are the ones we refuse to learn from.
1: a : the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues
3: b : an opportune or suitable moment
5: a: Lifetime
b : a period of apprenticeship
Oh don’t worry, you have time! The younger and more passionate you are, the more irritating this phrase sounds. You want it NOW. In fact, you expect it. All the struggle, the effort and the time you’ve put into your dream, well it better pay off and fast!
But when did your dream start attaching itself to money? When did it become something quantifiable?
If the point is money, you’re in the wrong field. So why are you so anxious about the hours you’ve put in? You’re not on the clock. I don’t see any payroll here. No accountants either.
Time is fluid; let your dream move with the current. Some days there are rapids, some days there are dams. You won’t always see it, but remember; there is motion in stillness.
1: c : an expedition, journey, or march through a region
2: a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal): Advance
3: gradual betterment; especially: the progressive development of humankind
— in progress
: going on: Occurring
We are always so anxious to finish things. We have eating contests to see who can finish faster. We have races, deadlines, alarms, timetables, calendars, agendas, appointments, meetings and papers to finish. Once the thing is finally done, we can say that we have been productive, we finally did something!
But, what did you learn?
Oh nothing really. I just dashed it off.
And we’re so proud of ourselves. We met the deadline, finished the race, the stack of pancakes, the paper, the meeting—in record time! What an accomplishment!
Then, the fanfare fades and we see our grand accomplishment. Tap the underside; can’t we see it’s hollow? We have made no progress. All that we have learned amounts to this: we can do something fast and badly if asked, that will pass for greatness even though we know it does not live up to its name.
Progress is not about the destination. We are not born with the determination to get through life as though it were a race and whoever finishes first wins. We are born with the determination to savor life and enjoy its progress. Reaching the end too soon is a tragedy. Why should we feel any different about a painting or a poem? Should we not mourn its passing too soon?
We learn little by little when we remember to appreciate the progression of states. We are, and always will be, everyone we’ve ever been up to this point. Gather all your selves together and move forward. Life is in progress—now resume.
1: b : the realization or embodiment of an abstraction
3: the union of elements (as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person
Once you give up the idea of a divinity and predestination, you have the problem of self-definition. Who am I? How can I define myself?
Some will tell you that what you do determines who you are. If that’s so, you’re a waiter or a busboy. Fantastic. Don’t believe them. Your profession is not always your true vocation.
Others will tell you that who you are determines what you do. This is not helpful. You are, after all, trying to define yourself.
But perhaps the answer lies elsewhere—not in the action itself, but in the quality of the action.
It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it.
1: a : peculiar and essential character : Nature
2: a : degree of excellence : Grade
Quality is something that endures. It is a sort of essence—the flickering blue flame at the center of the fire. You are the one who shapes it. A quality can grow or shrink within a person and the things they create.
We talk about the quality of linen, mattresses and wine as if they were gifts from the gods, perfectly formed and bestowed upon us. We like to forget about the woman in Guatemala crouched over her loom, shuttle zipping back and forth, the suntanned farmer deftly training the grape vines. We like to forget that this masterpiece took time and effort; that its creator gave something of himself in the process.
We prefer to think, Oh, well, Da Vinci was a genius. It was easy for him!
We shrug our shoulders and move on. We can’t all be geniuses.
A well-made object is the result of time and effort. It is said that Da Vinci carried the Mona Lisa with him for years adding a line here, a point of light there and more often than not, adding nothing at all—nothing, but his thoughts.
Whatever you create, is your contribution to the world. You will be remembered for the quality of your pursuits, not the pursuits themselves. Life has given you these hands, these eyes, these thoughts—make use of them and give a little back to the world that has shaped you.
1: To follow in order to overtake, capture, kill, or defeat
2: to find or employ measures to obtain or accomplish: Seek
: to go in pursuit
The Declaration of Independence states that we have the inalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Assuming we take the word happiness at face value, then we have the right to pursue what will make us happiest. If we take the word to mean property as some say Jefferson meant, then I guess we have the right to pursue money.
You put your dream on the side– it can wait. You get your degree, your six-figure salary, your 60-hour workweek. You save your money. You invest.
Voilá! Now you have your mansion, your fleet of sports cars, your wife and labrador.
You have parties on the weekend and reminisce with your friends. Remember when you were writing that novel? What was it called? Grosezky’s Undercoat or something?
You remember. It actually didn’t have a title– still doesn’t. It’s in the bottom left-hand drawer collecting dust. Every now and then your wife pulls it out. Do you really need this?
You say, Just leave it, I’ll throw it out later. But you never do. You can’t.
Your dream is still there. Dust it off; begin anew.
We have the right to seek anything we wish, good or evil. Follow the honorable course and though you might suffer in its pursuit, happiness will be waiting. Dishonor begets shame and misery. A blood diamond will drip, even on the hand of a lady so fine as Macbeth’s.
4: one whose worth brings respect or fame: Credit
8: a : a keen sense of ethical conduct: Integrity
If individualism has taught us anything, it is that we are not like everybody else. So why do we try so hard to be exactly like everybody else? We have our own talents and methods. We can do things in a way that is different.
Let those who dream of healing the sick and saving lives become doctors. Let those who believe in the power of law to enact justice become lawyers. Don’t study law or medicine for the paycheck. If you want to be a writer, write.
You can’t eat rejected manuscripts, the voice of reason will say.
And that is true. Nonetheless, it is possible to honor yourself, your dream without starving. Do what you must. Wait tables, ring up purchases, write bad commercials, blog about celebrities. There is honor in all work.
Go home footsore and tired. Write the next chapter, paint the next canvas, memorize the next line.
Honor yourself, your experiences, your uniqueness. Each person is their own fun house mirror with a million different faces, some distorted, some true. We are not simple enough creatures that we have but one truth. We can, however, strive for integrity.
Follow the long and arduous path of an honorable life. Shortcuts will only get you lost. Alice was lost in Wonerland without an idea of her direction or purpose, yet she was determined to find the right path. But what is the right path when you don’t know where you’re going?
Cheshire Cat: “Only a few find the way, some don’t recognize it when they do – some… don’t ever want to.”
1: To be alive
8: To have a rich experience
4: a : to experience firsthand
b : to be thoroughly absorbed by or involved with
When they ask you, What have you done with your life?
Answer, I have lived it.