February 9, 2014

The Elephant in the Room: Doing Something for Nothing (& Being Happy Anyway). ~ Andrea Charpentier

money capture

Upon starting a new job, how many of us have heard the question, “How much are you getting paid?” And how many of us have heard the question, “How much happiness are you getting out of it?”

What is money but a conceptualized tool used for the facilitation of the transaction of goods? And what is happiness but a true stasis of being that everyone wishes to attain? Why so much focus on one and not the other?

Many people would say the answer to this query is that we need money, the tool, to obtain the things that will make us happy, which would inevitably lead to the response that money cannot buy happiness, not truly. The dialogue could go on forever and I try to forego getting tangled in such a rabbit hole-esque conversation. What I wish to specifically address is the absolute despair that permeates within the question, “How much are you getting paid?”

I always tolerated this question with a grain of salt. Of course my family wants to know, they want to feel I am secure and can take care of myself. Anyone else who asked, I just chalked it up as a social convention that required neither my liking nor my understanding—it’s just a question people ask, a facetious exchange of words at best; nothing more.

Then I started my apprenticeship with Elephant Journal.

When I told people I was apprenticing as an assistant editor and contributing writer for free the reaction I got was not unlike one I would expect to get if I were to state that I was endeavoring to learn how to juggle puppies with scorpions. People were shocked, then confused and then the best part: condescending.

I myself was shocked. In the nicest way possible, I first asked if they knew what the word “apprentice” means. I asked if they understood the actual concept of what an “apprenticeship” was. I never got a straight (or correct) answer and the conversation soon deteriorated into an argument as confusion took over.

People just couldn’t understand why I would “waste time” with something that didn’t pay me, not big bucks, but any bucks at all. I did my best to convey that a) it paid in experience and training (hellooo, appren-tice-ship!), and that b) I enjoyed the work. It truly blows my skirt up to read, proof, edit, correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, rearrange sentence structures to find that succinct line that will shine, shine, shine. And let’s not forget about c) Elephant Journal does pay their writers, provided the submission-count and readership view-count merits pay. In other words, you get what you give.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Apparently, a lot.

Apparently, it’s foolish to do something for free.

Apparently, the fact that it makes a person happy is totally irrelevant if there’s no pay involved.

Apparently, I was naïve for thinking it might lead to other things writing-wise and I would just have to learn the hard way that everyday people like me don’t get to one day be renowned and respected writers after humbly starting first with an apprentice-whatchamacallit.

I am sure there are many us out there who are in the midst of pursuing something purely because we want to, because it makes us happy. Please pay little heed to the multitude of detractors that are lying in wait. They will do their best to knock you down from an already precarious perch—it’s scary to chase the dream. To quote Sylvia Plath, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” There will be times enough when you will find yourself with little to no hope, you will fill your doubt quota just fine on your own; you don’t need others to do it for you, too. Have faith and don’t give in to despair.

I would like to encourage everyone to keep going.

Don’t give up the pursuit. Strive to surround yourselves with like-minded individuals, people who champion guts and tenacity, who will support and uplift you and your dream. In the words of Rumi, “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” And if there is no outer support, look within. Be your own bastion of strength. You are stronger than you think.

I would like to advise that you pick and choose your battles. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the time and energy to fight with someone over the validity of chasing your dream. As much as it pains me, there are people who I eschew from discussing my Elephant Journal experience with. Yes, it’s uncomfortable “having an elephant in the room,” but not as uncomfortable as butting my head against a brick wall.

I would like to state that happiness should not ever, ever be measured by how much money you make. Ever. This is such a big no-no.

I would also like to offer the gentle reminder to be patient. Nothing good comes easy and all things take time. I liken it to the forging of a sword. It’s harsh on the anvil, tough-going getting pounded by that hammer all the time; but when it’s over and the sword is finally dipped into the cool water it’s like a baptism, an action taken in precedence to the great deeds that will be done and the great battles that will be won. Commit to your time on the anvil and eventually you will come out battle-ready, prepared to kick some serious ass and take some mighty names.

To all the detractors out there, the nay-sayers, the Negative Nancy’s, the Debbie Downers and the all-around stinkers, I offer you the simple words of a wise bunny:

“If you can’t say something nice…don’t say nothing at all.”

Thank you on behalf of all the makers of music and all the dreamers of dreams.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: elephant journal archives

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