Some people can make a living doing what they love. We all know of people like this, though maybe not personally. Every Hollywood actor, director and producer is a case in point. Assuming that they do indeed love what they do; they are usually examples of people who are able to earn money by pursuing their passion.
But not everyone has that option. Some people need to find a way to earn money so that they can survive and dedicate themselves to what they think is most important in life, be it a creative, scientific or activist endeavor they hold dear. Two examples of this are the writer, Kafka, and the philosopher, Spinoza.
Franz Kafka was a visionary-fiction writer, born in 1983 in Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, who became well known after his death for works such as The Metamorphosis. He trained and worked as a lawyer so had to write at night. For him, this was an exhausting and even torturous life, but in the end he found salvation in his passion for writing.
“Kafka himself looked upon his writing and the creative act it signified as a means of ‘redemption,’ as a ‘form of prayer’ through which he might be reconciled to the world or might transcend his negative experience of it” (Encyclopedia Britannica 2022).
While today Kafka is a well-known and influential literary figure, at the time of his death he was only known by a small circle of literary enthusiasts.
Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher born in 1632. He is well-known for his support of Rationalism and denial of dogmatism. Spinoza was an influential intellectual in his own time and interacted with many of the most prominent people of the day. However, he never had a formal academic position but instead made his living by grinding lenses while penning his philosophical works.
These two individuals are examples of people who did what they thought was most important in life even though they were not able to earn a living through it.
With Kafka, we might say that the language and logic skills he acquired through practicing law were transferable to his writing. But the levels his imagination could go were certainly worlds away from law. Spinoza’s work grinding lenses was an example of how our day job may be completely unrelated to what we consider our real work.
Sometimes we might think that if we don’t succeed financially at our passion, then it wasn’t meant to be. No one wants to publish my book, take on my screenplay, investigate my theory so that means that I should resign myself to life without my passion. I better just grow up and accept my fate and place in the cogs of the economic machine around me!
But why should money be proof of our calling? Why should money validate our drive? Why should money be the proof that we are good at what we do or simply that what we do is good? It shouldn’t.
We might then ask, whether money is just money, but is also a sign that others value what we do because they have gone out to see our show or buy our book. Along these lines, this shows that what we do has value. We are not just locked up in our own delusional dreams of genius because other people have deemed us worthy of their money.
But I don’t think this is a good way to think. I think there is value in pursuing our passion for its own sake, regardless of what others think. In the end we all reside within the confines of our own individuality, our own subjectivity. Our life’s work is no different. Others will love it or hate it, see it or not see it. Our mission in life will always remain just that, our mission.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share our passion with others. That’s important. It’s good to share our souls with the world. But the reaction to that sharing is not our concern.
So, it seems we need to find a way to do what we love, to do what’s important to us.
That might mean earning money by whatever means we can to support ourselves, as long as it doesn’t undermine our values or stand in the way of pursuing our passion.
Eventually, we might be able to earn a living doing what we love. Then our working life and “love life” will be aligned. But for many people that is not possible. They need to keep their day job while still focusing on their passion. This can seem unsustainable. It can seem like we are hanging onto a dream that will never bear fruit. But the act of living our passion is the dream.
When we write, paint, dance, make music, invent something, we are living the dream. We become the work of art. We are successful because we are actualizing our deepest desire. Maybe no one will ever listen to our music, read our poetry or see us dance. But they will see the joy in our eyes that comes from living our passion. And if at least they see that, then we have done our job; we have made it.