LATEST BLOG: What can we learn from Benjamin Franklin's coffeehouse obsession?

Why turning your passion into your job may not lead to happiness

I have stumbled through another period of disillusionment recently, struggling for balance and failing to think clearly. Some old, annoying traits have resurfaced, knocking me off course and distorting my daily sense of purpose.

For the past year, I have lurched from one extreme to the other with regard to writing. It is the greatest pleasure in my life, a natural skill that helps me feel alive, but the temptation, nay the expectation, to monetise that ability frequently knocks me out of kilter.

In the millennial age, so addled and confused, happiness, contentment and fulfilment are almost exclusively defined as doing what you love for a living. Superstar influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk have built a critical mass of attention by telling us to turn our passions into our careers, our hobbies into our jobs. That’s when we will be happy, they tell us. That’s when we will reach our true potential.

An entire industry has been built to this end, and we’re all suddenly trying to flog spot cream on Instagram rather than going to work. Nowadays, we’re all one podcast binge away from quitting our jobs and buying a cabin in rural Macedonia. This nervy madness is unsustainable.

Why your side hustle won't make you happy

The aspiration of doing something you love professionally seems to make sense. We spend almost 100,000 hours at work during the course of our lives, so we might as well try to have fun in the process. Do something you love, the old adage goes, and you will never work a day in your life. Except here’s the problem with turning your passion into your career: it can simply never make you happy.

Let’s dissect this logically. First, we must examine the purpose of a career, of a job, of work itself. We live under capitalism, which dictates that everything must be viewed through a profit-making prism. Work, therefore, is merely an endless pursuit of money, be it for yourself or for a private company. In capitalism, work was never meant to be enjoyable. It was designed simply as a system to generate profit, and that is an emotionally corrupt crusade steeped in unhappiness.

A job is merely a vehicle to making money, which in turn is wholly, intrinsically and irrefutably reliant on other people. As designed by capitalism, every job is an exercise in selling something. You could sell fruit at a local market or yachts to the super wealthy. You could sell your expertise as a decorator or, like me, attempt to sell services for a multi-national conglomerate through bid writing.

We’re all selling something. We’re all pawns in the capitalist machine. Yes, even you, the call centre worker. And yes, even you, the administrative assistant. You are part of the money-making juggernaut, too.

Accordingly, there is no such thing as a self-sustained job. In order to survive, we need other people to buy the products and services we are peddling, and that quest rests on the art of persuasion and the endless seeking of approval.

Persuading people defers to insincerity and untruth; seeking approval opens a whole gamut of negative psychological reactions, from obsession and worry to paranoia and megalomania.

Of course, there is a counterargument that, if employment is destined to be an arduous ordeal of money and misery, at least participating in the rat race of a topic that interests you will diminish the unhappiness ever so slightly. I can definitely appreciate that school of thought, and seeking employment in an area of interest is certainly advisable. But don't place a whole life-load of pressure onto your passion, and don't isolate yourself in a one-dimensional void.

Under capitalism, turning your passion into your job explicitly means monetising your hobby. Yet monetising your hobby places you in a position of subservience to the tastes and whims of other people. You still need to sell something, remember. You still need to make money. Taking the leap of faith and following your dream has connotations of empowerment, but by definition, turning a passion into a job actually makes us powerless.

We might enjoy the act of blogging from a coffee shop more than sitting in somebody else’s office, but sustaining both careers is reliant on the same thing: an irrepressible need to generate profit. Putting that pressure on yourself inevitably erodes any pleasure derived from the activity at hand. Employment is a tool of greed, and that can never be a contenting situation as it pertains to your hobbies.

If a job in capitalist society is incapable of being pleasurable due to its insistence on creating profit - an intrinsically unhappy endeavour - why would we want to turn something we love into a job?

Why would we take a passion, something that is good in our lives, and turn it into a soulless engine of mere cash, something that is bad?

If our passion is our job, what is our passion? We have none, and an absence of passion is second only to an absence of hope in the hierarchy of potently ruinous human conditions.

What happens when your passion becomes a chore?

Just look at the professional footballers who fall out of love with the beautiful game and, when its euphoria becomes routine, seek to find adrenaline in other, often illicit, pursuits.

Think of Diego Maradona and drugs. Think of Joey Barton and gambling. Think of Paul Gascoigne and alcohol.

While each of those cases have very nuanced geneses, mixing passion and profession was not enough to guarantee happiness for those people. Such a curse is replicated infinitely across an interminable range of industries. The lack of work-life balance is often devastating.  

Returning to my own quandary, I love writing. It keeps me alive. I was born to blog and publish and tell stories. However, when forced through the Gary Vee taxonomy of passion as job, writing treads very close to becoming a robotic chore devoid of spontaneity, enjoyment and satisfaction.

The problem with influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk, Darren Rowse and Neil Patel

In recent weeks, I have listened to almost one hundred episodes of ProBlogger, a podcast by Darren Rowse, who has developed a multi-million-dollar blogging empire from scratch. His expertise is unparalleled, and I have tremendous respect for everything he has accomplished. It is truly inspirational. Yet, for an obsessive-compulsive mind like mine, consuming such content is akin to a solvent abuser sniffing paint. It never ends well.

By nature, my mind is a hive of activity. Obsessive-compulsive disorder means that I can only attain happiness or satisfaction after the completion of certain tasks, typically in a cyclical fashion. That cycle never ends, however, resulting in anxiety and often leading to further mental health struggles. I have found that listening to Gary Vee, ProBlogger and a slew of similar self-made entrepreneurs triggers my OCD cycle terribly. The results are often disastrous.

For example, I could be experiencing a relatively calm day only to hear a fantastic nugget of advice on a podcast or read a wonderful article online. It could be Vaynerchuk preaching hustle, Rowse explaining affiliate marketing or Neil Patel providing his top thirty tips for search engine optimisation in 2019. When I hear something that grabs my attention and piques my interest, the rest of my day is doomed, to the detriment of those around me. I have to implement that code on my website. I have to sign up for that pay-per-click program. I have to start that new side hustle. Right here, right now. Tunnel vision engulfs me, and sometimes I drift off into an unhappy world for weeks at a time.

Perhaps this is a personal problem, or a mental health problem, rather than a capitalist problem or a Gary Vaynerchuk problem. I don’t know. However, until capitalism is replaced with a more altruistic and compassionate alternative, for the sake of my wellbeing, I will not try to turn my passion into my job. At least not if I want that passion to remain so, and at least not if I wish to retain even a small semblance of autonomy over my own fleeting encounters with happiness.

Some will say that, if I loathe capitalism so much, I should do everything to oppose it in militant fashion. Detractors will argue that, by failing to monetise my website, I am accepting corporate capitalism and contributing to the problem. The same people will tell me to live in a camper van and vote for Jeremy Corbyn. How about no? We’re all wired differently here.

I believe that contentment, at least in our cultural context of capitalism, is best achieved not through the conversion of passion to job, but rather by compartmentalising the responsibilities ruthlessly bestowed upon us without consent. Work at work. Passions in their own right. A small shard of control retained instead of a total surrender to omnipotent cash.

Of course, I have just published a book, which would appear to contradict the contents of this article. However, the book is a far more noble product, fashioned artistically with skill, than the typical eCommerce dross found online. Moreover, I do not try to persuade people to buy the book with aggressive marketing. I merely present it as a manifestation of my passion and extend it into a fertile space for organic appreciation by likeminded people.

Similarly, selling a range of Planet Prentonia t-shirts may undermine my stance, but that project is powered by collaboration with Lux et Robur, an individual brand whose motives are magnanimous. Planet Prentonia and Lux et Robur yearn to enrich the culture surrounding Tranmere Rovers, a shared passion, and creating clothes that strike a chord with fellow fans is a positive part of that mission. What minimal profit we make goes back into additional initiatives, be it the sharing of untold stories or the sponsoring of club events, all of which provide otherwise unattainable value in the Tranmere Rovers space.

The truth about affiliate marketing and pay-per-click advertising

On the other hand, placing adverts and affiliate marketing links on my website was a fleeting experiment I will never likely replicate. That is a world of deep unhappiness, dear readers, so please hold me accountable and don’t let me fall down that rabbit hole again.

Absent a career in full-time journalism, often a restrictive environment, at a more granular level, turning my passion into my job means operating a website that generates traffic and, by extension, entices people to click on adverts.

Such a concept reverse-engineers the creative process, starting with dollar signs and working backwards to generate blog posts that appeal to the mainstream. I have experimented with this model, but clickbait is anathema with my motives for writing. It adds to the deeply uncomfortable identity crisis that I attempt to alleviate through blogging.

You see, I’m a writer, a poet and a daydreaming romantic. Billy Connolly is my spirit animal and Pete Doherty is my hero. If they taught me anything, it is to spew out your soul and live in accordance with your beliefs - snot, warts and all. Art, music and writing is intrinsically beautiful. It doesn’t have to be a contrived bridge to something else.

What is the meaning of life in the millennial age?

My battles with mental ill health and suicidal thoughts are linked to a corrupted or embryonic understanding of why we are here at all. Trying to decipher the meaning of life is a timeless conundrum, and it is one I have pondered this year. Largely, we have to construct our own meaning to guard against the onset of tedium, paralysis and hopelessness. Passion is a fundamental cornerstone in defining ones meaning.

In this guise, writing helps me make sense of the world and our often-inexplicable role within it. I write because of an innate desire to do so, not to make money. If my ability to eat, drink and sleep under a roof depended on publishing consistent content, I would lose all control of the creative process. Rather than being a cathartic outlet from the banality of everyday life, writing would become an accoutrement of that monotony. It would contribute to the ennui as opposed to breaking it up.

For this reason, I have always struggled with writing schedules, content calendars and any other time-bound system of pressure. Therefore, when Gary Vee says that I need to be creating one hundred pieces of content every day, that creates an anxious thread in my obsessive-compulsive turmoil. That creates a false sense of failure, inferiority and dejection in my mood. Far from amounting to success, such paradigms encourage burnout and suck the impromptu wonder from things you once loved. Why would you do that?

The only way to turn your passion into a job without losing said passion is to master the skill that is closest to your heart in a natural, organic fashion, without expectation. Mastery will rip a hole in the persuasion-approval continuum because people will come to you, exactly as you are, and want you just like that. It may take many years, and it is sure to navigate through obscurity, but it happens very rarely.

In this regard, we see the special genius of guys like Jared Carrabis, who blogged about his beloved Red Sox with such vigour, affection and knowledge that mainstream media outlets could not ignore his growing influence.

In 2006, Carrabis created SoxSpace, a Red Sox blog that quickly gained more than 100,000 followers. Jared wrote about the team with feverish intensity without a cent of income for eight years, never changing his approach and never morphing into an idealisation of the market. Then Barstool Sports gave him a part-time opportunity to continue that style, before a full-time gig was announced in 2016.

Right now, Carrabis is the most relatable sports media personality in America. He writes as he always has, from the heart and without any filter. Moreover, his successful podcasts are hilarious, littered with expletives and the everyday trappings of enflamed fandom. A whole raft of imitators have tried to replicate Carrabis’ approach, but invariably they fail. Why? Because Jared Carrabis is himself, and nobody else can logically be Jared Carrabis.

Here, contrary to Vaynerchuk’s mantra of hustle, grind and total surrender to your dreams, I have found that hard work does not guarantee success. It certainly helps, and I believe strongly in taking imperfect action towards your goals every single day, but there is no golden formula for accomplishment that works without fault. I have worked hard and implemented a lot of tips from many entrepreneurs. However, I’m still no closer to blogging from that café for a living. I’m still nowhere near guaranteeing a lifetime of security merely by writing from the heart.

I haven’t necessarily given up on that dream, but I have certainly stopped pursuing it in obsessive fashion. I will never sacrifice my values, health and soul to become what the market rewards.

Not every fisherman has to compete in FishOMania. Not every gardener has to become Monty Don. And not every writer has to publish clickbait just to survive. I’m in a fortunate position where writing can be a powerful source of good within my life rather being my life entirely. That distinction makes writing a passion for me rather than an apathetic mechanism to profit. I’m happier this way, and that’s really the only thing that matters.


Social media

Follow Ryan on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Social Proof Experiments