Paying the Bills with Dreams

Two weeks ago I told you all about my first world problems. Since then, I’ve baked cakes and roasted pork in my new shiny kitchen. I’ve also been fired from my part-time job at a local cafe – turns out washing the dishes really isn’t my forte. Who would have guessed?

I’m not that cut up about the sudden loss of employment. It gives me more time for my writing, which after all is the whole point of the big choices I’ve made – to devote my life to what’s really important to me. And the latest reminder of mortality is the death of my dear Grandpa, a natural storyteller if there ever was one. I remember the entertaining sermons he gave as a minister in the United Reformed Church, and the tall tales he told us when we were children, most of them featuring crocodiles.

In the middle of musing on these things, I’ve encountered two pieces with different views on Life. One is a webcomic from Zen Pencils which encourages you to pursue what you love and forget about money, because spending your life doing something you don’t enjoy is ‘stupid’. Another is a Salon article which points out that many professional authors are actually supported financially by wealthy parents or – in the case of Ann Bauer, the article’s author – a spouse. Her situation is very similar to mine in some ways, her ability to write full-time enabled by her husband’s well-salaried job. She openly says that the stability she enjoys – both financial and emotional – has meant she can now write the books she was unable to write back when her life was far more precarious.

I have to admit, I identify with her strongly. My life in my twenties was nowhere near as difficult as hers, but I had my struggles, and it took me years to write a similar output to what I now manage in months. Writing books whilst working a full-time demanding job is not easy. But should I have quit earlier, and followed my dream from the start, instead of spending years working at a career I found ultimately unfulfilling? Well, you can’t eat words. Or dreams. They won’t pay your rent or your bills either.

And that is the uncomfortable truth about Follow Your Dream and Do What You Love. It’s an awful lot easier when you’ve got someone else putting food on the table. Oh sure, if what you love happens to lead to a high-paying career, you’ve hit the jackpot. But writing simply isn’t very lucrative for the vast majority of people. And we all need to eat – so most of us end up doing something else as well, whether it’s washing dishes or auditing accounts. I’m incredibly lucky that, like Ann Bauer, I’m sponsored by my husband, and I never take that good fortune for granted.

I would always encourage people to pursue their dreams, but I also think we shouldn’t pretend it’s always that easy. Until we arrive in the utopia where we’re all free of the yoke of work and can spend our time on the pursuits that make us happy – which let’s face it doesn’t feel like it’s coming any time soon – someone needs to pay the bills.

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