You know that saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow?” Well, I think it’s a nice sentiment, but I also think it does little to truly express what following your dreams is really all about. Are you doing what you love because you want to get paid for it? Because, trust me, there are a lot better ways to make money than to be a singer, dancer, actor, author, artist, insert-your-passion-here. Paying the bills gets a whole lot easier if you have a 9-5 to rely on. Dreams don’t put food on the table. Money does.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you love. You should! It also means that you should be willing to keep doing what you love even if the money doesn’t follow. That is, if you really love it.
One of the reasons I have never pursued a full time career as a yoga teacher is that I simply love yoga. Sure, it’s nice to get paid to teach it when I can, but the work that goes into securing enough yoga classes, private students, workshops and retreats to make a living at it is enough to put me off the whole endeavor. I already have a full time job that keeps me plenty busy. I don’t also need to add in all the legwork that goes into a career as a yoga teacher. But whenever I get the opportunity to teach at my favorite yoga studio or to present my Yoga for Writers workshops, I get that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from doing something you love. So, although I don’t pursue this path with the kind of fervor that would be required to really make money, I keep my toe in. Just to feel that joy of sharing my passion with others.
When it comes to writing, however, I keep chasing the dream at all costs. Even if I never earned another penny from it, I couldn’t stop writing. It’s a part of me that can’t be suppressed. Seriously, I would probably be locked up in a looney bin if I didn’t have a constructive outlet for all the voices in my head. Luckily, I do earn money from writing. Not enough to give up the day job (yet), but it doesn’t matter how much I do or don’t earn. If I were to win the lottery and never had to work another day in my life, I would still write. And I would probably write a lot more because I wouldn’t have that pesky day job to get in the way. Alternatively, I could go on writing for the rest of my life even if I never sold another book again. I know this is true because I have tried to quit writing several times over the years.
Yes, I have given up on my dreams more than once, disheartened by the odds of actually succeeding at it professionally. But I could never keep the stories away for long. They would creep back into my consciousness, very unexpectedly in most instances. And soon I’d be scribbling out a scene or tapping into a character’s inner monologue, driven by the simple need to get that stuff out of my head. And I’d go so far as to say that this has nothing to do with love at all. It’s more of a biological need. If I didn’t have a way to corral the wandering minstrels of my mind, I really do think I would completely crack up. The simple truth is, I can’t stop writing. No matter what.
So, before dreams of fame and fortune set you off on any specific career path, ask yourself if this is something you would do regardless of how much money you earned from it. If it is, go for it! Put your whole heart into it. And perhaps have a backup plan just in case you find that your dreams of singing soprano at the Metropolitan Opera aren’t quite paying the bills.