Eat Pancakes and Change the World

When I say “make money from your passion”, this is what I mean…

A post came through my Twitter feed this morning called Paid to Eat Pancakes: The Truth About “Passions”. The author argues that the idea of making money from your “passions” is overdone and trite, and ultimately misleading.

First of all, let’s take a closer look at the word “passion”. The Dictionary application on my Mac offers this as the first definition:

strong and barely controllable emotion

Yes, there are other definitions, but this one is pretty telling about our misuse of this word. I have no problem with your really enjoying making candles or hand-sewing your own undergarments, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we start calling these things “passions.”

I obviously can’t say this for sure, but when I hear somebody talking about being passionate about composting, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in thinking that, maybe, they’re overstating it a smidge. In recent years, people have gotten into the habit of using “passion” as a drop-in substitute for “thing I like doing on a Saturday afternoon while I have my Mint Julep.”

My take on passion

As one of those people urging you to make money from your passions, I feel (barely controllably) that I ought to respond in some way. And since I believe that in this case, the difference of opinion is due to a miscommunication, I’m going to clarify what I mean when I say I want you to make money from your passion. (I obviously can’t speak for anyone else).

Don’t get me wrong: if there’s a hobby you enjoy, I’m all in favor of your making money off of it. And I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. I’m not opposed to your making money from candles or hand-stitched underwear or compost.

But it’s not, ultimately, what I hope for.

My passions

I have a friend who’s a writer. Never mind that she’s never published anything: writing is in her soul. Honestly, it’s a passion (and/or a compulsion, but in this context they’re the same). She’s going to write anyway; the royalties from a published book might not be much, but it would be a little passive income no matter what, and it might let her become a full-time writer. But she refuses to even consider submitting any of her writing for publication. This makes me so mad I want to shake her.

I volunteer on a church trip for local ninth graders. Each year I watch 30 – 50 amazing young people come to grips with the idea that they’re maybe — just possibly — not scum. For ten days, I watch as they come to life, connect with their own soul and with others’, and form a beautiful, loving community. Then I have to send them back to a school that, in most cases, is doing its best to beat down all beauty and creativity and individuality. I want to cry. I want to smack the high school bullies. I want to march into the principal’s office and tell them off for allowing this to happen day after day, year after year. Instead I try to connect with the ninth graders on Facebook and be there when they need a hug.

This TED talk on the endangered ethnosphere does make me cry. I visit American Indian reservations in Arizona, and watch their ninth graders getting ready to make the single biggest, black-and-white decision of their lives: do you want a long and wealthy, but ultimately meaningless life as a US citizen? Or do you want a meaningful, happy, poverty-stricken life as a Hopi? The Lexus or the Olive Tree? Why not both? Who said it has to be one way or the other? Why do we keep doing this to each other??

It all comes down to money

When the Europeans exported their culture in the 1500s in the name of God, Gold and Glory, one of the things they imposed on the world was our current capitalist approach to resource distribution: if you want things like medical care, nutritious food, electricity, etc, you have to pay for them with money.

If you want money, you have to work a job — mostly Monday – Friday, 9 – 5.

If you want a job, you have to do exactly what your boss tells you to, no matter how stupid or degrading.

If you have a 40-hour-a-week job acting like a trained monkey, you can buy necessities and luxuries, but you’re still a trained monkey. We’ve gained the whole world but lost our souls.

We need a different way to make money

Some people say that we should eliminate capitalism entirely, and thus eliminate that whole problem. But there are several problems with that plan: communism on a large scale (and the current global population is a very large scale indeed) doesn’t seem to work; it’s unclear how to fairly divide the resources that currently exist under the capitalist system; capitalism is so entrenched worldwide that it would take enormous effort to nudge it, much less abolish it; and frankly, I kinda like capitalism. It’s done a good job with a lot of problems, even if it did a lousy job with others.

I don’t want to eliminate capitalism.

But the next few links in the chain are much weaker.

What if your job didn’t require a trained ape? What if your job wanted someone creative, bold, artistic? What if going to work every day was challenging, rewarding and meaningful? Seth Godin believes that’s the economy of the future.

What if you didn’t need a job to get money? What if you were self-employed, and could take days off whenever you needed to in order to watch your kids grow up, celebrate your religious holidays, or do some deep introspection in times of crisis? What if you had a business that required only a few hours of attention each week, and left you free to eat pancakes, or make compost, or perform music, or help disabled children in Tanzania?

What if gaining the whole world didn’t cost your soul?

What I Want For You

I want to help you figure out your passions.

If they overlap with the world’s needs, I want to help you make money from that.

If not, I want to help you make money in a way that leaves you free to pursue your passions.

With that money and freedom, I want you to change the world.


  • K-eM

    I’d add that the other “problem” with capitalism and making money from what you’re passionate about is how our culture values different passions.

    I once had my husband try to claim that, since he made 2x as much as me, he should be allowed 2x as much spending money. I put an end to that by reminding him that he made 2x as much only because of the perceived value than how hard he worked or his level of schooling. I pointed out that I had the same level of schooling and often worked 2x times as hard for my half as much.

    People who are passionate and good at the same things as me stopped making a good living at it when the Industrial Revolution took hold and became mainstream. Now I’m relegated to “craft” and it’s hit or miss and certainly not valued enough to pay even minimum wage for my time let alone my expertise. However, I still do it in my “free” time and put it out there with $ values attached. It’s a hobby that makes enough to pay back the expenses. At least capitalism allows me that. Communism wouldn’t.

    Meanwhile I go to my job where I used to be treated like a “trained monkey.” Fortunately, some of the top dogs have changed. One of them recognizes that, while the industry doesn’t value my skills as highly as those of someone in a comparable job of a different field, I have wonderful skills, expertise, and talents that should be appreciated and allowed to grow and flourish. I don’t get paid as much as the other guy, but at least I don’t feel like a “trained monkey” so much anymore.

    • apingel

      Right there with you. One of my talents is in tracking and understanding structures of textiles. It’s fantastic for:
      Knitting (good hobby, not a money-maker)
      Weaving (likewise)
      Braiding (that really wasn’t ever a money-maker
      Knot theory (pretty useless unless I can get tenure as a topology professor

      Happily, I have other talents that are more in demand. I can monetize those, and be happy with the piddling pay-for-materials income I get from textiles.

      The other alternative is to use the Timothy Ferris “Muse” system, where you make money from something you frankly don’t give a durn about, but doesn’t take any time to do, either. Then you’re free to be crafty or non-profity or whatever else you’d like to be.

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