You Don’t Have to Monetize Every Skill

In today’s culture, in America especially, there is a pressure to monetize every single skill that you possess. It doesn’t matter what it is… It could be something utterly obscure like yak raising. But dammit, if you raise yaks you’d better be making money off of them. It doesn’t matter if you simply want to do something as a hobby. Others will give you the side-eye if you’re not profiting from your skills.

This is nuts. Whatever happened to doing something for the pure joy of it? Even if you excel at the thing or could be considered an expert, there’s nothing wrong with just enjoying something. In this world, though, there’s a feeling that if you are good at something, you need to use it to make money. To do otherwise is to waste your talent and your life. Bah.

I hear this all the time in the writing world. I know plenty of writers who write for the joy of it. They blog, write reviews, post stories online, help friends or volunteer to write needed materials, and even publish books and give them away for free. When other people find out about all this largesse, they make snippy comments like, “Must be nice not to need the money.”

Wait, what? No one  I know is exactly rolling in cash. Money would be nice. These people have simply chosen not to monetize this particular aspect of their lives. But why not? If people enjoy their work enough to read it, surely they’d pay so why not jump on to that gravy train?

The reasons are varied. Some people want to preserve writing (or art, music, yak raising, whatever) as a hobby. To take money for it would be to eventually turn it into a job. Sooner or later, the job would begin to erode the fun factor. When you start having to pay taxes, keep books, and adhere to others’ expectations, the hobby becomes work and much of the joy is gone.

Even if it doesn’t kill the joy, some simply don’t want the hassle. They have enough to keep up with at a day job or with their families; they don’t need to worry about their hobby, too. Others choose not to monetize for altruistic reasons. They like giving stuff away. It makes them feel good.

Others don’t want the loss of control that comes with monetization. When you start taking money, people expect you to do certain things. If you’re taking ad revenue from a blog, you must post on certain topics to keep the advertisers happy. Publishers may alter your stories. If you start freelancing, clients get the final say. There’s a lot to be said for keeping things free, both monetarily and in terms of control.

Yet that pressure to make money is always there. Sooner or later, most people start to feel bad about not reaching for the brass ring. They internalize the notion that they’re wasting their lives and talents. Friends and family pick, pick, pick. “Think how much better off you’d be if you used your talent! What a waste! If I could do X, Y, or Z, you bet your bippy I’d be raking in the cash. Why’d God give you the talent if you’re just going to squander it?”

You and I know that this is nonsense, but it’s there and it eats at you.

“Maybe I should start taking advertising.”

“That publisher did express interest once, maybe I should call them.”

“Maybe I should sell merchandise related to my books.”

“I should at least tutor, for crying out loud.”

And so on, until you find yourself signing up for stuff you never believed you would.

It’s possible it works out for you. Maybe you can balance the fun with the drudgery. Or maybe the money kills your joy and you’d give anything to go back to the simple days when it was just you and the writing. Once you start down the money road, though, it’s difficult to go back. It’s difficult to get out of contracts. Plus, once you start making that money, it’s tough to give it up. It’s in your budget, now, and it’s hard to go back to a lower standard of living.

Here’s what I want to tell you.

If you don’t want to turn your writing (or any other skill) into a money maker, don’t. There’s nothing wrong with doing things for the joy of them. In fact, I think this world would be a lot better off if people did more things because they are simply fun, joyous, or generous.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to make money off of every single skill in your arsenal. (Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to make money, either. It doesn’t make you a greedy, capitalist pig.) We all need a place we can retreat to, someplace where our heads and hearts can be free to create. That space may be your writing, or it may be your yaks. Whatever it is, there is absolutely no need to sell your joy just to make other people feel like you aren’t wasting your life.

Of course, if you desperately need money then by all means monetize the hell out of whatever you can. But if your needs are covered by a day job, trust fund, or wealthy spouse, then by all means feel free to just keep doing your thing for free.

And when people criticize you for it, you can simply change the subject. Of course, if you’re me and you’re feeling snarky, you’d probably point out their shortcomings in return. Don’t be me…

(Photo courtesy of stevepb)

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