The Obsession with Monetizing Joy

The pressure to make money off of our hobbies gets worse every time you share what you love.

One of my favorite things to do is learn new programming languages and write up little tutorials about them. If money wasn’t an issue and I lived in a world where I could do whatever I want all day and every day, I would still teach myself new programming languages and still write articles (and probably a few more books, too).

This is something I’ve been doing for a long time, and something that brings me great joy. I don’t have to worry about deadlines, outside pressures, or expectations; I can learn as fast or as slow as I want, I can teach others with tutorials or not, and I can jump around from project to project and just tinker and have fun.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll get an email from some acquisitions editor at a publishing house that wants me to turn all this creative energy into a book that they can package up and sell. I used to be all over these offers; the idea of making money from doing what I love is so appealing because it speaks to a fundamental quip that we creatives are constantly hearing echoed through the chasms of the back of our minds:

If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

It’s so tempting, right? We struggle to exist in this economy of hustle-and-grind, always-be-busy, and what-about-your-brand-itis goals that the idea of only having to thing about what we’re passionate about sounds like a dream come true. Imagine: the things keeping you together when the going gets tough—your joys and your passions—being the target of all your energy output.

But the truth is that doing what you love in a capitalist society means that you no longer get the psychological escapism and creative freedom you once had when your joyful hobby was just a joyful hobby. If you want to make money and pay your bills by doing what you love, then you’ll have to turn what you love into what you do—and in a sick world where we are valued not by our individuality but our labor contributions by industry, turning our joys into work is a sure-fire way of losing the one thing that was keeping you together in the first place.

The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles by Molly Conway

When you’re naturally creative, people expect that you should be making money off of what makes you happy:

“Wow!” I said. “It’s gorgeous. Do you have an Etsy shop or…?” And suddenly, it was like all the light went out of the room. She looked down despairingly. “No,” she sighed. “Everyone keeps telling me I should, but I just wouldn’t know where to start.” I recognized the look of a woman suddenly overwhelmed by people’s expectations of her.

Molly also quotes Adam J. Kurtz, author of Things Are What You Make of Them, and his take on the bullshit notion of doing what you love and never having to work:

“Do what you love and you’ll work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.”

Unfortunately, our reaction to the awful conditions that we are in and that most of us refuse to accept is to find a way to cope with it.

When so many of us are suffering economic hardship as we struggle to put our education and potential to use amid the five-alarm fires of climate change and political turmoil, it’s easier to keep going and glorify the struggle than it is to sit and risk feeling helpless. (Or risk feeling, if we’re being honest.) It’s easier to stomach needing three jobs to make ends meet if we rebrand ourselves as hustlers.

Read the full article here.

The Startup Industry’s Toxic “Side Hustle” Fixation by Kate Knibbs

The whole idea of a side-hustle that involves one of our passions is bad enough, but now we’re in a world where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year marketing to us how important it is to never stop working.

Kate Knibbs describes this by focusing on one of the largest offenders, Uber:

Companies like Uber want to spit-shine the concept of “side hustle” so it looks like a better alternative to steady, gainful employment. If people see gig-economy labor as a flexible stepping stone to a better life, they’re less likely to also see it as a force eroding a work culture with protections and benefits for employees in favor of a low-ball freelance marketplace… Uber is selling a fantasy of economic advancement through the corrosion of employment benefits and stability, pitching increased subjugation to the corporation as some sort of salvo.

The economic conditions that have given rise to gig-economy industries like Uber are the reason we creatives feel constant pressure to monetize our joys. But the sad fact of side-hustling and trying to survive in this gig economy is spelled out quite plainly when Kate turns to a more philosophical analysis of what’s going on:

People don’t get rich as Uber drivers. They evade poverty as Uber drivers.

And while many entrepreneurs toil at night and on weekends until they’re able to quit a day job, that situation illuminates the difficulty of changing careers and starting a business, and it is simply not feasible for many people responsible for childcare or already working several jobs in order to make enough money to live.

Performing whatever paid work is available is sometimes a necessary step to literally surviving, and working on a passion project in one’s free time can help launch a new career. Neither situation is aspirational. Both belie an economic system that is not designed to lift masses out of poverty, but rather one that both creates and maintains poverty. “We are proud that Airbnb has become an economic lifeline for the middle class,” an Airbnb report boasts, without acknowledging the dire subtext of the statement: that the middle class is grasping for lifelines.

The whole article warrants a read, so go read the full article here.

Why Are Young People Pretending To Love Work by Erin Griffith

Arguably, the technology industry started this culture of work zeal sometime around the turn of the millennium, when the likes of Google started to feed, massage and even play doctor to its employees. The perks were meant to help companies attract the best talent — and keep employees at their desks longer. It seemed enviable enough: Who wouldn’t want an employer that literally took care of your dirty laundry?

But today, as tech culture infiltrates every corner of the business world, its hymns to the virtues of relentless work remind me of nothing so much as Soviet-era propaganda, which promoted impossible-seeming feats of worker productivity to motivate the labor force. One obvious difference, of course, is that those Stakhanovite posters had an anticapitalist bent, criticizing the fat cats profiting from free enterprise. Today’s messages glorify personal profit, even if bosses and investors — not workers — are the ones capturing most of the gains. Wage growth has been essentially stagnant for years.

Read the full article here.

Joy should not be optimized, monetized, or organized—unless you want to.

Your hobbies don’t have to make money—unless you want them to.

Give yourself permission to have something that you like to do that exists outside the confines of the dire economic conditions that we are trying to raise happy, healthy children in.

And as a closing thought, here’s my personal take on that dumb quip about doing what you love and never having to work:

Don’t let your work affect your joys, and don’t let your joys become work.


Housekeeping

  • This newsletter is a passion of mine, so I’m not looking to make money on it. Ever.

  • I’ll probably stick to this short-essay-then-three-articles format in the future.

  • Since this is a passion project, I don’t want to operate on a set schedule.

Have a great week, okay?

-JL

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