Last year, Walt Kania of The Freelancery wrote a fantastic post called Follow your passion? Maybe not. Try this instead, and the whole “follow your passion” idea is one that I think about a lot. Some thoughts:
I love translating, writing and teaching, and I can’t imagine having a job where I was just warming the chair all day and waiting for quitting time. So in that sense, I agree that following your passion is a good thing: I’ve always loved languages, words and writing. However, I also think that if you want a satisfying quality of life, money has to enter into the equation somewhere. And somewhere, there’s an intersection between what you like to do and what people will pay money, or maybe even a lot of money for. So when I hear other translators comment that they fantasize about finding a job where they don’t have to sit in front of a computer all day, one of my standard suggestions is “If you like everything else about being a translator, raise your rates and work less, so that you can have more time to do whatever you want.”
Here’s another truth, at least as I see it. Lots of things are fun if, or because, you don’t have to depend on them to pay the bills. For example when I think about my non-work passions: crafting, gardening, cooking, mountain sports, to name a few, they are things from which I could potentially earn income. Case in point: I love to knit, and last year I made a series of ponchos, like the one Martha Stewart wore when she got out of jail. A few days ago I was wearing the one I made for myself, and a stranger asked me where I got it; then commented that I “could charge a lot of money” making them for other people. But here’s the thing: it’s not that I don’t want to earn money from crafting, it’s that part of why I find crafting relaxing is that I do it purely because I want to, not because I’m on a deadline or filling an order. Ditto for many of my other non-work passions; I love long-distance bicycle touring, and I’m sure that there are people making money running or leading those kids of tours. But for me, part of the mental release of being on my bike is that I literally don’t think about anything besides turning the cranks. I’m not stressing out about who’s having fun, who has a flat tire, and who can’t make it over the next pass. If I were leading bike tours just for fun, it might work, but I wouldn’t want to depend on it to buy groceries.
Around the same time as the poncho interaction, I went to see our financial planner, and he and I got to talking about this (following your passion, not knitting ponchos) as well. Interestingly enough, he had just read an article on a financial planning website that corroborated the “don’t follow your passion as a job; earn enough money that you can work less and have more time for the passion” philosophy. Apparently this referred to an unscientific study of people who quit their white-collar jobs to become rafting guides or rug weavers, or whatever their previous avocational interest was. And many of these people found that once the passion became their job, it was, well…a job. I would hazard a guess that in any type of job, there are many of the same stresses: meeting deadlines, meeting customers’ expectations, finding the energy and drive to pull rabbits out of hats when valued clients really need it. To me, my non-work passions provide the recharge that I need to work very hard at a job that I enjoy. But if given the choice between knitting all day and translating all day, I’d rather translate, make a bunch of money doing it, and then have the rest of my time free to knit, ski or grow flowers just because I want to.