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When I was four years old, I knew what I wanted to do in life: I was going to be a movie star! My parents didn’t agree. Around the age of 11, I thought that painting for a living might be cool. Mom didn’t think so. My sister’s boyfriend was once at our apartment, and wanting to impress him, she shouted out to me, “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
That was obvious. “A singer!” I cried.
It was the wrong answer.
I chose the path most traveled — and lost myself
In case you didn’t know, I didn’t become a Hollywood superstar. I’ve forgotten how to paint. And the only songs I sing now are children’s songs for my kids.
I knew some computer programmers at the time. They made decent money and worked their own hours. Analytically, that appealed to me as a nice, staid investment. Mom would be pleased.
I eventually gave in to family pressure and chose a “career that will make you money!”
When I told my mom I had decided to become a computer programmer, a three-day party ensued. Okay, not really, but you can imagine the joy.
Your career is an investment
I coded for 17 years. I was pretty good at it, never great. It paid the bills.
Instead of slamming me to accept the treasury bond, my parents might’ve done well to teach me about investing in a career. All investments contain risk. The higher the risk, the better the potential return. The solution is to learn about investments so as to mitigate the risk, not to stop investing.
Years later, I started investing in writing, a new artistic interest of mine. I started writing because I wanted to get rich (silly me). I took that risk and lost. But I kept on writing.
I wrote in the dead of night and cheered when I earned a dollar on my books. I wrote for the fans and did a happy dance whenever they sent me fan mail. I wrote for the love of it, the yearning to make people laugh or cry.
I wrote with the slow, simmering hope that someday I might be able to do this for a living.
The fine artist
When I was 18, mom and I visited a fine arts student while that student drew a charcoal masterpiece on her bedroom floor. Mom wanted to know about this activity’s guaranteed cash value. Standing above the artist, mom asked, “Well, what can you do with this degree? I mean for money.”
Nobody in the room could come up with an acceptable answer. Asking college students what they can do for money with their skills is like asking four-year-olds the same question. If you want to know how to make money, ask someone who has already made it.
Years later, I remember the sorrow I felt when I discovered that digital-animation professionals were all fine artists. They were illustrators and painters, experts with the pen and brush who then drew digitally to create the animated Hollywood blockbusters we see today.
Nobody saw that coming in the ‘90s!
When we stood in that fine art student’s room, perhaps what my mother foresaw was the image of a disheveled, new-agey painter in rags, without a cent to his name, pedaling paintings in Bushwick and calling his parents every month for cash to pay the rent.
The hack: find a way to monetize what you love doing
As a writer, I wrote fiction. Like many writers, I wanted a big publishing deal, but failed to get it.
Failure is a good thing. It forces you to reevaluate, find solutions and solve problems. My failures as a fiction writer were so immense, yet my desire to pursue this career so relentless, that the two warred inside me until, finally, thesis and antithesis combined, and I came up with a synthesis of a solution.
The trick is to find a way to monetize what you love doing.
Just as all those fine artists found jobs at top digital-animation agencies in LA, so did I find a way to do what I loved while still earning a living at it.
The answer was freelance writing.
Why hadn’t I thought of it before?
I went into this new career with all the gusto of a man dying of thirst finding a glass of water.
Business boomed. In six months, I had made as much money as I had ever made in a good year as a programmer.
Change in mindset
My passion for my new profession means that my focus is now on getting better as a writer. It’s the difference in mindset between “making a quick buck” and “delivering the best possible service.”
Opportunities arise, and I seize them because the work itself thrills me. My work is no longer about the hours worked, it’s about the quality delivered, what I learned and how much I improved.
My work is my passion.
I will never force my kids into a career. They must adopt the mindset that their futures are an investment. I don’t know what the world will be like in 20 years. But I do know that, if I want them to succeed, I need to teach them to be resourceful and to find ways to monetize their passion. That’s their job, not mine, because the future will be theirs to live in.