How the Passion Economy Gobbles up Vocation
Can emotionally loaded professional lives ever reconcile creativity and livelihood?
Why are devotion and dedication to anything or anyone other than the self so often mistaken for self-loathing, i.e. an inability to love yourself? Why is exhaustion, for example, mistaken for an unwillingness to look after yourself when it is a loaner car vocation uses to secure a better future? This is the plight of impoverished freelancers like me who take on as much work as they can to buy themselves much needed time off.
And never get there.
Instead, we sometimes end up listening to lectures about self-care from the very people who avail themselves of our skills but fail to pay for our time. They might go one further with self-aggrandizing tales about in-demand skills, implying ours are quite worthless. Should they feel guilty for having spent years perfecting valuable skills that affords them comfort? Please take a moment to appreciate the perfectly circular thought-process of solipsism then weep.
In a tech-based society, users are products and those who make the systems that best exploit human capital are the ruling class, so hungry for power it is redesigning human language by teaching us how to write for machines. We may not all know how to code but if we use the internet to communicate, we’re all complicit, especially media freelancers.
A media freelancer is such a nebulous term you may define it as you wish; in an era of bloggers calling themselves writers, we’re all media now. Many of us monetize the content of our lives because the opportunity is there and we can’t resist a shot at fame and fortune. Some of us monetize the content of our lives because the opportunity is there and it’s the only one we’ve got for now.
To a great extent, individuality is how we support ourselves.
I ended up writing personal essays and op-eds to pull myself out of illness and hardship after depression stalled my life for five years. Having been a freelance journalist meant self-employment was already familiar and didn’t scare me. To me, work is work, the parameters under which you carry it out are never as important as the opportunity to carry it out.
If work comes your way, take it, at least until you can afford to pick and choose projects that most closely align with your purpose. All creators have one that transcends making money, which is why I write and edit regardless of whether it pays or not.
Vocation is a law onto itself but it is also a massive hinderance when it cannibalizes common sense and your financial survival. I expand a lot of time and energy skirting around the unmentionable parts of my work life and advocating for giving people time, the benefit of the doubt, and a chance to make it right.
And every time I do, I go to bat for the passion economy; I want to live in a world where self-expression is part of work. While there’s a strong emotional argument for this, the financial one is the one that seals the deal: People who enjoy what they do and have a sense of purpose greater than just getting paid will consistently get the job done and go the extra mile, eventually creating new professional paradigms.
Passion is productive.
I seldom go behind the scenes because it would likely cause many to give up on their dreams; all it takes for us to do something is someone who believes we can. For all my bluntness, I strive to be that someone rather than the one who will give you innumerable reasons why you cannot or why you will never achieve whatever it is you have your heart set on. As far as I am concerned, the internet remains a mostly untapped opportunity to create a more equitable world in which art and creativity are our birthright.
But there are many actors who will lead us astray along our journey, out of ignorance, malice, frustration, or any combination thereof. Since those are still early days, I choose not to assume any wrongdoing until I have gathered incontrovertible proof it exists. This is a lot easier to do with a faceless corporation than it is to do with a person and so it can make for very uneven professional relationships.
I do not know how to solve this problem because heart is the backbone of the passion economy, which vocation often powers. In a culture that has impressed upon us the need to make as much money as we can regardless of what it takes, vocation is as coveted as it is reviled.
And then it becomes a weapon.
How very dare you eke out a living doing what makes your heart beat faster while I silence my heart eight hours a day, five days a week? Deep down, we do not want those who have the courage to seek alternatives to succeed, on the off chance they might show us what is possible, namely a life in thrall to a force greater than us.
We fear being the architects of our own demise bringing about the end of work as torture and ushering in the age of work as pleasure. We do not really wish to find out what discomfort, hunger, or homelessness feel like if we don’t have to. We prefer to pay for the privilege of calling ourselves an artist, trusting investment to make up for the fact we haven’t earned our dues and the vocation hosting our dream is not always our own. But that won’t stop us from showing you what those dues are worth so you understand how vocation is currently valued in the market place: At zero dollars, not even a thank you.
This is how some people get freelancers’ attention but only those of us who care enough about our craft ever attempt to find a way forward after that, at our own risk. Whether mental health and vocation will survive, I don’t know but the whole exercise will have been pointless if they haven’t improved either or both of mine in any way.
Like many leading geographically fluid and non-standard lives, I am freelancing despite depression, living for the day my work enables me to access therapy and a lead a modest yet comfortable life. What constitutes my work is an ever-evolving concept and I am not wedded to freelancing as a main source of income. But my ability to move forward is being severely hampered by exhaustion and I do not know how to remedy it as long as the work I do isn’t compensated. Meanwhile, freelancing is teaching me how to show up for myself and others against all odds; I think of it as a kind of resilience enforcement.
If vocation justifies my doing it, vocation is also my livelihood; am I endangering it, putting it to the test, or transcending it when I work for free? It only sounds counterintuitive when depression pounces up on me and reminds me I likely do not have much of a future. Clinging to life the way I have been isn’t quite working out as planned; if taking on more work did make a difference, it has been quite unexpected. Instead of helping me transition back to a place of greater ease, the very thing that has been holding me together so far could be my downfall.
The mental wherewithal that has carried me since I wrestled my writing voice from the clutches of depression is running out. I am politely and unobtrusively drowning under the weight of someone else’s ego as I long for rest, respite and relief, a word of appreciation or concern. Until silence comes, I’ll keep taking dictation from vocation, grateful to still be alive and documenting every singular step forward with bemusement because I have no idea what keeps me going.
After all, what is vocation but another name for love? It is what powers our work and ripples out of it, accruing value.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.