How often have you heard the question: “What would you be doing with your life if money were no object?” It’s a trick question really because money is always an object, no? As much as the motivational speakers, life coaches and TED talkers want you to carefully consider the answer to that question before racing to work on Monday morning to hand in your resignation and announce to your boss, “Take this job and shove it! I’m gonna follow my dream of becoming a professional surfer!” – eventually, money will become an object.
I mean, for many Americans, by the time they become young adults, they already owe a substantial amount of money in college loans.
You need money to pay those back.
For those who pass on a college education, the time comes where they need to move out of their parents’ home/apartment; become independent and get their own place.
You need money for rent.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage, yes? It isn’t long after that when the whispers of the American Dream start to tickle your ear; the three bedroom house in the suburbs, the white picket fence, the Ikea living room set, the minivan.
You need money to pay that mortgage.
Soon your kids become teenagers and you’re gonna need money to send them to a good college because if they don’t go to college your beloved kids will end up sharing a rat infested apartment in some God forsaken ghetto with creepy tattooed people, smoking weed every day and/or drinking themselves to sleep every night.
You need money to send your kids to college. A lot of money in some cases.
So you paid back the college loans, you have the wife, the house, the kid(s), the college savings fund, a good paying job – but are you doing what you would be doing with your life if money wasn’t an object?
But what you are doing is earning some good money and that’s a good thing, right?
And you need that money, right?
So all is good, right?
“Uh, right. I think?”
But eventually, you’ll find yourself in a position too many people ultimately find themselves in; the position that disallows you from living that beautiful life as if money were no object…
you NEED your job.
As much as you wish you were doing that thing you really wanted to do before the college loans, the rent, the baby, the mortgage, the minivan, the hour and a half commute to work, the promotion to Assistant Vice President, the 60 hour work week, the Lipitor…you need that job. Because the job provides you with the money. And without the money your whole world will burn right to hell like Atlanta in “Gone With The Wind”, right? Right.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on those precious health insurance benefits.
“But Dan, I’m wise to the lies of the so-called American Dream. I know the only thing she’s selling is debt and I ain’t buying. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna bury myself in college loans just so I can land some shit job in a stale corporate cubicle while some overworked manager blows smoke up my ass every day. I’m gonna live well below my means, pursue my dreams of becoming a photographer and just love doing it for as long as I can!”
But how long does “as long as I can” last?
As long as you can find a place to rest your head at night? As long as you have enough for the Taco Bell value menu? As long as your 1998 Nissan Sentra holds up? As long as you don’t have a child to provide for? As long as you don’t miss the top step of that staircase and tumble down it and find yourself owing some hospital $16,000 for fixing your broken leg?
Sooner or later, money becomes one heck of an object.
“But Dan, what about all those success stories about people who pursued their passion and succeeded? Wasn’t Steven Spielberg rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater three times? Wasn’t J.K. Rowling on welfare while writing her first Harry Potter novel? Weren’t The Beatles told by recording companies that guitar music was “on the way out”? Wasn’t Michael Jordan cut from his High School basketball team? Wasn’t Jerry Seinfeld booed off the stage at his first comedy gig?”
But for every J.K. Rowling there’s a few thousand equally talented (and dead broke) writers whose books will never be published. For every Steven Spielberg, there’s a few thousand (potentially) equally talented filmmakers living in the basements of their parents’ home who will never get a shot at Hollywood. For every Jerry Seinfeld, there’s a few thousand equally talented comedians sharing one bathroom apartments with two roommates in New York’s West Village and other cities around the country.
As long as those sneaky motivational speakers and life coaches (who make their money dangling that rare success carrot in front of the tired, frustrated and overworked masses) have a Michael Jordan success story to pull out of their hat, they’ll continue to remind you that “if you commit to following your dreams, anything is possible!”
They forget to tell you, however, that if you commit to following your dreams, even failure is possible. Not only is it possible, it’s highly probable. But why spoil all the fun by introducing reality into the equation? That’s not how they make their money.
The reality is that circumstances ultimately determine our fate. Not so much our passion, our love or even our effort.
Circumstances. You either get the breaks you need or you don’t. Oh, and you know the best thing about that? [in my best Heath Ledger Joker voice] It’s fair.
“So what you’re saying, Dan, is to forget about pursuing your passion and doing what you love because it’s just a roll of the dice? That despite how passionate I am and how hard I’m ready to work at living a life where I’m doing what I love to do…that the aspect of failure exists? Is that what you’re saying?”
Yes. And no. Yes, you might fail; most people do. No, you might not. It all depends on the circumstances you encounter. Oh, and you know the best thing about that? It’s fair.
“What the heck is so fair about that, Dan?”
Well, for one, it doesn’t matter what race you are, how tall or short you are, how handsome or pretty you are, how much money your parents have, whether you’re male or female – heck, it sometimes doesn’t even matter how good you are (Keanu Reeves, anyone?). What matters are the circumstances.
“OK, Dan, so you’re saying I shouldn’t even bother then, right?”
There’s a bible verse I’ve taken to heart (you heard right), Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” That’s what you need to do. Get your horse ready for the day of battle. If you wanna be a writer, painter, musician, photographer, filmmaker, blogger, rock climber, whatever – make sure you put your best into everything you do.
That’s how you tip the scales in your favor.
If you plan on doing that thing you really want to do with your life if money were no object, make sure you do it with excellence. Because you never know who might stumble onto your work; who might need that thing you really want to do and – this is the most important part – might be willing to pay you for it.
Yeah, I’m talking about money.
Doing what you’re passionate about is great. Doing what you love is great. Doing it so good that people will pay you good money for it? That’s heaven. The trick is getting that thing you do in front of the right people – that’s where the circumstances come in. But if you strive to not only put out the best work you can but to constantly get better at it, if that time ever comes when your work finds its way to the right person, the person who needs that thing you do, your chances of that breakthrough circumstance increase dramatically.
I left a very nice paying job as a Director of Sales to pursue a sudden passion I developed “late” in life (I was 37 years old) to start my own video production business. I knew you couldn’t start a business part-time – the safety net of a paycheck reduces the urgency needed to succeed as an entrepreneur. All the barriers were in place: I was the sole provider, I had a family, a mortgage, car payments, and plenty of bills. I took that leap anyway.
Over the next two years we had burned through all our savings, maxed out every credit card, and sank our credit scores. There was even a time where I considered looking for a job. The business was growing but it was growing at a snail’s pace. To expand my thin portfolio, I offered my services to several non-profit organizations, working for free in many cases just to have some work to show future prospects. Everything I did, no matter what (if) they paid me, I did as if I was being paid top dollar. I knew that if my work ever found the right eyeballs, I wanted them to say, “This guy’s good!”
Over the past 6+ years, my company has grown rather nicely and my work has found its way to the right people; people that understood you get what you pay for and that Dan Perez is very good at what he does. I can easily trace the attainment of some of my biggest clients today with videos I produced for free years ago. Videos I produced with all the excellence I was capable of. Videos I produced for people that came into my life for only a short while but who indirectly opened big doors for me.
I make my horse ready for the day of battle.
Circumstances ultimately determine our fate. The right people came into my life, the right people saw my work, the right doors opened, I had the right wife and daughter to get through what were tough financial times as I struggled to get my business off the ground and earn a nice living doing that thing that I want to be doing with my life so that money won’t ever be an object – it’ll be expected.
But, of course, a few years from now I might just find myself on monster.com in need of a job, the business failing, the circumstances having taken a sudden sharp turn for the worse. It can happen and I know it. Nothing is guaranteed.
But until then I’m gonna continue to make my horse ready for the day of battle. And come what may, I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror and know I wasn’t afraid of the fight. I’ll also know, if even for just a short while, what I would be doing with my life if money were no object.
And that’ll feel good.
[Photographs by Donnie Nunley]
Incredible, incredible post. As always, but even more so because I had something similar in mind to write myself (which I now will not do, as this is a fantastic post.) I’ll be honest and say if I hear “find your passion” one more time I’ll scream, as while it is technically possible to pursue anything your heart desires, it’s not always entirely realistic. I support myself, by myself. I can’t throw away a stable-ish job with benefits I don’t love without some sort of certain backup plan. It’s not realistic.
But it’s also unrealistic for me to think that it’s the last job that I’ll ever have. Do I think I’ll ever be able to land a gig humor writing or that something will come from my blog, in other words, the thing I think I’m meant to do? (Perhaps even that “P” word.) No, probably not, but it’s that hope and the fact that I’ll do this writing thing anyway–in between the tedium of my job–because it makes me happy. It evens out the time I spend working to keep things afloat. Every day I’ll keep trying and hoping that the circumstances sway in my favor, and kudos to you for your success–however you want to define that 😉
The thing you got going for you is that you take your “gig” seriously and write with excellence. If anything is gonna come from that it will stem from your dedication. That’s really all we can do – be as good as we can doing what we want to be doing and hope that it finds the right person – that person who is willing to pay us for it.
There’s the rub, yes?
You’re already a star in my book AND someone who inspires me. Cheers 🙂
Great post, but I don’t think the point of the question is to say money isn’t or shouldn’t be an object. It’s the say money shouldn’t be the primary or only object, because the research is quite clear on people who make money the primary object of their lives. They’re miserable, by and large.
In other news, the question digs fairly deep and you highlighted it with:
“But Dan, I’m wise to the lies of the so-called American Dream. I
know the only thing she’s selling is debt and I ain’t buying. I’ll be
damned if I’m gonna bury myself in college loans just so I can land some
shit job in a stale corporate cubicle while some overworked manager
blows smoke up my ass every day. I’m gonna live well below my means,
pursue my dreams of becoming a photographer and just love doing it for
as long as I can!”
Isn’t it fairly unfortunate — perhaps depressing — that we’ve built a society so dependent on materialism and greed, to the point that people are incapable of escaping it? Isn’t it downright absurd that you essentially must take out thousands of dollars in one of the worst forms of loans in existence just to be able to make a salary/wage that allows you to have a safe, secure, enjoyable existence?
It’s impossible to deny our (the US and most of the west in general) social structure and culture has some incredibly big problems that genuinely mess with the human psyche. And the majority of those problems are centered around acquiring money being made an obsession in our culture.
Money shouldn’t be the primary object but in this country (world?), money tends to become quite a large elephant sitting in the room.
Amen to your observation on our society, maybe it’s just here in the US but the chasm between the haves and the have nots grows wider every generation. This country doesn’t seem to operate too well if its citizens aren’t in debt to a bank. A shame.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
Dan, thank you for sharing-this is fantastic. As a life coach, and an optimistic realist☺your story depicts exactly how you made the ‘fallacy’ a non-fallacy. The point of life isn’t money….that’s the fallacy. We ALL struggle-whether in our own business, or in corporate America, they are only different struggles. The truth becomes only what you believe…if you didn’t believe you could have made it at 37 with a child, home and giving up that fancy position, I think the situation would have been much different.
Your story is inspirational and is the exact reason money isn’t everything and we need to pursue our passions!
“Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Dan Perez”.
What a pleasant surprise to see you here. I happen to be more of a jaded realist but I did believe I could make a living at this but I also had a strategy, a solid business network, and a wonderful personality (wink). It still was a struggle. Still is. But I’m slowly but surely starting to expect business to come compared to hoping for it.
I’m gonna need someone like you when I get to Hollywood 🙂
Love your post, Dan. Train hard, work hard, never take things for granted and always remember that the devil is in the details. And when you mail it in, it shows. Love this practical, real-world advice, and it’s something I have and do practice, all day every day. Well done, my friend, well done.
It’s the simple little things that we oft overlook in business, yes?
Nice to see you here 🙂
Nothing in life is every easy, and the money question is the least easiest of all. Dreams and wishes for a lifetime of “easy living” are all well and good, but generally these are the exceptions to the rule, not the norm. Otherwise posts like this wouldn’t resonate so much. 🙂
And because nothing is easy, I’d much rather be doing something I want to be doing than something I loathe just for a paycheck.
Did I just resonate? Sweet!
Cheers, mate 🙂
Poignant… relative… realistic… and yet inspirational…I like surprise endings that make you think and feel at the same time…thank you!!
Every now and then I say something wise. Only now and then 😉
Love the verse and the advice making the horse ready – I add prayer to the mix kind of a work like it all depends on you pray like it all depends on God. 😉 Seriously did you get the idea from Buddy? He is pretty wise after all.
Buddy only prepares his bed for the time of napping – he knows nothing of battle 😉
Nice to see you here…
The machine will get you. It will get all of us. Unless we figure out a way to live on an island in a sustainable environment where bones fix themselves. The machine will get you.
The machine. Yes. That. Beware.
As an entrepreneur’s coach, I’d have to say that the possibility of failure can never be the reason why we do not attempt to live out our greatness. People SHOULD do what they love to do, because God places both desire and the chance to DO. And, if possible, people should do what they love even if they don’t get paid to do it. In time, maybe they will make a living doing this…maybe not. But either way, they will be some of the most satisfied, spiritually grounded people, who responded to God’s calling and didn’t allow money or circumstances to determine their purpose for living. And in His providence, our obedience is typically followed with all kinds of abundance. Loved your choice of verse! At the end of the day, THAT is what life is about – BEING ready.
When it comes to God’s calling – that’s a whole different thing. We all know what happens when we fail to heed that calling, we get swallowed up by a great fish, no?
I don’t know if it’s living out our greatness or just finding a way to survive by doing what we love or enjoy doing. If it was meant for everyone, we’d all be doing it. “Maybe” making a living doing something, especially in the world we live in, won’t cut it. Proceed with excellence and keep those fingers crossed.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
Love your use of Kyle Thompson’s work! It sets such an great visual tone to this deeply thoughtful post.
Lots of wildly successful people did not believe in themselves or have a good attitude at all. A good attitude is helpful regarding how you feel about your life, but I am not aware of any statistical evidence that a positive “can do” attitude delivers
better results. There are anecdotes that it is good for overcoming illnesses,
but lots of miserable people accomplished insanely amazing things. In fact, I
think we are dangerously close to devaluing grumpy, cynical, depressive and
My key take-away from your piece is be responsible for yourself and your work. With excellence and luck, someone just might pay you for it. If not, do not make the mistake thinking that you are entitled to anything. Entitlement is a modern urban legend and humility is nearly extinct.
You are both so right on. I love Allison’s comment that people should stop making the mistake of entitlement. I see so many people, not all young, that seem to feel that they deserve to succeed no matter how much or little they have worked. The reality is that no one owes you anything. Go after your dreams but know that you may not find a paycheck. And, if you don’t have money for the rent it’s no one else’s responsibility to bail you out.
Passion, hard work and dedication are still no guarantee of success in life but they do tip the scales in your favor. And isn’t life about putting the percentages in your favor?
Nice to see you here, as always 🙂
I’ve been looking for the words that describe my views best and you’ve just hit the nail on the head: “grumpy, cynical, depressive and eccentric perspectives” – that’s me! Oh, and more people should listen to us if they know what’s good for them 😉
And yes, nobody should feel entitled to anything. Deliver excellence, expect the best…
Dan! Thanks for sharing this with me/us/the universe. Even as one who is terminally optimistic, I have never been impressed with the neo-snakeoil salesmen we find in the Robbinsesque Oprahistic, free-for-all yes-you-can soothsayers who tout that power comes from positive thinking and all you need is a ‘secret’ to make it. And by make it, they mean money. Money is ‘it’. And I agree with you that ‘it’ does make the laundry go ’round and the fridge get filled and the car get gassed … but when that becomes the only ‘it’ then we are doomed to have no one ever follow their heart and their (wait for it …. ) passion.
What strikes me is how so many streams of seemingly disparate consciousness are aiming right at me. I have recently finished reading Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion (one the most depressingly enlightening books I have recently encountered) and am currently working at Jane Jacobs’ (you may know her from her tussles with Mr. Moses in NYC) Dark Age Ahead. Both strike at the heart of money at the expense of passion, community, education, and positive growth. Both of these minds speak to the reality that the bubble of financial avariciousness is bigger and more fragile than we can begin to imagine … and one that we all should fear.
But I digress.
Like you had, I am changing horses mid-stream ~ at half a century, I decided to pursue my (here it comes again!) passion and work toward building what I know can be a beautiful reality. And I’m not doing in isolation but with the intention of building a community ~ hopefully helping others rediscover what community means and how much it matters. I do, of course, hope I can make the laundry go ’round whilst doing so. Failing brilliantly in order to succeed and stumbling forward and writing my own definition of prosperity. A generous measure of (sorry!) passion, mixed with realistic understanding of what’s possible and really hard f***ing work can actually manifest in success. I won’t be a gazillionaire and I’m ok with that. I will, hopefully (like You, my friend) have made a positive difference.
I love your posts and thank you for letting me share a little bit of my brain flotsam. You never cease to make me think ~ namaste ~
I do believe this to be 100% true: “A generous measure of (sorry!) passion, mixed with realistic understanding of what’s possible and really hard f***ing work can actually manifest in success”. It just feels better to work really f***ing hard for yourself because you should be worth it.
As for “Failing brilliantly in order to succeed and stumbling forward and writing my own definition of prosperity”, that’s an epitaph I wouldn’t mind having written on my tombstone.
Always a pleasure to engage with you on matters such as these. Hugs 🙂
” It just feels better to work really f***ing hard for yourself because you should be worth it.” <~ Word! hugz backatcha, Mr Perez! 🙂
Just wanted to add that “For as long as I can” can last you quite a few miles if you stop doing everything by the usual set of books. You have to be selfish sometimes; you have to break other dreams to make the big one come true. No family. No big house. Only hard work. Your choice.
This is so full of you, Dan. Thoroughly enjoyed the read.
If we could only burn that set of books and write new ones, yes? Either way you go, it ain’t gonna be easy but I enjoy busting my ass for Dan Perez much more that for anybody else (except Mrs. Perez, of course).
And yes, I am indeed full of me 😉
Nice to see you here, hermano…
I hear you, Brother Perez, but there’s a certain dissonance running through what you write that validates all but the most odious of motivational advice that’s out there. Your own story and recommendations are a testament to the power of approaching one’s work with passion, positivity, and utter confidence, more than a cautionary tale of their fallacy. It’s not a stretch to say that this could be transformed into a TED (un)talk in its own right.
For me, what this takes aim at is the fallacy of a quick and easy victory by simply expecting passion to trump all other concerns. Hard work and a commitment to unyielding quality are the ingredients you drop in, that many of the self-help, “for the masses” motivators and quotes quietly gloss over. Describing the daily blood, sweat and tears needed just to obtain a ticket to enter the lottery of success would likely wash out much of their audience. To analogize, as I always do, to the music industry; there are millions of people making music now and any one of them can “release it” online. Voila, a passion fulfilled. But leave it there and wonder why you don’t get noticed? That’s the fallacy of passion. Promote it tirelessly, creatively, with that same passion… learning, improving… then move on to making something even better (repeat to fade)? Well that’s “preparing your horse for battle” (there’s your motivational book title, btw). And success tends to find those folks, in some capacity or another. All fueled by passion, but passion laced with effort and obsession.
There are plenty of outstanding speakers out there whose stories help to guide us to follow a passion,hone our craft, experiment, and maybe even make a living from it along the way. And what’s the worst that can happen if we fail… end up back at the job we would have had to take anyway, but with a greater set of skills and the ability to go again, if and when the circumstances you rightly mention permit? I think I can live with that. That is, indeed, fair 😉
Your comment is wonderfully presented – a shame, really, as it would have made quite a blog post in its own right.
Oh, and you’re absolutely right – especially your terrific example with the music industry. Pursuing your passion is easy. Just quit your job and go do what’s in your heart to do. Now, being able to do that AND make a living? That’s where the motivators drop the ball and set people up for failure.
I had passion, positivity and confidence AND a desire (still) to be the best at what I do – to render all other video producers obsolete AND command a hefty fee for my work. I also had (still) a plan that if I can get my work seen by the right people, I’ll get more work. Been doing that since day one and so far its been working out OK.
As for failing, it won’t come without its share of consequences but nothing I can’t live with 🙂
Thanks for that insight Dan, film-maker from the UK asking myself many of these questions right now. I think realism is the name of the game – am trying to get my horse ready (such a good analogy) while trying to keep my feet on the ground and get myself a continuous stream of income too. Lots to think about…
As long as your feet are on the ground, you’re making progress, yes?
Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
Love this article Dan. I read it a few months ago but didn’t comment, and came back to read it again, as I pondered all of the projects that, if successful, could free my family’s life. I have this quote over my desk at my “safety job,” one which I’m very grateful for: “What I have learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.” ~ Leonard Mlodinow, Ch. 10, The Drunkard’s Walk
Thanks again for this post.
Success in out at bats starts in the batting cage well before the game begins, yes?
Wishing you the sucess you seek – thanks for the comment 🙂
Exactly. Mlodinow discusses the many authors who collected an array of rejections prior to publication… including the tragic story of the author of “A Confederacy of Dunces,” who committed suicide prior to his novel being published… and it went on later to be a best seller, and win an award.
It seems to me that a talented author with a good manuscript did all the batting cage warm-up through the creation process… The at-bat, the risk of getting struck out, is when she takes her work to be judged. As Mlodinow shows, these gatekeepers don’t have stellar track records at picking winners. 9 rejections for JK Rowling, for example. He also delves into wine ratings, film production companies, and stock performance as it relates to CEO hiring.