HAAS PARTY #8: How do you "do what you love"?
"Inspiring" statements lack the context of privilege.
I sit here writing this at 8:22 p.m. having just logged off from my day job. (Writing advertising for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.) It was a long, draining day.
While I enjoy the purpose behind the organization I work for, I wouldn’t say that I loved what I did today. Clearly, I enjoy writing. (Why else would would I be writing a newsletter read by 20-ish people?) Yet I would not say, “I love what I do.” I like it, but my job involves many, many things that are not writing. I also don’t get to write about whatever I want, whenever I want. So given those constraints, I am merely another cog in the machine — just a cog with some skills involving sentence structure and word selection.
I’m often led to believe that’s a bad thing.
Some of my earliest memories are of my parents telling me to make sure I find a job I would be passionate about. I do not remember them telling me why or how to do that. They’re (white) boomers, so they stuck to the plan of:
Step 1: Go to School
Step 2: Get a Good Job (With a Pension)
Step 3: Buy a House (For $100k)
Step 4: Retire by 65
For many, including my parents, missing in that plan was the step telling you to enjoy your job. My Mom switched careers in her 40s. Then switched back 10 years later. My Dad worked nearly 30 years for the same company, finally retiring early because he no longer wanted to work within that company’s rigid structure. So they told my brother and I to get a job we loved. Without a proper roadmap of how to do that, I just followed one dalliance after another. First I wanted to be a photographer. Then a columnist. Then an arts journalist. Then a serious journalist. Then a comedy writer. And finally, an advertising copywriter.
My job is a version of a thing I like to do, but it is not the job I dreamed of having. I am mostly at peace and comfortable with that because, as I said, I mostly enjoy my job.
The trouble is that every once in a while, I see a video or social post like this:
To save you a click, the caption reads:
“Seven years ago, with the help of a post-it note or two I quit my full time job to follow my dream of drawing every day for a living. It was one of the most important and defining decisions I’ve ever made. Life is so short. Make sure you spend it doing something that you love.”
If you had an upbringing like mine, reading that caption might make you wince with a bit of regret and a hint of “what if…” The problem is, that post is no more helpful than what my parents told me when I was 12.
How does Matt Blease do what he loves?
Did he save up a bunch of money first? Did he live with his parents and not have to worry about rent? Did he have a partner who made a salary big enough for two? Did he get an inheritance that allowed him to not worry about money? Did he have wealthy relatives that were happy to support his passions? Did he win the lottery? Is he really good at online poker?
We don’t know. We also don’t know if his drawing does “pay the bills” without knowing the answer to those questions. He does have 145,000 Instagram followers, which qualifies as success in this day and age.
The reason I share this post is not criticize Mr. Blease (I quite enjoy his drawings), but rather to point out that vague “inspiring” statements like this do more harm than good without any context of how one might similarly find the light at the end of the dream job tunnel. It’s like someone in Toronto posting to Instagram “We just bought a house!” while neglecting to mention how their parents covered the six figure downpayment.
I’m sitting here wondering what is really possible for most of us? Though someone like Matt Blease might say me thinking that means I don’t want my dream job badly enough or that I’m not willing to sacrifice enough. He could be right, but he also could be full of shit. (Whether or not 10 years as a copywriter has earned myself a level of comfortable complacency I’m afraid to abandon is a subject for another newsletter and/or session with my therapist.) Because if he had the safety net to follow his dreams, his advice is meaningless to 99.9% of people reading it.
What I would like to see is more transparency and context to go along with these kinds of inspirational statements, advice from people who’ve already “made it,” or simply post about how they just managed to buy a house in the 6ixth least affordable city in the world.
Considering being an advertising copywriter might be a “dream job” for some, I’ll start. Beyond the privilege of being a white man born into a middle to upper-middle class family, this is…
How I got a job that I mostly enjoy:
My university tuition was paid for in full by my parents through money they had been saving since the day my Mom knew she was pregnant. They also paid for my rent. (How they divided it is known only to them and their divorce agreement.)
My day-to-day living expenses were covered by money I saved while working summer jobs in high school. While in university, I got a job as the photo editor at my school newspaper which paid me $150 a week. That was usually enough to cover alcohol and food. I got the job because I was one of a handful of people that took photos for the paper already, and the only one who applied.
After I graduated university, I moved to Montreal and then Edmonton to follow my dreams of being a “real” writer. I had roughly $500 in my chequing account when I moved to Montreal, and less than $200 when I left. I paid rent by working part-time as a dishwasher at a bar in Montreal and then full-time as a prep cook at an organic food store in Edmonton. I wrote freelance articles for SEE Magazine in Edmonton on top of my kitchen job. I was paid $60 for feature articles and movie reviews, $15 for music reviews. I also left Edmonton with less money than when I arrived.
I applied to Humber College for their eight month Advertising Copywriting in early 2009. I was accepted because I already had a university degree. The tuition was just shy of $10,000. I was going to apply for a student loan but shortly after I was accepted, my maternal grandfather decided to gift me my inheritance while he was still alive. It was $10,000.
I moved back into my Mom’s house and lived rent-free while I attended Humber. My Dad gave me a lump sum leftover from my university fund to cover living (drinking) expenses while at home.
Upon graduation, a friend of my father got me an interview at an ad agency called Grip Limited. After a few interviews, I got “hired” on an unpaid four-month internship. I continued to live at home rent-free, Grip paid for my TTC Metropass. At the end of my internship, they paid me a stipend of $500 and offered me a three-month contract on a pro-rated salary of $35,000 a year. I accepted and immediately moved out of my Mom’s house.
I was able to sign a year-long lease because I had the security of knowing I could always live with my Mom again if my contract wasn’t renewed. But it was.
I eventually became a permanent employee at Grip. I have changed jobs five times in my career largely on the strength of connections I have made at each job. I was gifted a foot in the door, and I haven’t walked back out.
All of the above was possible because I have always had the security of knowing my parents could afford to either shelter me or lend me money if I really, really needed it. That is an incredible privilege I often take for granted and, truthfully, might have allowed me to follow some of my less profitable dreams if I really wanted to.
Life is short! Follow your dreams! Anything is possible!
—Hot Haas Buns