A Beautiful Exchange

Today’s Daily Minute has Sir Ken Robinson talking about writers and money. This is a topic I have visited a number of times on this page, and for good reason. Robinson makes the point that the writers he knows write not specifically for the money but simply to write. Sometimes, however, this advice can sound like a kind of sour grapes. That is, “I don’t know how to make any money writing so I don’t really care about the money but boy do I wish I could make some more money writing.” Robinson, however, goes on to say that he has also known many people who have made a lot of money and many of them are still searching for meaning in their lives.

I spent many, many years making money by doing things that I by no means despised, but never came close to loving. There is a natural enough cycle to life where for a certain number of years merely being able to earn any kind of living and buy your own groceries and pay your own rent and maybe even buy your own car provides a certain satisfaction: Look, I can survive on my own in the world. But this satisfaction can wear thin, sometimes early in our working years, sometimes later, but nearly always. The exchange of time for money in this way begins to take on the sour reek of prostitution.

Emily Dickenson was supposed to have viewed selling her poetry as “auctioning her soul.” I love Dickenson, but I think she had it all wrong. Most books are written first for the pleasure of the writer, but selling this work, in a way, has everything to do with validating the soul. To be paid money for what you love to do, for what you would do whether you were paid to do it or not, is a beautiful exchange. To me, it is life exactly as it was meant to be led.

There can be a strange, Calvinist guilt that might accompany receiving a check for doing work you love, because the work might not feel like work. But the old work, the work you needed to do but didn’t necessarily want to do, that should by no means be our standard of honest living. That is the antithesis of earning what we call an honest living. Saying what do not want to say, doing what you do not want to do—these are all lies of a sort. Honesty is the expression of truth, which for all of us is the expression of ourselves, which extends from how we greet our neighbors to how we earn our living.

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