There’s a wonderful video of author Elizabeth Gilbert distinguishing between a hobby, job, career and vocation.
Essentially she says:
A hobby is something you do to keep life fun and interesting. With a hobby, the stakes are zero. You don’t need it to succeed. It’s simply something you enjoy doing. Hobbies are a reminder that you’re a human, not an automaton.
A job is an exchange of money for time and effort. We live in a material world and money is a currency to survive it. You do a thing someone needs doing, and they pay you to do it.
A career is a job you’re passionate about. A career requires cultivation and sacrifices – which you’re willing to do because you believe in your career’s mission. Disliking a job might be okay because there’s a straightforward exchange – task for money. But disliking a career is a tragedy. Better off finding a new career, or just getting a job. “You should love a career, or not have one.”
A vocation is a calling. It’s sacred, mystical, spiritual. It’s something you can’t not do. Someone can take your job or a career away – but no one can take away a calling. No amount of money could stop you from pursuing a calling, nor seduce you to start a new one. It’s on a higher plane than hobby, job or career. Fortunate are those who can make their callings both a career and a job.
This distinction should be common sense.
Yet having watched it several times over, I’ve realized how often I confuse the four. Or how many times I’ve wanted one to be the other. Or how often I haven’t been honest about where something sat in my life.
Writing is one of those. I’ve often wished writing to be my job or even my career. Especially when I started this blog. I thought I wanted to be a travel blogger.
I mean, travel blogging sounds great, right? Get paid to wander around the globe? Discover amazing places? Just write about it and get paid? Sign me up.
It’s so embarrassingly cliché, it hurts.
But I had to start the thing to understand where it sat in my life.
I started writing during my 7 month sabbatical. Quickly the realization set in: I did not want to be a travel blogger. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the patience for fiddling with WordPress or designing email newsletters. Or that I didn’t have a knack for discovering local gems and getting whisked away by locals on adventures.
I was discovering that writing transcended all of that.
A couple months in, my writing turned from travelogue to philosophical. Personally, writing helped me process and reflect on life experiences. It helped me work out what I thought, what I believed, and what I was learning about life.
Editing my writing and sharing it with an audience became about connection with others. Discovering something and sharing it. Learning something and teaching it. Noticing something and celebrating it. Writing became a powerful tool and I wanted to wield it wisely.
Occasionally some marketer would offer me $50 or some silly amount to guest post or to advertise a product on my site. I counter with an offer 100x higher with strict rules – e.g. I must believe in the product/service and I get to curate the message for my audience. Otherwise, it’s not worth it to me.
I didn’t want to bastardize the writing by having to make a buck from it.
Had I the language for it, writing – or more broadly, noticing the external and internal world with eyes wide open and reflecting it back for others – was turning into a calling.
And yet the irony: my most fulfilling and best paid opportunities over the last seven years have come from my unpaid writing. Because I’ve poured time and energy into writing, I’ve become better at it. Increasingly, writing – an article, a talk, a workshop – has become part of my job and career.
No shame in a day job
My friend Parul quipped at our last London Writers’ Salon meetup:
“I’ve never met a writer who complains that they’re paid too much.”
I’d love to be paid for my words. But I’ve come to peace with not needing to make money directly from my blog. I love being able to write what I want, for whom I want. To write what’s true and important. If that means writing forever sits in the Calling box, so be it.
When Joan Baez was asked about advice for songwriters hoping to become as commercially successful as Baez, she replied:
“Get a day job. Get a day job. You have to be willing to roll with the punches. If you want to love your music, and not feel that you have to sell your ass down the river to get something going, you’re probably going to want to keep your day job.”
Ain’t no shame in a day job. I bet Elizabeth Gilbert would say something similar.