There’s No Money in That

Sometimes it almost seems as though the melancholic idealist is drawn to things because there is no money to be made from them.

There’s an element of truth in this: money attracts all types of people, and the utility of wealth tends to degrade the subject matter, whatever it may be. Money is the lowest common denominator; when the idealist sees the crowd scrambling for money, he naturally wonders what else there is to life.

In a society fixated on money, this can be self-defeating, because no matter what our ideals are we do need a basic wealth in order to survive and a more than basic wealth to flourish and be meaningfully engaged in society. Hence the idealist dream is to find a way of earning a reasonable living without compromising his ideals.

But what if, by his early thirties, an idealist has somehow managed to invest himself almost totally in financially useless skills and interests? What if, perversely, the very things that attracted him to those skills and interests are the same features that repel others and make them monetary dead-ends?

The rare, gruelling martial art that must not be taught commercially; the ancient religious chant rejected as foreign and elitist by the religious mainstream; the difficult philosophical quest for meaning and purpose neglected by mainstream culture — it’s hard to market yourself to people who fundamentally have no idea what you’re talking about, and no real interest in finding out. But lest we fall into the melancholic Catch-22 -twisting ourselves in knots trying to monetise the ideal- it is vital that we remind ourselves of the context of our ideals, and why we were drawn to them in the first place.

The context is, after all, a little humbling: you left the popular, commercialised martial art in part because the new art was rare, exclusive, and not commercialised. You pursued the ancient religious chant in part because it had been rejected, forgotten, and overlooked. You delved into philosophical inquiry in part because your society and culture could not readily provide the answers. To complain at this point that your interests are not feted by the wider community would be a little embarrassing, wouldn’t it?

The other part of the ideal is even more important: the first impression, the beginner’s point of view, the ideal of the ideal, the perfect form that drew you in from the start. It faded and waned over years of practice, but is still there in the background and still has the power to inspire and restore.

We get bogged down, somewhere along the way, and lose touch with this source of inspiration. We forget to take a step back and consider our progress: how far we have come along the path to our ideal, whether it be the power, form, and self-mastery of the rare martial art, the haunting beauty of the ancient chant, or the wisdom, knowledge, and clarity of the philosophical search for meaning.

In some sense these ideals will never be achieved, and the beginner’s first impression naturally gives way to the realisation of the adept that there is always farther to go and more to learn, and others whose knowledge and experience dwarf anything you have attained. And so there is a risk of ending up with neither wealth nor a sense of accomplishment, perhaps regretting our seemingly naive idealism and wishing we were more money-minded.

Such doubts are normal, but if the melancholic temperament is real then holding such regrets is a pathetic place to be. Just accept that you are not money-minded. Just accept that you are an idealist, and ultimately your ideals mean more to you than money ever will. You will have to make a living somehow, and it is impossible to say whether you can find a means of income that satisfies your idealistic temperament. But you stand a far, far better chance of doing so if you pursue your ideals unashamedly, and without reserve. Ideals are, after all, what you are good at. There is an inherent dignity and enjoyment in doing what you are good at, even if the rest of the world neither cares nor understands.

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5 thoughts on “There’s No Money in That

  1. Excellent article.

    For me, the question is not whether or not my “idealistic” endeavors can be used to make money; rather, if I do find them valuable, as is it likely I would find them to be the most valuable, am I communicating their value to others? Are others finding them valuable? If others do find them valuable, then my needs in life, whether being provided through monetary gain or simply through the relationships that the value I offer benefits, will be met.

    • Thanks Jack.
      Communicating value is an interesting challenge. I’ve only ever found a few people interested in the hard, repetitive work of my martial art; only a few willing to concede the beauty of Gregorian Chant, and fewer still devoted to the search for meaning. So I’ve learned to accept that these things are not for everyone; but at the same time, I have to admit I have not really tried to communicate these things as well as I might. Well, you’ve got me thinking. I might have to do another article!

      • Hahaha, awesome! You got me thinking as well!

        I think that if you love doing something enough, you will figure out a way to “make a living” by doing it. Most of us, I think, spend our lives doing things we don’t really love, so that in our “free time” we can do things that we love. So, we spend the majority of our time here with earth doing things we don’t really like or believe in doing. Which seems pretty insane to me.

        But of course, the only way we really “make a living” by doing anything is through our relationships with others. Someone may have the most amazing product ever created, but if they suck at building relationships, nobody is going to care, nobody is going to see how incredible and perhaps, unique, what they have to offer truly is.

        My hope is that we are able to see the unique qualities that each and every-one of us has to add to this experience called life.

  2. Give yourself some credit! (Get it?)

    Sure, some activities make more money than others. But some also cost more than others.

    Commercial martial art: $100s for Gis, tuition, tournaments.
    Obscure martial art, training in trackies and back yards: free.

    Chant: free.
    Cost to be a solo electronica music artist: I don’t know, but a lot. Then add a MacBook.

    Philosophical inquiry: free.
    Profession/trades: Hundreds if not thousands of dollars in continuing education, equipment, and indemnity insurance.

    Seeing the opportunity costs is easy. Seeing the opportunity savings is hard.

    There may be no money in what you’re doing, but at least there’s little risk or loss.

    Perhaps you are better at financial estimates than you think.

    • I think this is my new favourite comment.
      As part of my ‘communicating value’ post, I’ve been thinking about the value I find in my ideals. To be honest, (and I might post more on this later) I think one reason for failing to communicate the value of my ideals is that the value is extremely high. My PhD studies, for example, have been so enjoyable, frustrating, challenging, and encouraging, I would have to say it’s like a great adventure that costs me nothing, is 100% portable, and cannot be bought for any amount of money. I’m not sure how you feel about martial arts, but I’d have to say that the sense of adventure in striving for an ideal is so rewarding that I don’t really know where to begin in expressing that to others. I mean, it’s been a long path and difficult at times, but the thought of life without it is terribly plain.

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