Monday, November 9, 2015


I think we, as a society, have tied up fun and money too tightly in our formula for a good life.  There is a persistent idea out there that in order to have a good life you need to follow your dreams, make your hobbies your job, and somehow magically you will get to have fun all of the time while being paid buckets of money for it.  That fantasy is pretty harmful in a lot of ways because it encourages people to think of themselves as failures when they have to do a normal job and leaves a lot of people chasing dreams into poverty and desperation.

I found a quote I quite like here:

The most likely route to career contentment is to find work that is neither too hard or too easy, that's ethical, with a good boss, with a decent commute, and that pays decently.  Then work diligently at it so you're good at it.

That, to me, is a formula for career success.  It doesn't play as well at parties, perhaps, as the I Followed My Dreams story, but it will likely get you a lot more happiness.  Happiness is tied to being financially secure (though not particularly to being rich), to having a short commute, and to being around people you like and trust.  The correlation to following your dreams just isn't there.

I don't mean that you should actively avoid doing work that you might do just for fun, but that you can achieve just as much happiness by working a job you are good at with people you like and pursuing your passions on the side.  You don't have to make a living playing gigs to play music and have it be fulfilling.  You don't have to work as a chef to get great enjoyment out of cooking.  Go to your day job, come home, and do the thing you love when you want, in the way you want.  You even have the advantage that you don't get burned out on your passion because you don't have to mix in meetings and deadlines and annoying end users and the desperate need to sell yourself so you can eat next week.

This is the kind of advice kids need when talking about work.  I don't know anybody who would list fixing electrical boxes, selling beds, or helping customers navigate software issues as their passions, and yet I know people who have jobs doing these things that give them great satisfaction.  They found something useful that they were good at and practiced until they were experts.  A few people are going to make a living being painters, NFL quarterbacks, or celebrity chefs but mostly people find their happiness in much more mundane professions and indeed nearly everyone *has* to find their happiness there.  Somebody has to serve the coffee, enter the data, and ring up the total and there is nothing shameful in doing those things just because it isn't the culmination of a lifelong dream.

Stoicism has something to say about this sort of thing.  When you decide that you will work to the limits of your ability to write a song, the achievement of that goal is up to you.  When you decide that you will make tons of money writing songs, the achievement of that goal is up to everyone else.  Pegging your happiness and achievement on the whims of the rest of the world seems ridiculous to me - you need not base your sense of success and failure on things you can't control.

This is why I find it so difficult to talk to people about my games sometimes.  They nearly always want me to make it more, bigger, and to spend my days doing all the administrative, sales, and bureaucratic work that would be required to turn them into a source of revenue.  I don't want that.  I hate all that kind of work, especially when it isn't paying me a decent wage (and independent game design does not pay a decent wage, trust me.)  Sitting at my computer creating my games, building my constructs in the ether, makes me deeply happy.  Trying to convince others to buy them does not.  So I will do what makes me happy.

I suppose I am following my dreams in a way.  My dream is to putter away on my games, and I am going to do that.  It is just that this is where the dream ends - it needs no revenue to be realized in full.


  1. I think you may be parsing things a bit too finely.

    People may not dream of serving coffee, or providing tech support, but they get joy out of making people happy, or feeling helpful. Was my dream to license taxis and strippers? No, but I love being able to make people's jobs easier and save the City money.

    I believe the "do what you love" theory comes from people who were able to do it and could honestly say that it doesn't feel like work. This sometimes comes from a specific task, other times it comes from ownership of the process, other times it comes from being really good at something. It's good advice to find something you'd do for free and get someone to pay you for it. But you are correct that it would be very difficult for everyone to follow it.

  2. you know grandpa W used to say " happiness is not doing the things you like to do so much as liking the things you have to do". I kinda believe that to.

  3. I agree with Anonymous. And there's no pressure from me to market your games - that's your 'passion'. Your 'real' job is taking care of the fam.