Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's "Rich?" What's "Success?"

Is it a million dollars and ten million fans? That's one yardstick, but it isn't everyone's.

There's a musician whose work I like, kind of a folk singer and kind of not, a young woman who plays at least nine of every ten instruments in her recordings. A decade ago, she was working one of the low-paying, steady, skill-related jobs many musicians do, music director for a church or some such thing. One morning she looked around and thought, No. My head's full of music and if I don't start playing more of it, writing it down, recording it, I'm just going to explode!

So she quit. Started playing small venues.

...A half-dozen CDs later, a dozen rambling national tours appearing in slightly bigger places, to more and more people, living in a medium-sized apartment with a growing pile of instruments and computers, she reports:

"I'm taking home about what a Taco Bell worker makes -- but it feels like a lot more."

Sure, her gross is higher and so's her overhead; put that spreadsheet away. Part of her "income" is getting music from inside her head to inside yours. And to people who like it enough to pay for it.

I'm not sure you can put a cash value on that. I suspect a wage/hour expert would crunch the numbers and walk away, sadly shaking his or her head. On paper, the ROI isn't much.

But -- if you're doing what you want to do, not missing any meals, keeping the bills paid -- aren't you richer than the guy with the nice car, the big house and a high-paying high-pressure job he loathes? No matter how much he earns, he can't afford what you've got.


Alan said...

I'd quit work to do what I love but laying around the house reading books doesn't pay well at all.

Bob said...

Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho calls that "the good fight," the fight for our dreams. He discusses it at length in his masterpiece The Alchemist. I highly recommend it.

Josh Kruschke said...

More money coming in than going out.

Phillip said...

I'm a volunteer at a local community theater, working backstage on one to three productions a year. On an average production, I spend an average of 80 to 120 or more hours involved in the show, between rehearsals, set construction, and performances. I get paid not one cent. I've even paid for tickets to shows for friends out of pocket. Each cast and crew member gets two 'comp' tickets to the show they work, so hopefully your family can come see what you've spent so much time on.

This is at a true community theater. The directors, the actors, the stage manager, the tech people like me, none of us get paid, although the actors claim that the applause is their paycheck.

But we have to do it. If we don't, we get grumpy and out of sorts. We might only work one show a year, we might work one show every three years, or we might work every show in a season. But we HAVE to get back into the theater. So yeah, the math doesn't add up, the ROI isn't there, but there's just no way you can run the calculus to understand why we do what we do unless you have something that you're the same way about.

Jerry said...

I'm an experienced mechanical engineer and one of my guilty pleasures is that I take great pleasure when I see things I've designed in public.

perlhaqr said...

So... who is it? Do we get to listen to her too?

Roberta X said...

Nope. Woman is an utter treehugging hippie, with a website; I like her music well enough to want to avoid sending an inevitable argument. Hey, nobody's perfect.

og said...

peoiple have made a good living doing what my dream is, which is to kill things, and eat them.

I also learned early on that making your job your hearts desire most often results in your hearts desire becoming a job. So I learned to love what I do- it's important work, after all- and it offers me the opportunity to occasionally do what I love.

Steve Florman said...

Post her name and website; if she's any good, maybe your readers could give her a little bonus!

Mike W. said...

As long as you have enough to pay for your basic necessities Happiness is all that really matters beyond that.

Roberta X said...

Steve: no, really -- if you saw the cautions I was being given in the slow-drain post about using lye and sulphiric acid one after the other, it's like that -- she's a great musician but a leftie, hippie, feminist (if, thank heavens, a little bit in favor of a .gov that mostly minds its own biz) and I would just as soon not be the jerk that caused the explosion.

Not everything is political; not everything needs to be. And sometimes a body's got to step up and make sure it stays that way.

Josh Kruschke said...

Roberta X is a killjoy.