Do what you love. It’s standard-issue advice in an era where a lifelong career path seems a distant dream for anyone under 50. But it’s also utter codswallop. This is why.
I am stupidly lucky, and I know it. I’ve spent more than a quarter of a century in a career as a writer, a job that I truly enjoy. Moreover, I’ve made a living from writing throughout a period when the ability to write well changed from something with a decent hourly or per-word rate to something that you were supposed to do for free in return for an amorphous bullshit concept like “exposure”. Fact: you can’t pay off a mortgage that way.
But long before dealing with that change, I’d already learned something equally important: writing about things that you loved was the surest way to destroy that love. It’s a horrendous trade-off. You know what you love, so you can write about it with authority. You have all the background knowledge. But once you step inside that inner circle, you learn all the reasons why you should hate something at a rate that fatally poisons every shred of enthusiasm you ever had.
The first article I was ever paid for, way back in 1988, was for a long-forgotten Australian magazine called The Amstrad User. It explained how to convert programs written for Apple II computers to run in Locomotive Basic. I’d read enough about the writing process to know that all I could expect for submitting this was a rejection letter. That was what happened to writers.
When my subscription copy of the magazine with my article printed in it showed up in the mail, I’d have done cartwheels if I wasn’t already a fully confirmed uncoordinated doofus. When I received a cheque for $40 the next month for my work, it was better than any orgasm I’d ever experienced.
I was a writer, and I was writing about computers, and I was being paid, and how could you ever want anything more?
That enthusiasm bounced me through casual writing throughout university, and those articles on my resume scored me a job at Australia’s biggest computer magazine publisher back in 1994. I left there in 2000 and easily fell into a career as a freelance writer. I knew all about how the industry worked; I knew exactly what editors wanted and how to produce it. But I didn’t love computing any longer. It wasn’t my passion; it was my profession.
My passions involved writing bizarre blog posts in which Danni Minogue was a psychopathic crime fighter and planning epic train journeys and producing stick-figure pornography before Tumblr was a thing. Mostly, I have not turned these into a career. I’ve learned my lesson. To misquote Flashdance: “Take your passion, and keep it to yourself, mister.”
The rate of decay is much faster now. The very first time you publish anything online, you will be bombarded with comments from people whose only purpose in life is to disagree with you, whatever the facts. You tell yourself these anonymous morons don’t deserve your respect. They won’t even dignify their sledging with their own name.
However, we’re emotional beings, not rational beings. You tell yourself that these idiots deserve no respect. But when 100 people in a row tell you that they think you’re a fucktard, it’s hard to disbelieve every last one of them. Leaving often seems the easier course.
I haven’t left. I’m still a writer. I don’t think I’ll ever do anything else. And I still try to write about topics that I find interesting, because if you’re bored, your reader will be bored too. But I long ago gave up on the idea that I had to be utterly passionate about everything I write about. Some of my passions are just for me. That works out better for everyone.
Angus Kidman is editor-in-chief for comparison site finder.com.au , a former editor for Lifehacker Australia and a man who couldn’t possibly incorporate all of his passions into a paying job without being arrested. Follow him on Twitter @gusworldau.