Would you work for free?
Ever since we are born it is made clear that with work comes reward. When you did the dishes or cleaned your room, you received praise (or better yet, an allowance) from your parents. When you did well on a test or well on the course, you got recognition in gold stars or diplomas, from your school. When you entered the workforce the granddaddy of all rewards crooked a finger at you, and teased you to come and get it. It’s all about the money, baby, them dolla dolla bills.
But not all work pays out the same, and not all rewards are created equal. Money may run the world, but money don’t run everything. We’re told if you work hard, you will get what you want. In the same parallel, if you learn to work well, talent gets recognized and rewarded. Work and get rewards; get rewards by putting in work. Tick, tock, runs like clockwork.
But there’s an exception to this system, one wormhole in this untenable reality. There is another type of work, necessary work, where none of the traditional promise of rewards are guaranteed at the end. I’m talking about the work you do for yourself, when you answer the call for that dream job, straying off the beaten path from the prescribed list of acceptable ‘successful roles’. Now, these types of jobs do not mean shirking away from hard work, far from it – in fact they virtually guarantee it. And these kinds of people are not without talent, indeed, it is often the fickle Muse herself who draw their reluctant souls towards these paths. It is not an easy road to follow, and to do so is to eschew all past notions of what it means to work hard and to be rewarded for it.
It can be a hard thing to explain this concept of work to someone who subscribes to the traditional channels, the conventional structure where rewards sought are both tangible and within reach. Where work done is paid, consistently, and a feedback loop provides checks and balances, doling out praise when it is warranted. If someone shows talent it is recognized and compensated, and how much talent entailing how much reward is visible on a chart neatly laid out for all to see. This is a highly structured world, and for all its tight confines an illusion of security is created.
So why would anyone choose to do work that does not pay handsomely, or (let’s be honest) pay anything at all? What good is having talent if no one is there to see you, no one to celebrate your abilities? If reward and recognition cannot be the main motivators, why would anyone choose to do what they are doing?
“I would rather be at the bottom of a ladder I want to climb, than at the top of one I don’t.” – Stephen Kellogg
Anyone stepping out of the conventional working world will know this new frontier – it is the wild, wild west where the rule is there are no rules. Here work and reward are separate entities. Sometimes they connect, more oftentimes they don’t. Talent can mean absolutely nothing, and even if you follow the rainbow to the end you may find no trace of promised gold. This is the kind of work you may find yourself devoted to for months, or maybe years on years, and you may still walk away with nothing in the end. Well, except maybe with a little blood spilled, a lot more of sweat and a whole ocean of tears. Not to mention a likely healthy depletion of your own time and money. So all this effort, all this hard work, what is it for? Can there really be no guarantee it will accumulate in a great reward?
There isn’t – a guarantee, that is. But you didn’t finally walk off the great corporate hamster wheel only to come looking for another safety net, did you? In this line of work – your line of work, the one that compelled you to follow it through – this is the great risk you have to take. After all you are in uncharted territory, swimming in open water. Here land markers only map out where you need to break new ground. The hidden treasures, if they exist, are hidden underneath the surface still waiting to be discovered. But never fret – how many treasure hunters dig for bounty only to turn up empty handed, but of those who do end up finding riches you will never hear they regret they’d kept trying.
It is a terrifying change, to step away from a world we have always known into one we absolutely don’t. We have been learning our whole lives how the system works, how to let our motivations be dictated by work and it’s expected reward. But this isn’t the only way to live, and it’s not the only way to work.
If you ever come across a map, the kind buried inside you, wanting to lead you into a darkness with no light at the end of the tunnel – follow it. It will not remain dark for long, for you have inside you a burning fire resounding in a strong voice that’s telling you I need to do this. Let that flame be your guide. Follow the map, trust that eventually it will lead you to where X marks the spot. Don’t be afraid of work with no guarantee of reward. Take the risk because at the end of it all, whether you come out standing on a pile of riches or on the rags of your attempts, it won’t feel like you have worked for nothing. Because when you work for yourself, pushing yourself towards your own goals, you are never doing it for nothing. You already are in possession of the wealth of it all, for the simple truth of never having to regret not trying.
“If you get tired learn to rest, not quit.” – Banksy