Write Livelihood

I’m worried about money.

About running out of it, specifically. Even though I have a slight cushion of savings and don’t need to generate income for a while, I’m worried that in order to make ends meet, sooner or later I’ll have to take on work that is objectionable, meaningless, or worse.

This wasn’t why I leapt from my previous life, and it’s not why I started this blog. On the contrary: Write Learning is about proving one can be idealistic, follow one’s passions, and still make a decent living.

It seems I have to start by proving this to myself. I never learned how to make money; I must have missed that class back in school. Or perhaps it’s because I was trained for a different era, a long-ago time known as the 20th Century when you stayed in school, got your degree, got a job and stayed with it for decades. Security first, and if there was any time or money left over, maybe you could sneak in a sip of passion now and then.

This is, by the way, yet another factor driving me to support Sudbury schools: our students prepare themselves to make their own way in a new world, adapting to emerging circumstances rather than preparing for a reality that’s long gone. In the Sudbury model, pursuing your passions is key; you learn what it takes to do what you love. In the language of that Howard Thurman quote I cited a couple days ago, you figure out how to do what makes you come alive.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem at all with voluntary simplicity or deferred gratification; it’s how I’ve been living much of my life. I acknowledge that doing whatever it takes may include taking on work that doesn’t directly support my calling. In fact, I wonder whether I’m asking too much by holding out for work that draws upon not only my strengths, but my passions; work compatible with my beliefs; work in which I’m given considerable discretion on what to do and how.

As the creator and author of Write Learning, I wonder if this isn’t my personal interpretation of that portion of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path known as Right Livelihood. (For the curious, here are articles by Jack Kornfield and Barbara O’Brien on the subject.) To me, the constellation of meanings surrounding Right Livelihood includes work that is consistent with who we are, that is worthy of us and that contributes to making things better, not simply perpetuating the status quo.

I’ve never experienced a better work environment than in my fifteen years as a Sudbury staff member. This topic deserves its own post, but for now I’ll just say that this is astonishingly authentic, engaging, demanding, and empowering work; it’s meaningful, flexible, gratifying, and humbling. Those of us fortunate enough to staff at a Sudbury school get to (and have to) be creative and playful even as the job pushes our buttons, requires everything we’ve got, and challenges us to grow.

So—how am I to make money doing this thing I love? Or the things, rather, in which I deeply believe. All my work need not be Sudbury-related: even off the top of my head, I can think of various pursuits that would qualify as Right Livelihood for me. And in fact, I suspect this is the new norm: cobbling together various jobs, regularly adding and subtracting them as time goes by. So long as I can apply my skills with words and nonprofit management (by which I mean mostly visioning, organizing, and marketing) toward something larger than myself, as part of a team and a cause, that should be perfectly satisfying.

Yet Sudbury is where my heart lies. It’s where I have the most experience, and where I believe I can draw upon the widest range of my talents, all the while enjoying the extended-family feel of these rich, vibrant communities of self-actualizing individuals. At how many jobs can I hang out, play, teach, and otherwise connect with kids ages 5 to 18, in addition to writing and editing, organizing and promoting a small business?

The real question is, where can I find the money and the time to keep doing so? I want CASE to work out, to pay, to make a difference. I want to work at a Sudbury school on at least a part-time basis. I know from experience that filling in the gaps with government/university desk jobs or by freelancing can be problematic. The more time you give over to others, the more you spend scrounging for tedious jobs, the less you have for that which both fulfills you and lets you give the world your best work.

Speaking of time, I wonder if I’m spending too much—or not enough—on this blog. Should I look at my bank balance and budget and come up with a plan for how much time can elapse before I need to start generating an income (and how much of one by what point)? To what extent should I simply pour myself into the work I love, trusting that my intuition and passion will lead soon enough to sources of funding? How do I effectively tap into a larger network of connections?

The questions, as well as the possibilities, seem endless. And meanwhile, my bank balance continues its slow hemorrhage.


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2 responses to “Write Livelihood

  1. I like your question about right livelihood, and then I remember the adage, “it is better to be alive than right.” I hope things work out for you at the Sudbury school here.

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