If You Wouldn’t Do It for Free, Don’t Do It For Money


Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Recently, I have been thinking through a new approach to money.

I am still working it through in my mind, and I’m a bit hesitant to write about it here. But I think this community can help add perspective.

My new, guiding philosophy towards work and income is this, “If I wouldn’t do it for free, I won’t do it for money.”

I realize, in many ways, this is an idealistic view of the world. But I am starting to wonder if this approach is more available to us than we think.

Still, it feels to me, at times, this statement comes from a place of privilege. And I will readily admit that. I grew up in a middle-class family that provided stability, support, and opportunity. I do not have unpaid medical bills on my desk from an unexpected surgery. I am not a single parent trying to raise my kids despite a deadbeat spouse. Nor was my position downsized due to unexpected corporate layoffs during the last recession.

I am fortunate to work a job I love and live in a country that provides me the freedom to do so. This is not something I take for granted.

I realize there are circumstances (sometimes caused by others) when we are called to selflessly sacrifice for our family. And I recognize there are certain seasons of life when we may be required to do work that we do not enjoy simply because there are people counting upon us to do so.

I just wonder if those situations are less common than we think.

18 months ago, I transitioned into promoting minimalism as my full-time job. And I am grateful for each passing month that I continue to do so (if you’d like to know more about how we accomplish that, you can find detailed information here). Somewhere along the way, I made a conscious decision that I would only pursue projects that I wanted to pursue. If I wouldn’t do it for free, I wouldn’t do it for money.

Probably, most significantly, is my approach to speaking. Despite an ever-increasing schedule, I continue to not charge a fee for my presentations—asking only for travel and accommodations to be covered. Most public speakers tell me I am crazy and that goes against every rule in the book.

“Set a fee,” they tell me. “Nobody will take you seriously if you don’t. A set fee allows you to offer a ‘discount’ to help close the deal with a potential client.”

But I see it very differently. Because I do not have a speaking fee, I can never be bought. I am never obligated to speak or attend an event just because somebody is willing to pay the price. Instead, each request is considered and weighed individually. Is it a good opportunity to promote minimalism? Is it an organization I believe in? Is the opportunity worth the investment? And while financial compensation is typically offered (or requested for long-term commitments), it is never the deciding factor. If I wouldn’t do it for free, I won’t do it for money.

I have adopted this approach to speaking, but also to every project I choose to pursue.

Our time should not be governed by the amount of money promised, but by the desires of our heart. (tweet that)

As I continue to pursue this approach, I have identified some specific thoughts towards life that must be present in the person who adopts it.

1. Hard work is not to be feared. If the inherent joy found in work is not appreciated in somebody’s life, this approach will always crumble. We must appreciate work for the sake of work, not just for the financial compensation that arises from it. There is something to be appreciated about working hard. We were designed to enjoy the process. We find fulfillment in it. It is satisfying to lie in bed at night with a tired body that has been both active and productive.

2. Work is not always enjoyable. With any job, there are aspects of work that are frustrating and difficult—even with the greatest dream job in the world. I am not encouraging anyone to relinquish perseverance or to refuse pushing through the difficult parts of work. For example, I love writing, but the process can be very difficult at times. I am able to persevere because the work results in something I am proud to have produced. Even though I would do it for free, I know there will be difficult moments along the way.

3. Life pursuits can not be purely selfish. Those who believe they will find enjoyment entertaining only selfish desires will never survive under this approach to work. Ultimately, we must see our lives and work as opportunity for contribution—an opportunity to offer our talents and skills to a community of people who need them. If you are entirely self-seeking in your approach to life and only enjoy pursuits that benefit your own self, this approach to doing what you love will only suffice in the short-term. Lounging each day on the beach for the rest of your life is not the answer.

4. This approach rings more true for those willing to live with less. Because I have adopted a philosophy that says, “I will only do it for money if I would do it free,” I have turned down several, significant money-making opportunities. But I don’t mind because I have learned to enjoy less. As a result, my needs and views of money have changed dramatically over the past 6 years. I am certainly not against being compensated for work, but pursuing riches is no longer a driving goal of mine. I don’t need the money and I don’t want the money. Instead, I want to live a deliberate life that focuses on my strengths and passions and invites others to rethink the role of possessions in their life.

5. This approach does not necessarily require a new job. I think, at first reading, this sounds as if I am urging everybody to quit their soul-crushing day job and try to monetize their passion. But that could not be further from the truth. Instead, I would push people to reconsider their views on their current employment. I have a friend who works at a bank providing agricultural loans to local farmers. He’s really good at it. He helps farmers think deeper about their budgeting and their business plan for success. Then, he equips each of them with the resources they need to plant seed in the spring and bring in the harvest in the fall. This, I believe, is important work. And while some days, he probably wishes he could leave it all behind and golf every day instead, maybe, in actuality, if he looked a little bit deeper, he would realize that he really does enjoy his job. It is fulfilling for him to help farmers succeed at what they do. Maybe, he would do this for free if given the chance. And just maybe this ideal is a little bit closer to reality than he originally thought.

Ultimately, I offer this philosophy not as a presciption for your life, but as a description of mine. Our seasons of life differ. But I still hope it has spurred new thoughts in yours.

I would be grateful if you could help round out my thinking in the comment section below. Is this an approach to life that everyone should seek to adopt?

Have you adopted this philosophy in your own life? How has it worked? What have you learned? Or, are you in a season of life when this is just not possible? Do you forsee any long-term obstacles to this approach?

I am anxious to add your experience to my perspective. And I plan to be actively engaging with your thoughts over the next several days.

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