"Follow your dreams"

A friend linked me to an interview with Elle Luna. I have a notoriously negative reaction to this sort of interview, which is why I was sent the link. However, while reading it I began questioning my distaste for people telling everyone to quit their jobs and follow their dreams. What started off as an e-mail ended up as a post about the quit-your-job culture and the rise of personal branding/marketing.


I read this once last night and once again just now. I'm starting to wonder whether I'm wrong in my gut negative reaction to it. Like, what if I'm just some ass who is just jealous of this person putting themselves in a position where they can more or less pursue whatever they want to do? I think I've sussed out some of the reasoning behind the mental knee-jerk distaste I have for this sort of thing.

My first problem is that there's a vocabulary recycled through all of these sorts of interviews/posts/conferences/etc. "Artisan" "throw caution into the wind" "special" "unique" "alive". Whenever a vocabulary establishes itself like this it becomes a coded way of saying nothing. This is why e-mails from biz-devs make your eyes glaze over. People who use these buzzwords are more concerned with fulfilling some kind of mythology or storytelling rather than actually saying anything interesting. This post from David Pogue criticizing a PR e-mail is a perfect example of this. Rather than saying something meaningful, the buzzwords convey a false sense of expertise and knowledge. They trust that you'll fill in the blanks based on the associations people have with the vocabulary. "I had no idea what I was doing!" "I just did what my heart told me to do." These are the buzzphrases of the quit-your-job cargo cult where "following your heart" leads to riches and freedom.

The thing that bums me out about this is that this person sounds incredibly intelligent and interesting. It's just the way their achievements are discussed feels so uninteresting and trite. Drawing over 100 portraits while on vacation takes an incredible amount of work, focus, and dedication (and honestly I think a lot of them look great). Doing consulting work for such big name clients as Uber and Dropbox is really impressive, and it must have taken serious work to get to a position where that's possible. In the interview it's all brushed off with a sort of nonchalance of a character in a movie. The hard work falls by the wayside and all that's left to take credit is a mindset of dream-chasing (see also: sports commentators talking about people winning simply because they wanted it more).

The big benefit of all this quit-your-job narrative is that if you hear it over and over again, it does give you courage. If I weren't so ensconced in it I definitely wouldn't be as eager and unintimidated to not look for a new contract after my current one ends in November, and take time to focus on personal projects.

My thoughts on this seem endemic of someone who overthinks things, and perhaps quitting and getting started really is the hardest part. Maybe every situation where someone goes independent is really so unique that that there is very little useful information to share other than encouraging people to give it a shot. However, my worry is that this isn't the case. My suspicion is that it's become more profitable to build a marketable myth/brand and preen oneself around that story. Artists have been breaking off from the "expected" lifestyle for hundreds of years, but currently we seem to be in a creative economy focused more on story than output. The value of work seems to jump exponentially as people connect with the statue that artists/makers erect of themselves through social media.

I'm most interested to see how my perspective on this sort of thing changes once I start working independently next month. Perhaps a positive and bubbly outlook on life like Elle Luna exhibits is necessary for making a living independently. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon who will fail, and I'll wish I had listened more carefully to everyone who's made it.