For love or money?

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Readers, would you work at a job primarily for the money, putting your attraction to the job secondary? Here’s why I ask:

A friend who knows about the book-in-progress asked about what I want to get out of this experience. He asked, “You’re doing this to become a best-seller in a few years, aren’t you? Isn’t that the reason you are writing the book?”

I told him that hadn’t even factored into the equation of why I was writing the book; in fact, I told him I was doing it because it was interesting. He was completely flabbergasted, and asked:  “You mean, money isn’t the first priority here?”

Source: meetville.com

Source: meetville.com

Don’t get me wrong. I have to work for a living just like most people. But would I have started Emmett’s research for the money alone if I didn’t like — or love — what I was doing?

No. I wouldn’t.

The reason why is because I did that before I found my niche in academia. Every time I put money or compensation ahead of my affection or attraction to a project, I would wind up hating the work — and firing the client, or quitting the job. After a while, I decided I didn’t want to waste my time, energy, and mental health dealing with a job that paid well, but I disliked so much that I hated going to work every day.

The logic behind that, I suppose, is for the same reason I teach. I didn’t get into teaching for the money. I got into it because I love learning, and I like to get others interested in learning. Also (I don’t mean to brag here), I’m good at it. I firmly believe that if you love what you do, and you do your best, the money will follow. That may sound like BS to some folks, but it has proven true to me many times in my 20-plus years in higher education.

Microfilm: It's reel time consuming!

Microfilm: It’s reel time consuming!

Emmett’s project isn’t generating a cash flow — but it isn’t as bad as you’d think. Emmett’s research hasn’t been very costly, and if you consider the fact that I feature a lot of Emmett’s research in my classroom discussion and activities (i.e., demonstrating a data search using microfilm; demonstrating how to write an annotated bibliography; teaching students about primary versus secondary sources), this research is covered by my university salary. Of course, I do a lot of additional research on my own time, but I really enjoy it; so, I don’t consider it hardship or that I’m ‘working for free,’ although that’s what it amounts to.

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I’ll let you in on a secret.

Truthfully, I didn’t like Emmett very much when I first ‘met’ him (I was in the middle of research for another project, fyi, and came across what seemed mysterious information about him). My first impression was that he was a pompous ass. Turns out I was wrong about that.

I got hooked onto Emmett’s story because getting to know him seemed like a bit of a puzzle to solve, and I love puzzles — the more challenging they are, the better I like them. It didn’t matter that Emmett had been dead almost 100 years and had rather quickly fallen into obscurity; that made it more interesting to me.

As Emmett’s story continues to unfold (slowly, but surely), I learn a lot about myself in the process. For example, this whole experience has taught me great lessons in creative problem solving. I see improvements in how I approach and interview sources, and in asking follow-up questions with research librarians, court officials and others.

The other thing is the more I learn about Emmett, the more I realize how much we have in common. It isn’t just about our relatives; it is also about our common struggles with family dysfunction, alcohol, ambition, and self-acceptance. The 100 years separation between Emmett and myself doesn’t really matter that much. You see, the story of his life has taught me a lot about my own. The deeper I dig, the more I find. The more I learn; the more I want to learn.

Emmett’s life did matter. His life was — is — relevant. I love what I’m doing.

So, yeah, this is more about love than money.

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