Live Your Life With Purpose

April 26, 2021

Stewart Lee was once given some advice on how to earn a living in the transient world of stand-up comedy. “You get 5000 people to like you, and they all give you £10 a year. That’s a living.

”It’s a risk, pursuing your passion. And it’s not an easy option, as any established musician or actor will testify. Honing skill and building experience takes hard graft. It’s not surprising that most people are encouraged to go for a secure job.

Young people are not getting the chance to take a chance. Students now graduate with debts exceeding £50k. Housing costs are so high that unless they can draw on the bank of Mam & Dad, there’s no time to learn the ropes. Working class kids are priced out of following their passion.

The flip side is the rise of automation and proliferation of the gig economy. Workers of all ages are feeling the insecurity. Manual and clerical jobs are being replaced with robots and algorithms. The nature of work has been changing for a while. Many “self-employed” or flexible hours jobs were sold with the promise of being your own boss. But too many are finding themselves on a timesheet treadmill. They take the risks of no money coming in, and get only a tiny share of the rewards if business booms.

The passion economy celebrates individuality and a hunger to do what you love. Digital platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon and Buy Me A Coffee allow people to earn money from niche creative ideas. In fact, finding that niche idea is a cornerstone described by Adam Davidson in his book, The Passion Economy. Find an idea that’s too small for corporates to bother with, then make it your own. You might only have a few dozen clients, but if you pick the right idea, it could work.

The Japanese idea of Ikigai embodies the idea of living your life with purpose. As with most Japanese translation into English, the nuance is difficult to capture. The western interpretation is depicted as a Venn diagram with four overlapping aspects of life. What you love; what you are good at; what the world needs; and what you can be paid for. Or, in other words, find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Once I started looking, I saw evidence of this passion economy everywhere. One of my friends set up Sobersistas, which offers support to women who want to control their drinking. Another friend used to teach MMA, giving one-to-one tuition to City of London types. He’s now gone on to set up a successful MMA gym in Newcastle. I’m sure you know people who have had the bravery to follow a passion, maybe you are one of them.

The pandemic and lockdown has got a lot of people thinking about their work. Health, economic growth and jobs are all intertwined now. Do you really want to work 9-5? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. What has been unlocked is seeing what is possible. I’ve seen reports that through furlough and lockdown, tens of thousands of people are considering starting part-time businesses, pursuing their passions

.I’m keen to support people brave enough to set up on their own. At the Combined Authority our Digital Adoption programme provides technical know-how for people to run businesses. Just Google, “North of Tyne digital adoption”. Our Creative and Cultural fund that will be onstream soon, to support freelancers and creative businesses.

Not everyone can take such a risk, though. Stagnant wages and rising costs mean too few people get to build up any savings. If you’ve got kids to feed and rent to pay, that regular pay day has a lot going for it. We need to make all jobs more fulfilling. The unleashing of human creativity is one of the strongest arguments for Universal Basic Income. Giving people the freedom to set-up a creative business, or the opportunity to re-skill for a new career, would benefit us all.

It’s a vision for the future. But like all futures, some of it exists in the present.

Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 26.4.2021