Not earning money for work in retirement, volunteering in retirement, work in retirement

The No-Income Work Experiment // Testing Our Commitment to the Principle

The cornerstone of our early retirement vision is to move beyond the need for money, and to do work only when it’s enjoyable for us, regardless of whether we get paid for it or not. All good in theory, right?

It is no secret that I don’t monetize this blog, and I’ve talked about some of the reasons why — not wanting to question my own motivations in recommending products, namely, but also just not wanting to spend time sorting through the offers that come my way. But there is another important reason I haven’t shared before:

I’ve viewed the blog as a real-world test of whether I could be okay working hard at something over an extended period and not getting paid for it, even while others around me are getting paid. A true test of our commitment to the idea.

It’s easy to assume a lot about what early retirement will be like before we’ve gotten there even if, in reality, we have no idea. We aren’t even sure if we know those people who are our future retired selves. We’d much rather test ideas out than assume they’ll be true, like finding out if I can actually get things done without a structured environment. And with this experiment, finding out if I could keep at something without getting jealous of those doing the same work (or even less, or less well) and earning plenty more.

So what have I learned, and what does it tell us about work in early retirement? I’ll jump right into that in a sec, but first…

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We’re super excited to start sharing more about ourselves in the coming months, leading up to the big unmasking of our non-emojied, real life identities this fall, most likely in October.

Enjoying the traditional yukata (robes) in Japan

Rather than clog the blog with too many personal and goofy details (because the world does not need to know how our morning routines evolve, for example, or what our favorite cheap, zero waste recipes are), we’re launching an email newsletter where we can share more of that stuff, plus actual substance like the books we’re reading, the things we’re learning about retirement in real time, and anything else that feels important but doesn’t fit into the tidy confines of a blog post.

And because it’s us, you know we won’t spam you or try to sell you anything. It’s just a chance to interact more with folks who are interested, and another way outside of the comments here and on Twitter to get to know more people — like you!

As a special incentive to join, we’ll be sharing our real life identities in the newsletter a whole TWO WEEKS EARLIER than we’ll share it on the blog. So if you’re at all curious, then join in the newsletter fun!

A note to WordPress subscribers: If you’ve been receiving our posts by email from WordPress (not just in your WP reader), then you may already be subscribed. If you received a welcome email from me this past weekend, you’re set. But if not, you may wish to subscribe here, and then you can unsubscribe from the WP emails if you don’t also want to get the reminder of every new post. So many options!

Subscribe right here, or at the bottom of any post.

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Back to the work-hard-for-no-payment question. (Or in the email newsletter example, paying to work, much like blogging itself.) The specific impetus for this question stems from our desire to do a bunch of things in retirement that may or may not ever return us a penny, namely activities that align to our purpose, like taking on different creative pursuits and volunteering in substantive ways for organizations in our community.

Could we really be happy doing that stuff as much as we think we want to, even if we earn nothing from it? 

In a vacuum, it seems easy to say that, sure, we could happily keep doing work like that even with no monetary gain, because we’ll have the incredible luxury of not needing the money. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We both like to feel valued for our contributions, and wonder how valued we’d feel if, for example, we did the same work as a volunteer that someone else did at an hourly rate, especially if we found that person underperforming. Could we keep doing that job? Or would we eventually feel that our time or contribution wasn’t being valued at the level we’d feel we deserve?

The Experiment

This stuff isn’t easy to answer in theory. That’s why I decided to treat this blog as a real-world experiment on this topic, once it became clear a few months in that people were actually going to read it, a fact that continues to delight and amaze me.

As a part of the experiment, I’ve been forcing myself to stay consistent in posting twice a week, just like I might have to if this was an official volunteer job or creative product, and along the way I’ve been asking myself these questions:

Could I stay motivated to keep putting a high level of effort over a long period into something that returns no direct monetary compensation?

Could I derive satisfaction from that work, without pay, without falling into the trap of defining my success in terms of digital gold stars (e.g. likes, comments, follows)? 

Could I be okay doing this work while watching others doing similar work rake in the dough? 

If it seemed like the work might lead to something else that would pay, could that be compensation enough? 

Let’s take a look at what I’ve learned throughout the experiment.

The No-Income Work Experiment // Testing Our Commitment to the Principle -- Not earning money for work in retirement, volunteering in retirement, work in retirement

Staying Motivated Without a Paycheck

Could I stay motivated to keep putting a high level of effort over a long period into something that returns no direct monetary compensation?

I’ve believed for a while that I am at my most creative when I am not putting monetary pressure on that creativity, or as Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, not expecting my creativity to pay my bills. And I do think that has been true here. I’ve had the privilege to write a bunch of posts on topics I probably wouldn’t touch if I cared what potential sponsors thought, and those posts are some of my absolute favorite. But that’s a different question.

My question here is long, sustained motivation, something I’ve at times struggled with. I have been known to crush hard on new hobbies for a short time and then burn out, what a friend once called my “two week obsessions.” So even things I’ve done 100 percent for fun have lost my interest, or I’ve struggled to stay motivated to work at them. (Yeah, how’s the training for that second marathon coming? Wait, bad example. Not purely fun, at all.)

But let’s assume I find work I truly love doing, this blog being the best example of that. In that case, how hard is it to stay motivated without pay? Turns out the answer is: surprisingly easy. I’ve learned over the past two years that there are so many rewards that come from hard work that have nothing to do with money: getting positive feedback, hearing that I’ve helped people think something through, making new friends, feeling good about how I’m improving my writing. (And, I admit it, I even kinda love the rare troll cameos.)

Lesson: I don’t need money to stay motivated, but I probably need some other types of rewards to make it feel worthwhile.

Deriving Satisfaction Without Digital Validation

Could I derive satisfaction from that work, without pay, without falling into the trap of defining my success in terms of digital gold stars (e.g. likes, comments, follows)? 

This is a trickier question for me, both because I am a natural gold star seeker, and because you guys have been so incredibly supportive and engaged that I feel the digital gold stars coming left and right. So I haven’t been able to test this question as I’d hope to in a truly scientific experiment. (And I am not complaining. I am so grateful that you’re reading, and that some of you comment and engage, and I’d take that every single time over having the conditions for a scientifically defensible study!)

What I do know is that posts that get far fewer comments than others do bum me out just a little, even though I know rationally that some posts are harder to comment on than others. I know this as a reader of other blogs that sometimes I love a post like crazy but feel at a loss of what to say in response. Fortunately, many of those posts that get fewer comments also tend to be the most personal and heartfelt, and I never regret having posted them. So the satisfaction I feel comes not from the digital approval, but from myself.

Lesson: I will probably always have to work on caring less about gold stars, but regardless of what I’m doing, I need to focus on my own intrinsic rewards. As for whether this would still feel worth doing if no one was engaging, that’s a question I can’t answer.

When Others Are Getting Paid

Could I be okay doing this work while watching others doing similar (or less, or worse) work rake in the dough? 

This question comes directly out of my career life. When I have learned that others doing similar work are paid more than me, I have not been okay with it, especially if I think they don’t work as hard or deliver work of equal quality. Not that I can always do anything about it (though I have successfully asked for more), but it never sits right with me. So bringing this question into a blog context made total sense, plus it’s easy because so many bloggers share their blog income online (yay transparency!).

And this one really highlights for me how interrelated all of these questions actually are. If I was cranking out two posts a week AND people weren’t reading it AND I wasn’t getting paid while others were? It’s hard to imagine I’d feel good about that and want to keep going. But people are reading and sharing awesome thoughts in response, which adds value to our life and feels like its own form of payment, muddying the waters on this one.

This is not the answer I ever thought I’d give, but I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me to see others making money off their blogs, sometimes huge money, regardless of how much time they seem to put into it or how much value they offer readers. I’m thrilled to see people getting paid for their time, and I also feel enormously privileged that I don’t need to make any money in exchange for mine. I do sometimes feel irritated when I see people get recognized who I think offer bad or unethical advice, but that’s a whole other thing.

Lesson: As long as I’m getting something fulfilling out of it, I think I don’t mind if others are making money while I’m not. I think

Free Work As a Bridge to Paid Work

If it seemed like the work might lead to something else that would pay, could that be compensation enough? 

All of the earlier questions in the experiment point to me being a-okay doing unpaid work in retirement, so this one is less important than I would have initially guessed. But I’ve always wondered: if I wasn’t getting those digital gold stars or other forms of “payment” from the work, would the promise of it translating into other paid work be enough to keep me motivated? I can’t say for sure, because I have those other things, but I suspect that promise would be sufficient motivation on its own.

I’m doing way too much behind the scenes right now because of some possible opportunities, as well as some opportunities we’re working to create, but it doesn’t feel as taxing as it would if we weren’t so massively fired up to do it all. This is fundamentally an experiment on motivation, and the possibility of translating this blog into other opportunities is beyond motivating, even without money being part of the equation. Add money, which we don’t necessarily need to make, but which would take pressure off of our portfolio, and we’re that much more eager to keep going.

Lesson: Even if the work itself doesn’t pay, the possibility that it could open other doors to work that would pay money or offer some other value to our lives is motivation enough.

Conclusion

I’m thrilled with everything I’ve learned throughout this experiment, and feel excited to keep pursuing projects in retirement whether or not they’ll ever net us any cash. (Though we do still expect to earn some money in retirement. We’re not above being paid.) I’m sure there will still be moments along the way that force me to check my ego, or to speak up to make sure our contributions and time are valued, but these overall results are wonderfully affirming that we aren’t clinging to a principle we can’t actually live by.

Next step: Find out if this stays true when we don’t also have “real career” income coming in! 

What Do You Think?

Do you ever wonder something similar, if you could do substantive and sustained work in retirement without caring if you were getting paid, even if others were? Any guess how you’d feel? Anybody else tried an experiment like this? What other forms of “payment” do you think you might seek out in retirement, other than money? For those who are already retired, any insights to share with those who are still aspiring? Anyone want to make a counterpoint argument about how our time in retirement will become MORE valuable, and therefore we should always be aiming to get paid, and to get paid a lot? We’d love to hear from all different perspectives. Hop on down to those comments and chime in!

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78 thoughts on “The No-Income Work Experiment // Testing Our Commitment to the Principle

  1. I think back to school. We never got paid for good grades or doing our best, but for me, those little “A”s on my report card were, and still are, an awesome reward. Gold stars work. :) I think the difficult thing about volunteering, which I did extensively when I was a stay-at-home mom and my kids were little, is that a) others don’t necessarily value your expertise as much as they perhaps should and b) you can’t easily get rid of under performers. I organized a lot of projects, and some people are great but others aren’t. So the level of commitment varies greatly, and because you’re unpaid you don’t tend to have as much ownership over it as you might in a hierarchical organization or as someone who gets paid. And as you mentioned, you might be “reporting” to some one who’s not as good at doing the job as you are. I find those areas were where the frustration was, not from not getting compensated.

    1. Oh you are totally right about that! We are fortunate in that we have great relationships already with some of the nonprofits we want to volunteer more for, and they do know our skills and strengths. But just as you said, we can’t get rid of folks who either don’t pull their weight or are just annoying. ;-) Hahaha. I’ve thought about that a lot and realized I had to decide: was that downside enough to not want to do the volunteer work? And the answer is no. I still want to do it. But like in everything, it’s always better knowing what you’re getting yourself into!

  2. I’m retiring without any need for income.

    However, we likely will earn income doing things we like and I’m fine with that. A success factor in ER planning is being motivated by money so making money is welcomed, although unnnecessary to us.

    1. I’m always curious when I hear responses like this — are you *only* motivated by money, or are there other forms of enjoyment or compensation you could potentially get out of something as well?

      1. Blogging by definition is mostly uncompensated for very long periods of time, even for the successful. All of us are motivated by many things. This isn’t really unique to one person.

        Growing up poor I think only rich people have the luxury of not working for money. I’m glad I no longer need to work, but I’ll always appreciate working or being motivated by money. Frugality and happiness is a lifestyle for us.

        1. It’s interesting to think about work in terms of rich vs. poor. To me growing up, I thought of people who started rich (not “self made” — though I also think that’s mostly an illusion — see my post on subsidies) as being less willing to work hard than people who have to work for money. So I think there’s part of me who wants to keep working in retirement — for money or not — just to maintain that work ethic to prove to myself that I haven’t become one of the lazy rich. ;-)

    1. I have, but haven’t felt that I had time to research how best to do that while working, because I am dead set against monetizing in any ways that would slow the site down, make for a worse reading experience, or push people toward products I don’t stand behind 100%. So it’s not just a matter of slapping some ads up — that would be easy! It’s something I’d want to be much more thoughtful and deliberate about. Maybe in retirement! :-D

  3. So cool to think of not monetizing the blog as a way of testing the no-income waters! I think most people need some kind of compensation and/or recognition for their pursuits; it just varies enormously what that positive reinforcement looks like, both from project to project and person to person.

    Will love to see if and how your thoughts on this evolve once you retire!

    1. Thanks, Kate! I do think you’re right that virtually everyone needs some compensation, whether that’s money or not, and even if the only “payment” is joy you get from the work. But it’s important to figure out what each of us needs, and not assume! :-)

    2. True! Please keep updating us with your progress and thoughts on this! I think the social aspect of it will bring you tons of joy. I went to a financial conference for a weekend and because of it my husband and I were able to make some amazing contacts! For a little while I thought we were odd balls until I spent a weekend with ER like minded individuals! If only we all didn’t live so far away from each other! The internet can actually be a good thing in connecting people. Who knew! Haha!

      1. I will! :-) And I’m so stoked for you that you got to go to that conference! Going to FinCon last year was magical for me for the same reasons. It wasn’t because of the blogging tips, which were fine but not amazing, but the hanging out with like-minded people made it totally worth the trip times 10. So, so glad you went. :-) And doing all of this and meeting internet friends in real life has convinced me that internet friends can be real friends. I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. ;-)

  4. As you said, I feel like blogging has been a mini-lesson in this. I’ve done exactly two sponsored posts on my site in nearly two years, but the opportunities and connections are invaluable (and have lead to freelancing, etc.). I also think that some professions lend themselves to this mentality more than others. There are tons of things that I do as a teacher that I know I’ll never get paid for, recognized for, or even asked to do. But I do it anyways because I find fulfillment in it and it feels “right”. I imagine that’s true for many, many, many jobs. If it sits well with you, that’s also probably another good test of this.

    1. It always kills me to think about all the unpaid extra work teachers do, and the out-of-pocket money you spend, because society doesn’t property value your contribution. (Um, how many different ways have I written you this comment?! Why isn’t it fixed yet?!?!) ;-) I think listening to your gut on this stuff, as you do, is the only way to move forward productively. Otherwise you could just get resentful or quit.

  5. Whenever I’ve built a new business, there’s always that initial period (usually the “2 week obsession” … but a longer timeframe) where you don’t get paid. It takes time to overcome inertia and build something of value. Eventually, you can start monetizing and cashing in – but that initial period of earning $0 is the same.

    During those periods, I find it useful to focus on other metrics so I can maintain my momentum. I wouldn’t look at anything external, like those digital gold stars, but I find that money is usually a placeholder for something else, esp. if the next dollar doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot to you.

    1. That’s a really helpful lesson, Jim. Thanks. I think the mental motivation is different if you know you ARE aiming to get paid at some point, though I totally see the value in including those momentum-maintaining milestones.

  6. I like your approach Ms ONL.

    I have tended to view things the other way: “if I wasn’t going to be paid the equivalent of $x per hour to do Y, would I still do Y?”.

    The answer for me has been mostly no, at least in a professional sense, which does raise some uncomfortable questions about how I choose to spend my time during those periods of seasonal work I do in my semi-retirement.

    While I find that to be a great triage tool, determining what is worth my time and what falls below my noise threshold… it would offer no help filling the potential void that retirement may represent to some folks, particularly if they don’t have many passions or outside interests to pursue during the time work formerly occupied.

    The trial run idea is an interesting one. It often gets used by folks testing out what life living on their post-retirement income may be like. I’ve not heard it applied to motivations and assessing how a person responds to things before, well done for the original insight.

    1. Thanks! Maybe it’s just me, but I often think money is the easy part, and it’s all the messy feelings stuff that truly warrants the trial run. ;-) So I’m glad to have viewed blogging for the past two-plus years through this frame, because now I know. And I think your “would I do X if I wasn’t paid Y?” question is still a super good and important one, though I’m guessing that mostly applies to tasks you aren’t super fired up to do anyway, which is just a slightly different calculus.

  7. In a lot of ways our blogging experience to date is very similar to someone who is not monetized. I have some ads up, but my blogging income is essentially equivalent to my blogging costs (basically hosting as I’m cheap). I have no problem sustaining work for no money, to me that’s what a hobby is. The motivation is something other then money. I often wonder in those cases if money would make it harder to enjoy and do those hobbies, since money can change your focus. For example writing posts that are more about selling then connecting, or having to balance accounting books rather then managing an activity you enjoy.

    1. The work vs. hobby question is always a really good one to me, because while this blog may fundamentally be a hobby, it still feels on some level like work because I can’t skip deadlines or just decide not to post one day when I’m supposed to (obviously I could but I just really don’t want to). It’s a whole lot stricter than any hobby I’ve ever had. But to your point, I definitely think in my case that money changes the whole focus and makes it a LOT more fun, for the reasons you stated and because it puts a different kind of not-fun pressure on all of it.

  8. The “when others are getting paid” conundrum jumped out at me. I think it’s natural for us as humans to deeply dislike it when it seems like there is an inequitable distribution of rewards, especially vis-a-vis the corresponding effort or quality. You have a very admirable and generous attitude towards it, but I’m glad you raised the point nonetheless.

    It would be completely understandable if a person were to get discouraged, although the fact that you are consciously eschewing payment puts perhaps a different slant on it, rather than if you were trying to monetize and finding others being paid more for lesser quality.

    1. I completely agree with you — there is something deeply and innately unsettling about inequity. And this would be a totally different conversation if I was trying to monetizing but failing, and feeling jealous of all of those succeeding. Thank goodness I am not in that situation!

  9. I like it. Your blog is a potential “vehicle” for some possible paid work. Best part is, you pick and choose which work you might want to do and what has meaning and sounds like fun. I’m curious if you thought about – if I do get paid for something, what do I think I should get paid for this to be worth my time? I like the idea of working for “free”/volunteering because it’s a way to test out different ideas and challenges without any long term commitments. I have told myself either I’m working for free or if I am to get paid, I won’t work for less than X/hour, so that I have an idea on how my time should be valued. I also like the idea of your blog being an experiment…. I’ve been running a bunch of different personal experiments these past 18 months to test out several different hypotheses. I still think that all bets are off when I do retire, lol, but at least of thought through several different scenarios. Keep on writing and putting your ideas out into the universe! I’m too lazy to write my own, but trying to be as educated as possible and have as many ideas as possible in this little brain of mine by consuming other people’s ideas.

    1. It’s super funny to me because I have definitely thought about what my hourly rate would be, and for most things, it’s borderline unreasonably high. ;-) I figure, if it’s not something I would do for free, then the upside for me must be pretty significant! Ironic, eh, given how willing I am to do some things for free? Haha. But I think my time kind of splits at retirement: The stuff I’d do for free I finally can do for free, and the stuff I am less eager to do has to come with a big reward or I don’t need to do it.

      1. Totally. And I think borderline unreasonably high is how you should be valuing said time. On the bright side, I think it’s a great sign that I am finally truly over my imposter syndrome. I’m reading that darn Vicki Robin Your Money or Your Life book and while I’m not putting myself through the steps, per se, I am going to put myself through the exercise of valuing an hour of my life energy, more out of curiosity to see if my intuitive number is in line with whatever definition she placed on it. It’s a good book but I’m a little bored by it, since I already think most of the way she is advising. I listened to her Mad Fientist podcast though recently and was inspired by her words, actions and lifestyle so I thought I should sit down and read through it since she is one of the folks who started this FI community and understanding the history of how I got here could be helpful somehow. :) Could I put any more random thoughts into a reply?

        1. Hahaha. Those are good random thoughts. ;-) I’m a huge fan of YMOYL but I also read it when that advice was revolutionary to me. So I can see how it would be boring if you were already FI and had your head in the right place. Though I still find myself thinking about the money-as-life-force idea a lot, whenever I’m tempted to spend on something stupid especially. ;-)

  10. There are times that I think I’d do my job for free, but I would definitely have a different schedule if that were the case. :) The “lot of work for no income” is interesting to think about because we’re planning to “retire” and not have to need any income. Yet, I feel like there will be some from some kind of avenue, I’m just not sure whicha venue that would be currently. Think about the types of people that work and plan to get to FIRE. They’re not necessarily the sitting still type.

    I’ve written our blog for 2.5 yrs now and it’s not monetized at all. It’s been a lot of work, but I get some reward out of it that’s not monetarily measurable. I guess that’s the difference is that if it’s something you get some kind of reward from, it doesn’t have to be monetary in nature. Like others pointed out, if you were trying to monetize the blog and failing, and your readership/comments were low on every post, then I’d bet wwe wouldn’t be rteading this article right now, because who wants to work hard at something and get discouraged for free? Not me…

    1. Oh you’re 100% right about that. I can’t see getting 250+ posts deep on a blog no one was reading! Hahaha. I get a certain amount of intrinsic value out of it, but that’s not what keeps me going here, and at this pace! I think it’s totally true that we all need to get SOME reward out of our efforts, whether it’s monetary or otherwise, or even if it’s for our own joy. That’s its own reward.

  11. I respect your decision to monetize the blog. Authenticity is hard to find these days.

    Deciding whether or not I could retire early was actually a byproduct from when I quit my job without another lined up. The job was causing a ton of stress and I decided my mental health wasn’t worth it. So I quit. I didn’t get a new job for 2 months. In those 2 months I flourished creatively. I wanted to learn how to sew with leather so I spent my days sketching patterns, visiting factories for scraps, doing research at the library. I couldn’t have been happier. In general, being creative makes me feel productive, regardless how much I’m being paid.

    I think part of it how easy the transition is whether or not you have hobbies and interests outside of work. I have a ton! And if I do get bored it’s always been my dream to work at a little bakery in a cute town.

    1. Thanks so much! :-D That’s so interesting to me what you found out when you were funemployed. I’m totally the same way — when I have truly free time (hmm, realizing it’s been too long!), I am always pursuing some creative interest and having a great time doing it. And I totally agree with you on the transition that hobbies are a good indicator. I’d also add to that being naturally able to go out and get social interaction, because that gets harder, and being self-motivated to do activities that align to your sense of purpose.

  12. Love your approach and can’t wait to find out your identity (you guys are such a tease :p).

    When you’re writing for fun and connection with like-minded people, that’s the best way to do things.

    1. Heh heh heh. ;-) And totally with you — writing to connect with other awesome humans has been the best reward. :-D

  13. How interesting that the blog has been your experiment in this regard. It certainly seems like a success judging from your conclusions.

    We have been doing time-intensive volunteer work for over 10 years now, so I think we know our answer to this question. But for me, motherhood has been the ultimate test of this! Obviously no one expects to make money from being a parent, but purposefully giving up income and employment for several years has brought some personal challenges.

    1. That makes total sense! And it’s not like you could opt out of parenting (not that you’d want to!) if you felt like there wasn’t enough “compensation” for your hard work.

  14. As a born and bred Ontarian, can I just say how happy it makes me that you used a picture of the CN Tower!? I wish I had something more to say about this awesome post- but you’ve given me so much to think about!

    1. Yay! I loved my super short visit. :-) Definitely plan to spend a lot more time in Canada after we quit! I’ve still never been to Montreal, but I think I’ve hit the other big cities, though look forward to having longer visits!

  15. This reminds me a little of my job teaching middle school English for a large public school district. Whether I do a lousy job and only work the hours I’m paid (8-3), or do a kick-ass job by working hard to do every aspect of my job to the highest level, I’ll be paid the same, and almost no one but my students and maybe their parents will notice. And, even if they notice, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to do anything about it. Teaching English also means I have far more grading than some other teachers, but again, we’re all on the same pay scale, so I am not financially rewarded for working hard, doing my best, and putting in long hours planning and grading. Does that matter? Not to me, but that was a conscious decision I had to make a few years in. If I let it matter, I won’t do as good of a job, because why bother? Most teachers who enjoy their jobs feel rewarded in non-monetary ways and have worked to find a balance between working hard and not feeling like a martyr. I have my own limits as to what I will and won’t do, and I stick to those limits.

    1. First, THANK YOU for teaching! You have the most important job, and I wish society would realize that and compensate you accordingly. But I think you’re amazing for making peace with the pay parity regardless of performance. I don’t know that I could be okay with that. So glad you have limits and stick to them, too. (And, can I take it as a compliment that you teach English and you read here?) ;-)

  16. I love posts like this where you lay out your thought process and motivations!

    I’m slightly confused, though, by “Could I stay motivated to keep putting a high level of effort over a long period into something that returns no direct monetary compensation?” Why would you need to maintain a high level of effort over a long period in the first place? To say that you’ve done it? You have something job-like that motivates you and gets you going in the mornings? All for the hope of it leading into some other type of work?

    I can totally relate to the 2 week obsessions problem. There’s this book I love called “Renaissance Soul” that really helped me get my head around not having to have one,
    overwhelming passion in life. 😊 It talks about the Mozarts vs the Ben Franklins, and how to cycle through interests/time manage as a Franklin. “Multipotentiality” is another term for it.

    My blogging experiment is more “can I keep it going and still have fun?” If I stop being motivated, I’m not going to keep my blog alive, full stop, and I’m going to shift my energy elsewhere. If I forced myself to write an article twice a week (while already working more than full-time 😮), I’d burn out right quick. This is part of why I love reading your work, though — definitely a different perspective. 😃

    1. Ben Franklins unite! ;-) And thanks for the feedback! I am glad you enjoy the thought process posts. :-) So the why… it’s because some of the projects I want to do have no guaranteed payoff, and could take potentially years to do. So I want to be sure I really have the stomach for that before I commit myself. ;-) Not because I plan to give my time away for free to any old thing! Hahaha.

  17. I think that if you provide value, it makes sense to be paid. As a reader, I’d much rather have my favorite bloggers earn some compensation for their time and effort than get burnt out and stop blogging. Even if you donate half the profits to charity or give them to family and friends who have fallen on hard times, it’s another form of motivation and there’s nothing wrong with green stars instead of gold.

    1. I definitely agree with you! It’s been a really useful experiment for me, and I’m not writing off the idea of earning money from the blog ever (and I definitely like the charitable donation idea!), but I’d want to be suuuuuper picky about what ads or revenue generators to include, and I don’t have time to think about that right now! ;-) (Or, perhaps more accurately, I’d rather put my time into writing and responding to comments, not deciding what ads I’m okay with.) ;-)

  18. As long as I have enough money to make sure my basic needs are being met, I have no problem with devoting myself to something I won’t get paid for. If I’m struggling to pay for the basics, my time needs to equal some money.

  19. I’m a sucker for seeing results, it drives me and motivates me to keep going. Those results can be income (I’m rewarded for my work), but is more important in the terms of gratitude and meaning (I’m helping someone with my work). The latter has been the reason that I always looked for jobs that could give me that reward, and having the luck to find them as well. I’m working in a low paid sector, but get a thrill out of my job when succeses are achieved. One other game changer are relationships, to be able to share that success with others close by.

    And yes, I do believe I could work without getting paid, as long as I can provide my lifestyle without worries.

    1. That’s super interesting. I hadn’t thought of my “compensation” in results terms, but I think that’s much like me. I want to see that SOMETHING is happening from my efforts, whether that’s generating a paycheck, generating discussions with others, creating a positive effect in my community, etc. That’s a much more succinct way to put it! ;-) Also, it’s awesome that you’re so engaged in your job despite it being low-paid. Soooo many people are paycheck-obsessed and it’s refreshing to hear someone express an alternative viewpoint!

  20. Is was thinking to not comment to help you in the test…!

    I like the introspection that you do here. I must admit that being valued for what I do is always needed. It does not have to be money, it can be anything so that I see that People appreciate it.

    1. Hahahaahahahahaaha. Well thank you for not following your impulse. :-) I’ve learned that I’m much like you on this — I need to feel valued, or that what I’m doing is helping people, or else it’s not worth it.

        1. I have been wondering what you were up to! I hope your blog break has been because wonderful things are happening in your life. :-)

        2. Definitely wonderful! I wrote a post just last week that you can love your job and still work toward FI. ;-) And of course I’m extra glad you’ve been spending more time with your ladies!

  21. I think that I would personally find a deep sense of satisfaction in working in “effective altruism” ie a cause that is making quick numeric progress towards a stated goal. However, that’s not always the best type of unpaid work. I think one of my biggest struggles as a human being is to love people who aren’t making quick progress or any progress. That’s actually why I ultimately didn’t go towards a ministry route post-college… it’s a really hard lifestyle even if you get compensated for it. Anyways, I guess that’s not really the direction you went, but as always I took it where I wanted to go.

    1. That’s super interesting, Hannah. I do think it’s tough to invest your own time and love and mental energy in any cause where others aren’t equally invested and you aren’t seeing results. Though I do think I’ve learned through my work that oftentimes those perceived individual barriers are actually more complicated, so I’d love to keep working on those more complicated issues, to make it easier for people to help themselves. :-)

  22. This is a great thought process. I’m a huge fan of experimenting before committing to things and I love how you’ve structured this to get a good sense for what things will be like for you.

    Happy to hear that the experiment was a success and that you’ll be sticking to blogging because I want to keep on reading :)

    1. Thanks, Chris! I love test driving things first to see if the reality is like my imagination, so this was definitely worthwhile… obviously for more reasons than just the unpaid work experiment. ;-)

  23. First time reader of your blog…Good stuff! Your commitment to standing on principle gives you great credibility and earns immediate trust. Trust is the cornerstone which allows you to have influence over others. And influence is the only true form of leadership. Providing leadership to others is the greatest intrinsic reward you will ever receive. Kudos to you both.
    @millionaireBy55
    MB55

    1. Hey thanks! :-D Being leaders certainly isn’t our motivation to be here, but if we inspire others in the community to be open and transparent, we’re thrilled. ;-)

  24. Ms. ONL – I subscribed to your blog through WordPress, so I receive an email whenever there’s a new post. However, I didn’t get the “welcome email” from you this past weekend, so I tried to subscribe above and got an error message “There was an error submitting your subscription. Please try again.”

    I suspect the error is that I’m already subscribed. Anyway, I thought by commenting, maybe you can check my email address & make sure I don’t have to wait TWO WHOLE EXTRA WEEKS! for the reveal.

    1. Ok, never mind. While catching up on blog posts, I received an email 2 weeks later, so I’m definitely on the list. :)

      1. Hi Donna! I just checked the list anyway, and you are there! Definitely let me know if you have any more trouble with the emails. I’m on a new service, so want to know if there are bugs! And thank you for signing up! ;-)

  25. I love that this was at least part of your motivation for not monetizing your blog. I do a lot of volunteer work and I definitely stop helping where I feel like my contributions are not appropriately valued. I am happy to provide my skills, time, and expertise where they will make a difference and be treated respectfully.

    1. It has been an interesting experiment. I also struggle with feeling valued, and have also quit some volunteer gigs where I didn’t think the appropriate appreciation or respect was there. But if we’re committing ourselves to this life of volunteering, it’s good to know how much we truly are willing to work for free, and under what terms.

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