Why Sex and Cash Go Hand in Hand

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I have a secret…

For a few fleeting hours, I was jealous as hell of Hugh MacLeod. Followed closely by an unrelenting wish that it was me and not him who’d written the book I held in my hands.

Ignore Everybody came out in June to a thunderous reception. Rightly so.

This reworking of the manifesto that Hugh released into the world on his blog back in 2004 is the perfect blend of wisdom, snark, rapture and revolution. Though, if you’re easily offended, skip the cartoons. Actually, forget that, get over it and read them. They’re crude, but the message is so worth the affront (actually, as New Yorker, they’re downright tame to me).

I found my head nodding happily along…until I hit Hugh’s Sex & Cash Theory.

Here it is:

The creative person besically has two kinds of jobs: one is the sexy creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. it will never be transcended.

And, here’s where I go, um…no. Why?

Because it forestalls or forecloses the opportunity to create magic in the name of protecting against pain.

A lot people might say that’s a good thing. “Hey, I’m okay giving up my shot at a miraculous life in the name of avoiding the pain of failure.” Or, “look, you’ve gotta be realistic, you’re not Ansel Adams. Hell, you shoot with an iPhone!”

Here’s the thing, I’ve spent the last handful of years connecting with, interviewing, writing about and befriending a growing army of folks who’ve “transcended the tense duality” that is supposedly untranscendable (is that a word?!).

People from all walks of life who”ve said, “screw it, the trappings of convention don’t apply to me.”

Artists who’ve taken a renegade approach to art, yoga, baking and more. And gone about it completely differently and figured out how to generate their Cash as a byproduct of their Sex. Business women and men who’ve repurposed their hypercreative joneses into passion-driven livings. Writers who’ve found an outlet, a tribe and an income in ways most people write off as “larks.”

Are they all millionaires? Occasionally, but more often than not, they earn enough to live well in the world, however they define that. And, I’m betting, right around now, with over a millions hits a month at his blog, a killer book and merchandising options opening up, Hugh himself is in the very process of transcendance (Hugh, call me).

Are these folks exceptions or as Malcom Gladwell puts it “outliers?” Hardly.

The coolest thing is that most of them weren’t the most talented but, rather, the most driven to succeed at what everyone around them said was their “untranscendable” fate.

Was it easy? Rarely. Was it possible? Often.

Okay, now what about the link between Sex, Cash, Convention and Pain…

What I’m talking about here is the pain of crashing and burning should you buck convention, pursue Sex and Cash together and end up a miserable failure. Truth is, rare is the failure that unrecoverable. And, even more important, the thought of elevating fear and convention to the level of guiding philosophies freaks me out a bit.

Look, I understand the need to be a realist. I have a family to support in NYC. I can’t live hand to mouth. Nor do I want to. So, like so many people I’ve met, my transitions (law to entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship to writing, writing to, um, 5 different things) need to be done in a way that keeps the peace.

But, that doesn’t mean giving up on the dream. That doesn’t mean accepting as gospel that the “tense duality” between Sex and Cash can never be transcended. I can accept that it might take years. But, never? No.

And, there’s one other thing that bugs me about the theory…

It goes back to the research Gladwell cited in Outliers. There’s a quite compelling argument that to become kick-ass great at anything takes a bare minimum of 10,000 hours of what greatness researchers called “deliberate practice.” That’s not just painting, putting or potting for 10,000 hours, it’s something much more. It’s hitting 5 buckets of balls and with every shot having a goal, analysing the result and aiming to correct and improve with the next shot.

It usually takes someone who’s engaged in this level of practice at least 10 years to rack up the 10,000 hours needed to become world class. And, that’s the fast track. So, if you do your Sex on the side while you’re earning your Cash, instead of making it more of a featured element of your life, it’ll take you years or decades longer to rack up the hours of practice needed to be great.

Sure, you may end up good enough to earn some nice jack on the side. But, we’re talking about transcendantly good here. And, in this, Hugh was right. Sometimes, you can be “really good” and also be smart and creative enough to figure out your own renegade path that’ll give you enough Sex and Cash to be cool. But, other times, you NEED to become world class great. And, that rarely happens when you’re having Sex as a side dish.

At some point, Sex has gotta become your main course.

Truth is, all to often it’s the final 1% that pushes you into the league of magic. Dilute that effort by placing Sex on the side and it may take a lifetime, if ever, to tap your potential. So, build your quest for Sex and Cash on the side, if the reality of your life now requires that. But not as your permanent plan. There will come a time, nearly always does, where to do transcend the tense duality between Sex and Cash, you need to pursue both as one.

As W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951 (often misattributed to Goethe) said:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

As always, just thinking out loud.

My guess is Hugh is way smarter than I (as are many of you).

So, what do you think?

Can you transcend the tense duality between Sex and Cash?

Or, will it “always play center stage?”

Let’s discuss…

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22 responses

22 responses to “Why Sex and Cash Go Hand in Hand”

  1. Joely Black says:

    I have no answer, because I haven’t transcended yet. But I have been placed in a position where because the cash side has fallen over even for the most conventional of work, I have a chance to put the sex centre-stage.

    I don’t know if this will work. I don’t even know *how* this will work.

    I just keep going every day to see what happens. I’ve never lived this way before, and I can probably only do it because my responsibilities are relatively few and debts low.

    I’ve also had the chance to build up a lot of time practicing, which gives me a bit of an edge. But I have this chance now to make something happen, so why not give it a go?

  2. I don’t know, intellectually, who’s right.

    What I do know is that if the only choice is to choose, I refuse. I’ve paid the bills for three decades, and I’ll live on a city bus or under a bridge rather than give up the dream I’ve put off for 25 years.

    My subjective but strong opinion is that so many of us have done the first percentage of the work, then stopped because we didn’t see results. It’s happened so long, to so many, that it’s become a belief system.

    I know that what I’m doing is the right course for my emotional and spiritual sanity. I will drill, not just the first 99%, but the last 1%, too.

    Or die trying.

  3. Jonathan. Great piece of writing here. Thank you for your point of view. When I read Hugh’s book I was troubled by this theory. I’m a dreamer too. You just brought back hope…which I say is just as important as the dream it self…or even deliberate practice for that matter!

  4. Amy says:

    A lot of people live with all Cash and hardly any Sex. I think it’s understandable with the way the economy is they feel they have no other choice. But I think if you just put Sex on the side burner and focus on Cash you’re going to get burned out fast!

    I also have not reached that point yet where 2 become 1 but my heart says it’s there, I just have to reach it!

    I’ve heard the W.H. Murray quote before! Love it!

  5. Wayne says:

    I have to tell you that the only way to get the “sex” and the “cash” is to get on target with your “Mission.” It took me decades and a bad business failure to figure this out, and I am jealous as hell of those born with the Drive to Focus on their Mission early on. Part-time or Full-time, it doesnt matter. Get focused on it and let it obsess you. Have enough balls to fail… Drive it forward until it drives you.

  6. Jeb says:

    Timely, as ever, Jonathan. At this very moment (quite literally) I’m being tempted to jump back onto a cash-focused track. By necessity, or so I tell myself. With a family to support and the most recent 2 years behind me (2 years which have managed to hit the ‘reset’ button on my financial plan), it’s easy to justify.

    For the last 8 months or so, I’ve been blogging and thinking and taking pictures and thinking in very new ways about what’s possible, and about what I’m capable of. There’ve been no “Aha! This is what I want to do with my life…it’s all so clear now” moments, but at the very least I was working toward it.

    But I am honestly sick to my stomach these last few days as an opportunity to return to an old way of living/thinking/working has come up. I know nothing is forever, but as I posted on Twitter yesterday, “Settling is rarely a temporary measure”. It feels like a physical loss is taking place, and just when I’ve managed to repair years of damage.

    I know I’m not the only one fighting this battle, as your post, and ensuing comments, clearly show. I take heart, and resolve, in being in good company at least.


  7. Karen says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    This is written so well… and I have to say I agree with you about the duality between sex and cash not always being the accepted norm. It unfortunately is the norm, but like you point out- you and other remarkable people that I’ve recently been acquainted with (Chris Guillebeau, Seth Godin, etc) all prove that it’s possible to have both. I think it’s the ideal that we should all still strive form instead of accepting that “real” life with both just isn’t possible. Maybe I’m deliriously optimistic, but I want both my sex and cash, thank you very much. And seeing people, like you, that have them both, makes me want to pursue my dreams even harder.

  8. Joe Jacobi says:

    Thanks for the excellent post, Jonathan, and as happens often here, liking the comments as much as the post.

    Funny you brought up Gladwell/Outliers – I’m not a few years past my athletic career as a whitewater canoe racer, just enough times to figure out and make peace with my regrets. I’ve been retracing elements of my athletic journey through the Gladwell/Outliers lens. I’ll just share this about 10,000 hours. Not only is it critical to get off the side-burner and move that focus center-stage but equally important, if you love it and it’s worth it, those 10,000 hours pass in the blink of an eye. Stay on the side-burner and you’re on the slow train to pain.

  9. […] a secret… For a few fleeting hours, I was jealous as hell of Hugh MacLeod Read more here:  Why Sex and Cash Go Hand in Hand | Awake At The Wheel | Get Life … :a-few-fleeting, birthday, fave, fears, for-his, leod-followed, school-with, SEX, the-breadth, […]

  10. Christine says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    This is a lovely article and I completely agree with your challenge on the view that the duality between sex and cash can never be transcended. I also admire the way you’ve, however, not taken an evangelical point of view on doing your own thing, but a real, gutsy, alive position.

    I quit high-paid corporate life over a decade ago in the belief that I could make a living from “sex” (sounds dodgy, but you know what I mean!!). Sure, I have subsequently not earned the dizzy salary I could have been paid had I continued to sacrifice my soul for money, but by the same token I have lived well and happily these last years, and continue to do so.

    For me, putting myself on that knife-edge between doing what I love AND being paid for it has become part of the experience of being alive. Sometimes I fail spectacularly and sometimes I succeed spectacularly, but always I am me. I could now never give that up, no matter what it did to my financial position.

    Thanks for having the courage to put your view out there.

  11. Nice post! I tend to think that either/or scenarios are typically contrived to force people into a narrow choice when in fact the real options are far broader. Most either/or scenarios are best answered with “Both!” (which I think is the point of your post), or “Neither.” “Neither” gives you the option of creating your own choice rather than picking from a forced choice.

  12. I just finished Ignore Everybody a couple of days ago and was and am oh so in love with that book.

    However I’m totally with you here- I stumbled over the Sex and Cash theory myself. I’ve abandoned all Cash in favor of Sex before only to find myself living too close to the bone (lesson learned) so I get where he’s coming from.

    But “untranscendable”? No way! It’s about balance to be sure, and knowing that your bills are covered definitely keeps that raw desperation feeling from creeping into the work you’re truly passionate about. But if you take an incremental approach and move towards your passion you can no doubt transcend the need for the money job. The world is full of shining examples…

  13. Jim Vickers says:

    I try to remember the mindset you characterized by “screw it, the trappings of convention don’t apply to me.” In fact, I’m pretty convinced that most success in life arises from seeking out ‘unconventional’ approaches to opportunities (problems). Unconventional just has greater impact than conventional, no matter what you’re attempting.

    Funny, I found that quote by W.H. Murray 3 years ago, made a copy of it and pasted it to the inside cover of my planning binder so I would continually be reminded of the truth it conveys.

    Thanks for another great post!

  14. Martin Lopez says:

    Hi Johnathan
    Enjoyed the post. I would like to add that one needs to carefully identify their passion. Much of the ‘sexiness’ one feels about what one likes to do may be relief from reality.Drugs,alcohol,gambling,partying, watching tv etc are some. But reading technical and self help material can also be a relief from realty. Distinguish passion from escape, but they are actually quite close and it is not always easy to dicern which is which.


  15. Wayne says:

    I like what Martin Lopez about says about Mission or Passion. Identifying yours correctly is very important, all sorts of things can be seductively interesting… but… there is an old saying that I have seen attributed to Roger Ebert ““What you do instead of your real work, is your real work.” No simple saying is totally correct, but for me this single phrase haunted me for years.

    Again interesting article and some fine comments… cheers to all.

  16. This duality is something I tell my clients all the time: “You usually pick a job that either makes you money or makes you happy. Rarely do both cross.”

    I think its not easy to make that transition over to what you enjoy doing without accepting that there are some sacrifices to make as a result (Brooke’s comment is case in point). I think there’s a way to do it, and that usually involves measuring what you make (boring job) to measuring what you can earn in the sexy job. Once they match (minus taxes, social security and all the other boring stuff you have to pay for), then you have to make a choice.

    I did that in January, and I haven’t looked back. Thanks for the fun way of describing this process.



  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Joely – I kind of like to think we’re always in the process of transcending, because once we stop, it makes me wonder if we’ve also stopped evolving

    @ Joel – yup, emotional and spiritual sanity are guiding factors

    @ Jeff – The hope and the dream are important, but futile without…action

    @ Amy – yeah, Sex matters, but I also don’t minimize the importance of enough Cash to live well in the world. Lead with Sex and wrap Cash around it

    @ Wayne – mission is important, but it’s also important not to be wed so much to a static mission that you miss the need to adapt it to what you discover along the way

    @ Jeb – Yup, we’re all in good company!

    @ Karen – Mhmm, I’ve just seen too many people doing okay pursuing both

    @ Joe – And, I’ve gotta respect your take on deliberate practice…seeing as how it won you a gold medal in the Olympics!

    @ Christine – “putting myself on that knife-edge between doing what I love AND being paid for it has become part of the experience of being alive.” I think I agree, just also have to make sure the high comes from pursuing your passion and not taking risks for the sake of experiencing the high.

    @ Evhen – “neither” just might work, too

    @ Brook – yeah, it was the “untranscendable” part that got me. Tension? You betcha! But, transcendable. Yes.

    @ Jim – that WH Murray quote is one I keep returning to over and over

    @ Martin – great point about escapism, it’s important to distinguish it from genuine passion. But, not always so easy

    @ Wayne – Nice quote from Roger, thanks for sharing!

  18. LisaNewton says:

    I’m the person mentioned, with one job for cash and one job for passion and love. “Working” two jobs isn’t easy, but when the passion keeps moving you forward and the need to survive keeps you at bay, drive to succeed to the point of ditching the “day job” keeps me sane. 🙂

    If I just keep moving in the right direction, I know it’ll work, and work well.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom everyone.

  19. Dan Holloway says:

    Jonathan, thanks for another great post.

    Two things I really want to say to this. First, thanks for giving em a reference on the 10,000 hours thing. I’ve been citing that stat for about 3 years now, knowing in my head I didn’t make it up but not remembering where I DID see it – I know it wasn’t Gladwell, as I’ve been aware of it since before Outliers, but at least I can now say “Oh, yeah, Gladwell cites it too”. I believe that’s the same research that looked at Mozart and analysed his early works to show they were actually pastiche, and it was only after 10,000 hours he hit his original voice. Whcih reminds me where I cited the stat most recently – on Scalzi’s blog about how writers break through later than musicians – the 10,000 hours thing is an obvious reason for that.

    Two, I just want to point out that I 100% agree the sex/cash duality isn’t untranscendable. The vital thing we have to remember, though, is that it is a duality most of us have to transcend rather than ignore. Everyday exigencies like bills and commitments mean we simply HAVE to do a day job UNTIL we can get the money to flow from the sex. Ditching it all for the dream is admirable – but what the 10,000 hours thing tells us is that it may also be delusional if we’re not careful.

    The key is in your word “deliberate”. For many people bad luck (or lack of good luck) means they will never make the transcendence. For amny more it will never happen because they’ve shot for the wrong thing (a polite way of saying lack of self-awareness coupled with talents lying elsewhere). But a whole (and for our purposes significant) host more will fail because they sit in the evenings having got home from their day job and put in their 10,000 hours – but without it ever being part of a plan. These are the numerous talented people who blog religiously whilst no one reads it, who post on YouTube for no one to wacth. Who produce great art that no one sees. Everything we do towards that dream of getting the cash to follow the sex has to funnel into that goal.

  20. […] Read Jonathan Fields (of Career Renegrade) well-written rebuttal entitled, “Why Sex and Cash Go Hand in Hand”. […]

  21. Asia says:

    God, I hope so.

  22. Mr Bondage says:

    very interesting article. and yes, money = sex.