The Myth of Success

So Tomas has created his own YouTube channel, attracted by dreams of all the money he’ll make through advertising. I’m not a guy to rain on someone’s parade, so I went ahead and set him up with my old Adsense account. Technically I guess I make the money, but I’ve told him I’ll pass on all the earnings to him. And after five days, he bounded in to tell me he’d made 57 cents so far.

I was floored, actually, because that’s much more than I thought he’d make. Like, 100 times more at least. If this was how much money YouTube ads brought in, no wonder so many people were doing it. Back when I used to do ads on my site, I made something like $100 after 2 years of running the ads. That’s one of the main reasons I ended up just ditching them altogether. (Though I do consider bringing them back now and then.) It’s just a lot of trouble for not a whole lot of return.

But I was doing some quick math in my head based on Tomas’s success. If he could get 57 cents from just having 20 views of a couple of videos . . .

I’m in the wrong business.

So I went into my adsense account to check and see what these earnings were coming from. And it turns out . . . he’s actually made 57 cents (assuming YouTube’s estimates end up being accurate. Maybe they overinflate them? Time will tell. But for now, I’ve delved into some different articles online to find out more about this mysterious YouTube ad money.

And of course, the bottom line seems to be the same bottom line that comes up everywhere: there are a few outliers, but by and large you don’t end up making a whole ton of money through ads on YouTube. Or, more accurately stated, not enough to live on.

All of this research ran into a different train of thought I’ve been having. A friend mentioned on a podcast the other day how frustrating it could be to have people congratulate him on “living the dream,” when in reality, he didn’t feel like he was in much of a dream at all.  (I might be misinterpreting what he said. Sorry if so, but it serves as a good intro into my own train of thought.)

I see the same thing happen with writing and publishing. To someone who isn’t published, getting published is the dream. Once you make it there, then it all becomes smooth sailing. To people who are published, getting read is the dream. What does it matter if you are published if no one reads your book?

The problem is that “the dream” ends up being pretty tenuous. I think for most people (people who write, at least) the dream is being able to wake up each morning, write in their pajamas, and answer fan mail in the afternoon if they’re feeling up to it. In other words, the dream is the popular perception of an author’s life. It’s the way it’s portrayed in movies.

But my experience has been that the dream doesn’t exist. (Hate to be all stompy on it, but there you have it.) No matter what you go into, in the end, it involves work to make money. The trick (if there is a trick) is to get paid to do something you like to do anyway. Even then, there will be times when you don’t particularly want to do that thing, whatever it is. And there will be aspects to that thing that you don’t particularly enjoy, but you have to do them anyway in order to be able to keep doing the things you do enjoy.

Unless the dream is being independently wealthy and getting money for doing nothing. In that case, it looks like you have to keep playing the lottery or else inherit money.

I’m good friends with a very successful writer. Million dollar contracts level of success. And I’ve seen firsthand how hard he works. Yes, I suppose he could back off some now that he’s got it made, but that’s the exact point I’m trying to make: he “has it made” because he loves working hard at writing. It’s who he is. He wouldn’t want to back off, because he’d be writing even if he didn’t get paid to do it.

So I guess when it comes to my son’s dreams of YouTube success, the advice is the same: love doing it for the process. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever be paid enough to do just that one thing for the rest of your life. (Or be able to just stop needing to worry about money ever), but it will hopefully help you avoid running after a dream that ends up being nothing more than a mirage once you get there.

And on that cheery note, why not subscribe to a twelve-year-old’s YouTube channel? He’d love a few likes . . . Here’s his latest video:

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