FAQ #10: So, how do you make a living?

It continues to bother me that upon finding out that I am an underwater photographer, a large percentage of people I meet for the first time ask, "so, how do you make money?" In my own twisted fantasy-land, I always look them straight in the eye and reply, "none of you goddamn business," but in real life, I'm not allowed to be that rude. Instead, I reply with a vague answer. Those who are perceptive pick on the cue and don't follow up, but many continue to follow up with more specific questions, forcing me to go into the complicated topic of How I Make Money. I was talking with Cindy about this last night after leaving a San Jose tech party, and she thinks it happens because everyone in Silicon Valley is preoccupied with money; they are constantly evaluating and ranking everyone around them in terms of financial assets. How does Eric make his money? Did he make enough at his old startup to slack off for the rest of his life, and is that why is goes on "vacation" every month? Does he really make enough money as a photographer to support his lifestyle? (Cindy gets her own share of questions like this.) One person (a relative stranger) even told me that he had "lost respect" for me because I took a software consulting gig for three months last year. He was joking, but as people say, there is some amount of truth in every joke.

In my experience, it is those of a certain demographic that end up asking the question. It's the folks with traditional careers and lifestyles, those who go to a specific building / office / cube every day, hit the gym after work, and go home to a girlfriend / wife / kid / television for a few hours of downtime before turning in for the evening. I don't pretend to understand the motivation that is behind having to find out how I make a living, but I've definitely come across people who are envious of what I do. Ironically, it's often those who are in a position to do exactly what I did that say things like, "I wish I had your life." I usually point out that they could very easily quit their jobs, buy a camera, and book a trip to Palau. But they're too afraid to quit, even if they hate their jobs.

When I meet people who are driven by passions and interests outside of the mainstream, the question of money rarely comes up, and this normally serves to make me feel more at home. In recent years, it has been much easier for me to befriend people who are outside of the mainstream: musicians, [some types of] photographers, artist who fuel their passion with part-time consulting, etc. There is comfort in shared understanding, in not having to explain myself nor justify the things I do in life -- and it's not that I can't do it, but that I hate being put in the position of talking about the things I do to make money, especially to someone who doesn't have the courtesy to respect my privacy.

my new business card, to be given out when asked prying questions