Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Passion and Profits

“Do what you love, and the money will follow,” a saying often repeated in mantra-like repetition by those who want to make what they love doing and what keeps the essentials taken care of coincide. The reality of that saying, however, is that the ability of having what you love to do pay the bills is connected to how easily others can do it, whether they're willing to fund it, and the amount of talent it takes to do it at a high level. This reality is something all of us face at least once in our lives, and is often what drives many to take the “safe” jobs, while their true ambitions are left on the back burner. For some, their loves become their off work hobbies, while others leave it to gather dust, both of them left to wonder what could be, if they ever summon the needed guts to risk it all. It's a cruel abstract, and to help clarify it, I'd like to tell the stories of the girl who loves Basketball, the boy who wants to help others heal their hearts, and the girl who wanted to run her own arcade, who, for simplicity sake, I'll refer to as Danni, Shannon and Alex.

Danni loved basketball ever since she saw Jordan's airwalk dunk, then Lisa Leslie's. She begged her dad to help her get on the local kids teams, and did everything possible to fund her ambition, from helping the neighbors with their lawn, to selling the iced coffee her mother taught her how to make. The older she got, the brighter her ambition burned, challenging other teammates on the court to 3 on 3s, and even going so far as to challenge the boys on a basketball court to a game of HORSE, which she handily won. Eventually, she got onto the Woman’s Basketball team at UCLA, and pushed herself to perform as hard as she could for her teammates, getting to the point where she became the team's star player, and plays were designed around boxing her in.
She was disappointed the team never got to the Elite 8, but for her efforts, she became a high draft pick for the LA Sparks, which excited her to no end, knowing she was about to become a real deal pro. What hit her hard, however, was that not only was she facing much stiffer competition, but the amount of fans in the stands was nowhere near what she saw for the Lakers. At some point during the team's run up to being bounced out of the 1st round of the playoffs, a teammate came up to her and said “Listen, I know how much this means to you, so I'll let you in on a little secret: if you really love this game, go to anyone in the world who's willing to let you show them your stuff. You certainly have the money to try out for global b-ball teams, so why not give it a shot? Not like you've got much else to do during the off season, right?”
Those words in her heart, her agent soon made the proper arrangements, and she made her way to England, Australia, Turkey and elsewhere to try her hand at entering their leagues. She soon found that, unlike most NBA players, her skills would be tested year round as she worked to keep the money coming in and learn how to build profits as she built up her game. Thanks to the business acumen she honed in school and the team she kept around her, she never wanted for much, and when she woke up one morning to do drills with her teammates in Turkey, she was thankful for being able to do what she loved for a living, wondering if Shannon and Alex had been able to do the same, like they told her they would as kids.

Shannon was always known as a good listener, and thought that he could use that to help him make money as a psychologist. He studied hard and did everything possible to set himself up for success, even if he had no idea which field of the craft he wanted to give his time to. While he struggled to make his decision, the tuition he needed to pay off piled on and piled up, each year of school feeling like one big slog after another. When he needed a break, he would get out and party among the others in his school, dancing in the clubs and enjoying himself while he barely managed to get Cs in his classes, if he even passed them at all. In time, he saw all the work and debt that came of his pursuit as, in his words “Bullshit,” and decided to just drop out of school, and take up whatever work he could do, to try and pay the bills.
 9 years went by since the day he dropped out, and he worked menial job after menial job to try and keep himself afloat amidst the bills and student loans. All those 9 years he repeated the pattern of work, home, and weekend parties, peppered with the occasional rave or convention his buddies would goad him into attending. All that time, he thought his dreams were just too high up to reach for, and worked to convince himself that dropping out was the right decision for him; it wasn't until his girlfriend at the time, Cyndi, talked to him, that he realized what he had done. She asked him of his long term goals, and if there was anything he wanted to achieve in life, which prompted him to tell her of dropping out of UC Berkeley. After she told him of what music did to help her deal with a broken home, and how, even now, she was giving everything to becoming a Big Beat music producer, something inside him snapped, and he broke down and cried.
The way she helped him talk through his issues reminded him of why he went through all he did in school, and showed him what was waiting for him on the other side of all the work and debt. With that in mind, he put in the time to focus on the field he wanted to apply his desires to, which, thanks to his girlfriend's tales of how music helped her through her hard times, helped him settle on music therapy. In the weeks after that talk, he redoubled his efforts to get the needed degrees to reach his new-found goals, knowing that when everything he had to get done got done, he would truly be able to live out his dreams, as he wanted to all those years ago. During one of his study sessions, he thought about Alex and the dream she shared among the 3 of them that day at the playground.

Alex loved to play games, more specifically when she could beat someone's head in like a drum at it; despite that love, though, she never considered herself hardcore enough to be like the people she admired, like an Alex Valle, Starslay3r, or a Fatal1ty, those beliefs growing more affirmed with her distaste for Starslay3r's antics. Because of that, she was always seen as more of a casual player, and in time, she grew comfy with the label as she developed the skills to work at her new network security job. It wasn't quite what she expected coming out of college, but it paid enough where she wouldn't be sweating out paying for the essentials in her life, like her cell, her precious 86, and her costumes, which she taught herself how to make as a 9th grader.
For all that comfort, though, she felt like something was missing in her life, that there was one more piece of the puzzle she wanted to fill in. When she came down with something and had to work from home, she had a chat with one of her local pals she met on Shoryuken.com, where she learned that yet another arcade was closing. The feelings she got from facing those guys and girls in the arcade came rushing through her, and when she came back to work, she contemplated starting up her own arcade, like she talked about doing as a kid. In the coming months, she developed a business model and got someone to invest in her arcade/gaming lounge, which started to come together when she and her partner found a building to make into The Gaming Grotto, their brand new arcade.
At the grand opening, she felt like she was giving back to the community she loved so much, and swelled with pride as people came through the door; as time passed, however, she started to see how those other arcades were going under, as business barely broke even on all the machines and operating expenses she had to help manage just to keep the place going. All the conflict and little spats that broke out didn't help her mood, either, that mood being compounded by having to spend money to fix all the equipment and keep everything in order. Her heart sank further when she caught wind of some of the more baseless negative reviews her arcade was getting on Yelp and elsewhere, the words “I would never recommend that piece of trash to my buddies” tattooed onto her brain. When she went to the lounge to blow off some steam, she ran into one of her more frequent customers, and, in the course of the chat they had about the arcade, eventually heard this from her:
“Well, I'm sorry that it's so hard for you, and I'm sorry for blowing up on you back then. I really do like this place, and GG's one of the best arcades I've been to in forever. Not only are the machines well kept, but the time I've spent in the area practicing my stuff, along the tutors and other materials this place offered me, has really helped me step my game up. Shoot, I even managed to body a few people at Wednesday Night Fights, thanks to all the work this place has let me put in. If there's anything I do to help this place out more, just let me know, OK? It's not often a place this awesome comes along, not to mention how great the iced coffee and stuff is!”
Afterwards, she felt the emotions that she loved so much about going to arcades when she was a kid, and knew that this was the same feeling her business could offer people, prompting her to dig in and help The Gaming Grotto rise as high as possible through special events, tourneys and other methods of getting the word out, even occasionally modeling some of her cosplay, along with a handsome man she knew, to help draw in the customers and get business jumping. In the years after, it grew to where she and her business partner thought about expanding to another location, in order to increase availability and expand their ability to generate profits, which spurred in her, her next big ambition: to create what Las Vegas already had in Insert Coin, a club where people could get both their game and their drink on, and perhaps get into something more competitive.

All 3 of them discovered something in the pursuit of their dreams, something I take with me every day I pursue my own: no matter what happens in your life, no one can take your dream away from you, nor should you let them. When I was young, I wanted to fly to Japan to became a voice actor in the animation industry, a dream I wasn't brave enough at the time to pursue. Because of that, though, I found my passion for Japan's language and culture, and it's part of my dream to teach both to as many as possible in a way everyone grasp and apply in their own way. Back then, I also wanted to become someone who could help someone through their problems, much like Shannon, but I know it'll be awhile before I get the need credentials and work in to reach that point, so while I do that, I will work however much I need to, so I can help others and teach those things in the best way possible, and breed a deeper understanding.
If I never make a penny doing either, and only get enough to cover the necessities, so be it. Would be rather nice to make those make me some cash, I must admit, but I know what I can do and what must be done to make it happen, and that much is something I will give everything I have to making a reality. They mean too much to give up because pursuing it would get tough, and I know that my ambitions and those who will stand beside me will see me through to the blessings waiting on the other side of the storms. Because of all that, I gladly face the grind it'll take to make this possible and live my life in full, a nice cup of iced coffee in hand, and a song in my heart. Should fortune favor me in my lifetime, maybe I'll get to see the fruits of my labors before me, and know I've left something excellent to those that'll come after me; for sure, that'll be the moment I made passion meet profitability, and left another example for others to follow, so they can do the same.

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