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Issue #24

The Myth of Passive Income

John Loeppky

September 16, 2023

Money, in the form of coins and bills sit on sheets of paper. Also visible are a calculator, a spoon stuck into a potato, and coins balanced on said spoon.
Like a lot of creative commons images, this one is incredibly confusing/Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Sage Business Advice or an Ableist Ruse?

Skipping over for the moment the fact that, a day after talking about how this newsletter has given me routine, I crashed hard enough that I theoretically missed my deadline, today I’m going to take my own advice and write a shorter email.

Productivity advice has a natural fit within business. It’s why, when productivity writers hit the best selling lists, they tend to do so in business first. One of those pieces of advice, to create passive income streams has always felt ableist to me. You know that feeling when you can’t quite put your finger on why it bothers you, but it just seems off? Yeah, that.

There is a wonderful community on Twitter called #FreelanceChat. People connect to talk about their businesses, usually writers and public relations professionals, and to share knowledge. I’ll admit that I am, more often than not, a lurker in these weekly conversations. After almost two years of full-time freelance, I still feel as if I’m just getting my footing. Well, this week’s topic was the why and the how of passive income streams. The idea is that you create a product, whether it’s a course, a document, a book, a resource, or a different secret thing, and you sell that without having to put any additional work in.

But, because I am me and because this is my newsletter, let’s crip this concept.

First off, continually marketing, updating, promoting, and creating these products or their newest iterations is labour. And it’s not just the fairly easy to track time spend at the desk, but also the mental and physical energy to build yourself up to create these things. Marketing, especially if you’re not a “shout your accomplishments from the rooftops” type of person, is an incredible tax on your energy reserves. If you’re disabled, usually, that barrier is twice as high.

Second, passive income has entered into this buzzword lexicon that has reduced its meaning. Passive income is almost never a set it and forget it endeavour. I offer various tiers of sessions for freelancers (particularly disabled) to help build their business. In eight months, I’ve had two clients. Why? Because I haven’t had the time or energy to promote these things. These services aren’t strictly passive income—I’m still selling my time fairly 1:1 for money—but they are less labour intensive than my most consistent work. Passive income has started to become synonymous with easy when it is quite the opposite.

And lastly, in a world where the vast majority of even the most privileged disabled people are underpaid and underemployed, passive income requires a certain baseline of not just skills—insert joke about bogus bootstraps metaphors here—but money and time. You have to have the capacity to create in order to make your life (supposedly) simpler.

So, what can we take away from this? Well, looking at this particular freelancer chat it strikes me that we also tend to think about recurring tasks as passive. In fact, a lot of habit formation work relies on ensuring these activities that can enrich your life become automatic. I see the lies we tell about passive income to be parallel to how a lot of the population just don’t think about their executive function. To my mind, if you’re going to promote passive income, or productivity advice to ease executive dysfunction, you have to consider them as labour that takes capacity building to even begin to consider rather than an easy to implement wealth strategy.

After all, we all know that the phrase, “Health is wealth” is bullshit. I think we can safely put the concept of passive income in an adjacent bucket.

Until Monday!


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