2018 taught me to let go. Of what others think of me and of my financial cares. It became a turnaround year to me. In this post, I share how fear drove me to sacrifice what I wanted on the inside – and how I got it back.
I’ve known that I want to be a journalist since 2010. Taking a gap year from uni, I enrolled for a Bible school in Montreal. Sometime that year, a staff member came up to me and said: “Hey Maurice, you’re curious, you’re a generalist, you have a love of languages, and you enjoy writing. Wouldn’t journalism be something for you?” When I sat down, it was as if a mental explosion came off. So many of my talents unexpectedly came together in a label.
Determined to find a solution
As much as I felt called in that moment to become a journalist, the road ahead was rife with challenge. Soon enough I learned that it is close to impossible to earn a living in journalism nowadays. With advertising revenues having shifted from newspapers to Google and readers getting online content for free, why pay for journalism? The internet has hurled news media into a downward financial spiral and they forgo the budget to pay a young and aspiring journalist like myself.
Having experienced underpayment first-hand, I took a decision. I wasn’t willing to work for the fees current in journalism. Yet I still wanted to become a journalist. I was determined to find a solution. A way to be a journalist and earn a decent living. So I worked out a compromise: I’d launch a translations business to generate income. The income I’d gain from translation work would enable me to carve out my journalistic path without having to get paid for it.
Indeed, I took on translation work and it became profitable. On the side, a vision for my journalistic work ripened and led me to launch mauricevanderspek.com. Here, I’m on a journey into the world of the people producing our food. I hear stories ranging from underpaid Dutch mushroom farmers to slavery in the Thai fishing industry. I want to know: am I safe to assume that the people producing my food are treated justly? And why – if so – or why not – if not? I’m interviewing everyone possibly related to the Dutch food industry. And in the long term, hope to gain an interactive understanding of the treatment of people producing our food, allowing me and the rest of society to do them justice.
Covering up fear
So far, my compromise seemed to work. But precisely because of my mixed model, I felt increasingly overwhelmed: where to find the time to work as a translator and a journalist, to do both? I began hiring employees, believing it would free me up to focus on journalism more. Quite the opposite happened. I spent most of 2017 building a team that during the same year disintegrated. After the fact, I calculated my team had won me some hours here and there. Yet for the time I had gained, there have been months I couldn’t pay my own salary. What I was doing wasn’t making any (financial) sense.
In hindsight, I’m seeing that my financial reasons for starting a translations business operated as a cover for a much deeper driver: fear. Afraid that others wouldn’t accept me, I didn’t dare show my real me. The truth is: I’m not a translator. I’m a journalist. But I feared that showing who I really am would lead to impoverishment and might offend others. I feared others’ reactions for the kinds of questions I ask. And I didn’t believe that journalism – especially not the kind of mission-based journalism that I pursue – could somehow earn me an income.
With all of this culminating last summer, I took a decision. I closed my translations business. In my life, an enormous disparity had emerged between what I wanted – working as a journalist – and what I was doing – running a translations business.
The scariest weeks of my life
In a way, the weeks that followed were some of the scariest of my life – where would my salary come from? But I had taken a decision. And I was committed to stand by it. I had to, if I wanted to stay true to myself. I clung to the belief that I had to overcome the fear inside of me in order to do what I had known for so long I wanted to do. No longer talk about it – but do it. And I did. I dissolved my translations business and threw myself into my journalistic adventure.
What happened next, I didn’t see coming. In the wake of my decision to give up my translations business, organizations that line up with my own values so much more than the organizations I used to work for, began requesting my contribution. (To preserve my editorial independence, I only do commercial work for organizations outside the food industry.) I am now in a place where I am fending off my time: I have more work coming my way than I have hours available for it. Better even, the work I do has become so much more interesting! My mission-based journalism created an amazing spin-off effect I didn’t anticipate: I work for organizations that – like me – want to leave the world in a better place than they found it.
Pursuing “all these things”
In one of his teachings, Jesus addresses the worries we can have about life. We ask questions like: “What will we eat?” and “What will we drink?” and “What will we wear?” Jesus turns life on its head by saying this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
This “kingdom of God” is Jesus’ central theme. A recent Bible translation calls it “the new world.” A new world, in which sacrificial love precedes self-interest. A new world, that you can be a part of today. Jesus is basically saying this: seek God’s and others’ interests first. If you do, everything else you need will be provided for as well.
I’ve been so anxious about “all these things”
2018 made me realize I wasn’t seeking the kingdom first. I was seeking it last. First, I was anxious about “all these things.” How to earn an income? How to save for my pension? Am I properly insured? Will we be able to buy a house? Where will our next holidays take us? Questions that I have been so, so worried about. So much so, that in the process of trying to secure what I thought I needed, I sacrificed what I wanted deep down.
2018 became a turnaround year to me. I am going to seek the kingdom – meaning: following my heart, working as a journalist, and focusing on supply chain justice – first. And trust that “all these things” will be added to me.