How to Find Work that Won’t Crush Your Soul

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A friend of mine recently asked me to critique a 6-minute YouTube video he made.

I happily said yes, and ended up spending around four hours writing a 5,000-word critique for his video.

I also did it for free. And I loved every minute of it.

Friends of mine charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for this kind of service. And I’ve been asked by multiple people if I offer it as well – but I don’t.

I know that if I charged for it, I’d hate the work.

There’s a good reason for this, and as I’ve learned, you can use it as a tool to figure out what kind of work you’ll actually enjoy doing when money is involved.

There are two broad types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is simply your internal drive to do something for its own sake. Extrinsic motivation is created by external rewards, like:

  • Money
  • Views
  • Likes

It turns out that when an extrinsic motivator, like money, is set up as a reward for work you already had intrinsic motivation for, it can actually kill that intrinsic motivation.

In psychology, this is called the Overjustification Effect.

Overjustification effect – Wikipedia

This is why I’m happy to critique videos from my friends for free – even going all-out and writing 5,000 words – but the idea of getting paid for it makes me want to run the other way.

And that revulsion towards getting paid to critique someone else’s work isn’t coming from nowhere. I’ve been paid for it in the past, in multiple contexts:

  • In high school, I got a job as an English Composition tutor for college students, where I had to critique their writing
  • We also used to have many freelance writers at College Info Geek, and for a while I acted as the Editor in Chief, critiquing and reviewing their posts

In both cases, I absolutely hated this kind of work. Doing it felt like pulling teeth.

So it’s case closed, right? We can just say, “Don’t do what you love for money, or you’ll come to hate it” and move on, correct?

Well, not so fast – because I’ve found that this isn’t always the case.

For the past 11 years, I’ve been doing creative work full-time – and I’ve done a lot of different things:

  • Writing (a full book, multiple blogs, and freelance writing)
  • Podcasting
  • Making videos
  • Public speaking
  • Recording music (I’ve made over $1,000 from stream royalties, so this counts!)
  • Programming
  • UI design
  • Building and lauching products
  • Coaching people
  • Critiquing other people’s work

I’ve done all of these both for fun and for money.

Here’s what I’ve observed.

For each of these, the effect that money has on my intrinsic motivation is very different.

When it comes to coaching people, the difference is massive. I LOVE coaching people for free. I HATE doing it for money.

But for other things, like building products, there’s almost no difference at all.

For a long time, I built free Notion templates and basically gave them out for fun. I didn’t even have a monetization plan – I just loved building and sharing them.

Then I launched Creator’s Companion, and later Ultimate Brain. Together, these premium templates have made over $2 million in two years – and guess what? I’m still stoked about building and improving these templates, along with the free ones.

I still find myself tinkering with Notion builds on weekend mornings. I still love this kind of work!

What I’ve discovered is that different types of work are affected in different ways by the Overjustification Effect.

For me, activities like critiquing other people’s work or doing work on commission (e.g. building a website) become way less fun when money gets involved.

But other work, like building products or making videos, is hardly affected at all.

So I’ve come up with a model for this, which I call the Soul-Crush Score.

On a scale of 0-100, how much does introducing money crush your soul for a given activity?

For me, rough numbers might look like this:

  • Consulting: 100
  • Freelance design work: 80
  • Making videos on commission: 80
  • Making my own videos and adding sponsorships to them: 20
  • Building and launching my own products: 2

Note that I still scored “building products” at 2 instead of 0. For me, money always adds at least a couple soul-crush points, because I naturally want to make everything free.

I want to stress that the scores I gave to those activities above are specific to me.

You might find that your scores are completely different – maybe you’d actually enjoy being paid to give critiques and feedback! Some folks really do.

Most importantly, you won’t know how you react to certain types of paid work until you try them. I only know which kinds of work I like to be paid for (and which kinds I don’t) from experience. I’ve tried a lot of things over my career.

Now that I have experience in these areas, I can observe how I’ve reacted to their qualities in the past, and use that information to guide my future choices.

For example, no fewer than three people asked me if I do paid YouTube consulting at a recent event. I know I could have said yes and likely drummed up tens of thousands of dollars in income – but my past experiences tell me I’d hate the work.

If I really needed the money, I’d probably still take it! But since I have other opportunities – launching new products, making more content to market my current ones, accepting sponsorships, etc – I’ve chosen to focus my attention on those instead. Even though it might mean making less money in the short term.

So, based on my experience, here’s how I’d recommend using this Soul-Crush Score model.

First, try lots of different kinds of work. If you don’t already have a lot of experience, you need to go get it. You truly won’t know what you enjoy doing until you go out a try lots of things.

Once you have that experience, think critically about the Soul-Crush Score for each type of work you’ve done.

Maybe even sit down and write out those scores.

Then, when opportunities come up in the future, weigh them against your scores – as well as the other opportunities you have.

By thinking critically about these scores, you’ll be able to make more strategic decisions about the work you accept – and the work you choose to reject.

Want to share these insights? Here’s a tweet that contains the gist:

Money acts as an extrinsic motivator for work. But you can have intrinsic motivation for work as well – which is why you often find yourself doing “work” for fun.

The ceiling for intrinsic motivation is much higher than that of extrinsic motivation.

Often, introducing an extrinsic motivator like money can kill your intrinsic motivation. This is called the Overjustification Effect.

However, not all types of work are affected in the same way. Adding money into the picture can absolutely crush your soul for certain types of work – but for others, money can hardly change your intrinsic motivaiton at all.

The Soul-Crush Score model gives a 0-100 score to different types of work, based on how strong the Overjustification Effect is for it.

To find long-term work that you actually enjoy (and that won’t crush your soul), first go try a lot of things. Get experience with many types of work, and try to apply a Soul-Crush score to each one.

Then, when you’re evaluating future oppportunities, keep these scores in mind and try to pick the opportunity with the lowest score possible.

Thanks for reading!

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Fill out the form below and I’ll answer as soon as I can! ~Thomas