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Business or Pleasure: Should You Turn Your Hobby Into a Career?

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Image courtesy of liza31337

“I’ve never really had a hobby, unless you count art, which the IRS once told me I had to declare as a hobby since I hadn’t made money with it.”

~ Laurie Anderson

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For the last 10 years, since I finished University and started having to pay my way through life, I have resisted earning an income from art.

Sure, I’ve done the odd commissioned portrait here and there, and even had a painting published in a textbook when the opportunity arose, but I’ve never put much effort into pursuing it as a main source of income.

When people asked me why I don’t paint for a living, one of my favourite responses (among others) was “I don’t want to lose the enjoyment I get from painting, and if I HAVE to do it to make money, it will become a chore rather than a pleasure.”

The truth is, this was the perfect excuse for me to continue doing a job that didn’t inspire me, so that I could continue to get my regular monthly income and continue to convince myself that I was creating better art because I wasn’t under the pressure of doing it for a living.

The only problem was I had very little time for creating art outside of work, and when I did manage to set aside a few hours for painting, I would always feel under pressure to get as much done as possible, as I knew I didn’t get many opportunities to paint for a long period of time. Naturally this attitude is not very conducive to creating great artwork.

So while I was kidding myself that I would stop enjoying art if I was doing it for a living, I was actually getting very little pleasure from doing it as a hobby, due to the limited time I was able to spend on it, and the nagging feeling that I should be doing more of it.

Pressure to Create

Now, I’m not suggesting that this reasoning may not be valid for some people. In Zero Hour Work Week, Jonathan Mead describes how he wanted to play music professionally for a long time, but “every time I thought of playing music for a living, it made me cringe. I couldn’t imagine feeling like I must create in order to pay the bills.”

Jonathan decided to keep his music as a hobby, as he didn’t feel it could take the stress of him doing it as a means of income. This works for him, as he still does something he loves for a living (teaching personal development), and he still gets to play music for fun, without having to worry about whether it will make him any money.

I would hazard a guess that if music had been Jonathan’s one and only true love, and he was working an uninspiring job to pay the bills, then he might have been more inclined to pursue a career in music. Because he had other passions, he was fine with keeping his music separate from his career.

Making the Decision

So how do you decide whether your hobby should become a source of income or whether it should remain sacred?

First I think you need to consider whether there is anything else around this particular hobby that may be holding you back.

Confidence

Do you feel confident in your ability, and completely at ease when doing your thing? Or do you feel like you’re not good enough to earn money from it, and why would anyone pay you for it?

If you have doubts around your ability, then the old “sacred hobby” line may just be an excuse. You should first address your confidence issues and then see how you feel. Do you really need to improve, maybe get some more training, or do you just need to believe in yourself more?

Get some feedback from people who could be potential customers (not friends and family, unless you need an ego boost). Ask them if they would pay for what you do (this also serves as great market research.) If they all say no, then maybe your hobby should remain a hobby, but if at least some of them would be willing to pay for what you can do, then it’s a potential source of income.

Can You Create Under Pressure?

Think about how you would earn money from your hobby, and whether that would put a lot of stress on you. If you’re great at drawing, you might have thought about being a freelance magazine illustrator, but you need to consider whether you would still enjoy drawing if you were doing it under the pressure of a magazine editing deadline. If you think you couldn’t handle the stress, is there any other way you could still use your drawing skill, but in a less stressful environment? Perhaps you could illustrate books instead, where the deadlines aren’t as tight. There are always different ways in which you can make money from your talent.

One True Passion

Finally, I think you need to consider whether this hobby is your one true passion, or whether you have other things that get you equally fired up and inspired. If photography is the only thing you ever think about, and you can’t wait for the weekends, so that you can spend the day taking photos, then it may be that photography is your one true calling in life, and if so, you should find a way to do more of it.

But if you are equally passionate about whatever you currently do to earn a living, and you’re happy to just take photos at the weekends, then there is probably no need to turn it into a source of income.

What do you think? Are you struggling with the conflict of turning a hobby into an income stream? Or have you overcome this kind of conflict? Please tell us about it in the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

13 Comments on Business or Pleasure: Should You Turn Your Hobby Into a Career?

  1. Emma says:

    I think the steps you’ve taken to move towards making a career from your art are very inspiring! This article has made me think about my own life, and I’m now considering how I can build more ‘creative time’ into my life at the same time as continuing in my day job. I’m hoping to do both at the same time – for now, at least!

  2. Manal says:

    Hmm.. I’m creative in some ways, perhaps not the ‘artist’ type of way, but I do struggle with having more than one passion, and deciding which one is the one I do for a living vs. which one I do because I love it.

    I made sure this was the last thing I am reading before I sleep, so my subconscious can chew on this overnight.

    Thanks!

    Manal

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Hey Manal, sounds like you’re a classic multipotentialite! Have you checked out Renaissance Business by Emilie Wapnick? She helps you to create a business out of all of your interests so you don’t have to choose just one. Definitely worth a read!

  3. Manal says:

    Yes, I have. Discovered it a few weeks ago, and saving up my pennies to do the coaching! I did buy the book, but I know I’m the type that needs to brainstorm and have someone to share ideas with. In the meantime I’ll enjoy the other multipotentialites’ successes (one of my other passions:))

  4. Jason says:

    Funny I should stumble onto your blog from Jon Woodward’s tweet! I’m currently working with my friend and brother-in-law to get his art business off the ground. One of the struggles he was encountering in all this was handling both the art and business/marketing side of being a freelance illustrator. There’s a lot of opportunity out there for a talented artist and I think with a little help there’s a lot of people like him that could succeed! So I’m using some of my talents and passions to help him on that end. I’ll definitely be reading your blog as food for thought while we continue to develop our business plan. Thanks!

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Thanks Jason

      The business side of things can be challenging for sure, but your brother-in-law clearly has talent, so yeah, if you can help him out in that area then he can definitely succeed! Thanks for reading!

  5. Sara Deever says:

    I did love my day job – middle and high school teaching, but I did find that I could not do it if I did not spend several hours on weekends stitching (fiber artist) I worked very hard teaching.
    I’m now retired, age 72, and have the freedom to create with the fabrics, yarn and supplies I stockpiled while I was earning. I also like using recycle fabrics and yarn to make stuff.
    Two years ago I took a course from Deborah Fell at QSDS on The Business of Art, which was very helpful and one of the things I learned was that I’m more intereted in making than marketing, which gives me the luxury of moving slowly and selecting venues carefully.

  6. Annonymous says:

    I don’t want to include my real name. I have a very interesting story to tell, hopefully someone will understand. Feel free (Dan) to personally e-mail me with any thoughts.

    I grew up video editing, at a very young age, I believe I was 6 or 7. I was obsessed with creating emotion through a story with no dialogue, and I had a great time doing it. As I got older, into middle school and high school, I got more involved with 3D Animation and learning different aspects of this entire digital industry. I went to vo-tech for four years, interned at a production house while in high school, and knew that I wanted to turn my hobby into my career. I thought, “I want to love my job, and editing is what I love to, so why not combine them together”? I went to a trade school for 3D and editing, and while I was there I read the book, “Linchpin” by Seth Godin. That book completely changed my life and perspective on this industry. I started feeling really weird, like wondering if I would want to do this for a living. School was pushing me to work, where as before I was doing it just as much, but only because I wanted to. I’ll fast forward…now I am living in California and have a great editing job, and I feel so dirty. Using my hobby to make money is killing me. I get stressed, fed up, tired, and I no longer love editing. I can’t do any personal projects because after work I can’t even look at a computer. I’m actually drinking more because I’m using alcohol as a medicine to numb my mind from thinking of thoughts I don’t want to care or worry about, and I’m only 20. I’m actually forcing myself to write this, on a Sunday, when I should be working. Sometimes I wonder if having a “normal” job would be better, and do editing on the side for fun. I don’t want to say where I’m working now, but it was an amazing opportunity. Really, amazing. I felt like I had to take it, just because of how great the opportunity was. But now, I’m tied down to the responsibilities I have here. I.E apartment, car payments. I need the income more so than I ever did before. I don’t really know what else to say, but I’m sure I could talk about this for hours.

  7. AJ says:

    Thank you for this article. I am in a very challenging place in life right now – making certain career choices as my wife and I move to a different area. I started a band back in 2009 and we have received a lot of support and a growing number of fans. However, over the past year or so I’ve been experiencing various bouts of depression and anxiety as a result from musical performance. This was confusing because I love music and the members of my band are like brothers to me so, “what’s wrong”, I had to ask. In the article you talk about working under pressure and I have discovered that this is a key issue for me. I love music but I do not love the pressure of playing music on other people’s time. I believe I will begin taking steps to treat my music as one of God’s gifts of pleasure and enjoyment – not something to be made a career (atleast for me). Thank you! Your article has been a real blessing to me. God bless you!

  8. anon says:

    This is a really interesting page for me – thank you all. I’m glad I googled it but I’m not sure what the solution is for me!

    I was always good at maths at school and now I am working in finance. I get satisfaction from it when it is challenging and from working with people to close deals. It is also in the environmental sector which I am passionate about, although nowhere near as passionate as I am about cookery!

    Problem is every time I’m in a quiet patch at work I dream of spending my day working in the area I love and the same old questions surface themselves. Having money is great but doesn’t make you happy directly. Being a cook means you have to stand up all day and would I find it intellectually stimulating enough? There are plenty of lucky stars to count. My job is stimulating and I have a hobby to occupy me outside of work and when on holiday. But when one has experienced that kind of passion in the past it is hard to deny that it is what you should be doing with your life. I guess we have to do what makes us happiest but I’m not sure what that choice should be.

    I think if I’m on the fence then it’s not worth the risk to change. I have worked a few shifts as a cook and it’s pretty tiring, stressful and leaves you a bit numb at the end of the experience. Maybe I would be satisfied if I was making good enough progress in my hobby alongside my job.

  9. Sarah says:

    Hey there! Annonymous and AJ, you guys really helped me! Thank you guys so much..actually AJ I found what you said very interesting because I am a freshman in college and have been planning on pursuing a Worship degree from Liberty University. I have always loved music and have written over 100 songs throughout my life…in order to learn some of the notes i started learning piano/notes and continued playing guitar…however, after a little while I got really stressed because the notes were getting hard to learn and I felt really pressured to learn the music notes quickly. I stopped really knowing who I was..i got go burned out of rushing through trying to learn the information that I stopped playing piano, stopped plaiying guitar, and stopped writing music. I was so confused because not writing music made me feel like I did’t even know who I was anymore. But at the same I time I knew that I loved music and that I would be willing to get up every day to work with music for no pay. After some thought, I realized that music should stay a hobby for me. It scares me to think that I could lose my love for music in an attepmt to make something of my music. I think I am going to pursue a another degree instead (like maybe English) and then spend my spare time playing music for fun. I also feel a lot less pressured to get involved in Liberty’s worship teams-because if I do not make the tryouts I will not feel like my whole career is shattered. Overall, I know that I have a huge passion for music, and I want to share my passion with other people. However, I think that I should major in something besides music and then spend my spare time using my musical abilities (like at church.) So thank you guys for putting all the information you did. I actually was talking about how I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career this morning. So God bless you!

  10. Pingback: Why I prefer to keep music as a hobby… | K'Brocking

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