“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
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.
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.