Plenty of people wonder if turning their hobby into their job, whether full-time or as a side gig, wouldn’t lead to greater overall happiness in their life. That seems to be a pretty natural thing to think about, especially when you tend to feel so stressed out while at work and so at peace while doing your hobby. But that doesn’t answer if you should turn your hobby into your job.
As someone who’s turned my hobby into my full-time job and has the experience of over a decade in that field, I have an admittedly unique perspective. From my knowledge I can tell you the answer to the big question is neither yes or no. That’s right, it’s a little more complicated than you might expect, but that’s life.
I’m just now getting back into writing books, so it doesn’t at the moment provide an income. What does pay the bills is my work as an automotive writer and editor. I’ve been doing that for years, before mostly doing ghost writing for companies and publications you’d definitely know.
During my time in the industry, I’ve seen grown men whom you’d think are tough as nails break down and literally cry about about how difficult it is to write all day every day. These guys can tear down an engine, fix frame damage on a crashed car, do beautiful welding joints, but having them write about cars day after day just breaks them in a fundamental way.
Writing is mentally tough. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” That famous quote is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although there’s some controversy about if he actually said it or someone else did. The point is still the same: writing is a grueling profession. Not everyone is cut out for this life.
People who haven’t tried writing for eight or ten hours in a single day just don’t get it. If you really want to know what that’s like, I would suggest first writing for four hours straight on a Saturday. Maybe you take bathroom breaks, but that’s it. Pretend you have a deadline and need to write 4,000 words in that time. If you’re struggling after that, know that to make it as a full-time writer you have write more every day, Monday through Friday, and maybe even some more over the weekend. It breaks most people in no time.
Loving what you do for work is great, so I’m not saying you have to work a job you hate. Sometimes you do for a while, but you don’t always have to do that. But turning your hobby into a job could make you hate your hobby. Doing your hobby as work all day every day can quickly become drudgery. I love writing, even when my fingers hurt like they do right now from typing all day and my mind is exhausted. It’s what I live to do. Not everyone’s like that; I’m weird.
Then there’s the issue of money. Only you know how much you need to live, so I’m not going to give you an amount. If you’re going to turn your hobby into your job, you better make enough to pay the bills and hopefully some extra.
If turning your hobby into your full-time job requires you to start a business, which is common, realize you’re going to be putting in many hours. At first you’ll likely not be making much noticeable progress with your business. People will think you’re crazy and irresponsible. Just like pushing a heavy object where you have to overcome that static friction at first, getting a business going requires more effort than working for someone else. You should know that going in.
I follow the Jocko Willink podcast, something I got into while doing research for the book I’m writing now. He has interesting insight into making your hobby your profession:
In our society there’s a tendency for everyone to think they’re special and the exception. By definition most people aren’t. Reality can be a harsh teacher, but it’s better to live with your feet on the ground.
Ultimately, the decision whether or not to turn your hobby into your full-time job is up to you, and it should be. You have to live with the consequences of that decision day after day, month after month, year after year. You can’t put that off on someone else. Be honest with yourself about what you can handle, what the trade-offs would be, and don’t make any hasty moves. As the old management adage goes, that which is urgent is often unimportant and that which is important is often not urgent.
Image by Steven Symes. All rights reserved for this blog post text and the accompanying photograph.