beware of turning hobbies into jobs

[More thoughts on “How To Be Creative”:]

34. Beware of turning hobbies into jobs.
It sounds great, but there is a downside.

The late billionaire, James Goldsmith once quipped, “When a man marries his mistress, he immediately creates a vacancy.”
What’s true with philanderers, can sometimes be true in life.
When I was about nineteen I knew this guy called Andrew, who was a junior accountant, a few years out of college.
Andrew didn’t really like being an accountant, at least, that’s what he was fond of saying. His passion, of all things, was antique silverware. In particular, antique silver cutlery. In particular, antique silver teaspoons.
He knew A LOT about antique silver teaspoons. He collected them en masse. He lived and breathed them. OK, maybe that’s a pretty strange hobby, but hey, he was pretty much a national authority on them.
To make a long story short, eventually he quit his accountancy gig and got a new job as at a very prestigious auction house, specializing in valuing silverware.
I remember buying him a drink and congratulating him. What happy news!
A few years later, I was hanging out at the same bar with some mutual acquaintances, and his name came up in conversation. This time the news wasn’t so happy.
Apparently he had recently lost his job. Apparently he had gone into rehab for alcoholism.
What a bloody shame.
“That’s why you should never turn your hobby into your job,” said one of my friends, someone far older and wiser than me. “Before, this man had a job and a hobby. Now suddenly, he’s just got the job, but no hobby anymore. But a man needs both, you see. And now what does this man, who’s always had a hobby, do with his time?
My friend held up his glass.
“Answer: Drink.”
Make of this what you will.


  1. I know the feeling my passion is food and wine, and now I write about wine. I drink wine and tell people what it tastes like in essence, thus at times making a glass of wine to relax feel like a step back into work. It could be worse though! 😉

  2. @Trula, he did! He took up a hobby in drinking… and then took it so seriously, he turned that into his career. tsk tsk. Nice post Hugh… like it.

  3. It worked alright for me. :-)
    Seriously. I was a brick salesman for teny years, working up from office junior to sales manager. About five years ago I found a hobby in programming (Python programming to be exact). I developed a passion for it, and in my spare time was an open source programmer before ‘going professional’ three years ago.
    I’ve loved every minute of it (working for a London startup with some great guys) and am now writing a book on the language. I have my job and still have my hobby…

  4. I found this to be personally true. I have been a graphic designer since 1985 (yikes)—decided to turn a chocolate making hobby into a small business in 2005. I ran it for about a year and half and learned a lot, one of which was that it was a lot more fun as a hobby. And as much as I fussed about design; I missed it. I also missed the group setting of an office. There is a TON of stuff that goes into running a business regardless of what it is and to be honest, its easier working for other companies and letting them worry about all those details. I still make chocolates for fun and gifts. Occasionally I’ll do wedding or party chocolates for money, but it was such a relief when I worked through it all and went back to my design job. I didn’t become an alcoholic, but I did gain 10 pounds that I’ve since had to work off doing ‘hip hop abs’…

  5. For me, what I take away from this is you need more than one interest. I think that’s a good philosophy anyway.

  6. i almost screwed that one up. fortunately my design work pays the bills and my cartoons are still fun to draw. I’ve been publishing them since 1993 off and on in everything from the college rag to the local papers. I started the blog, then things started to pick up. Suddenly there was money coming at me! It was a holy shit moment. I almost did something stupid and quit my job. Fortunately I was able to get my head out of the clouds before I ended up jobless. Jobs are have-to things. Your hobby is your play time. I may not always enjoy building advertisements for silly boutiques, but I sure do like having a regular paycheck. My cartoons might bring in a few dollars now and then, but I would hate to rely on them paying the rent. I’m glad that I found your blog, your advice has been very helpful. It’s good to hear this things from someone who has already scouted ahead. It keeps you out of the pits. Cheers and thanks Hugh.

  7. I have the benefit of having two (well, more than two, but two main) things that I love doing. One (making films) is now my day job (pretty much straight out of uni), and the other (photography) is still very much a hobby, even if it does bring in a bit of money every now and then….
    And if I ever get sick of what I’m doing, it’s always nice to know that I’ve potentially got the option of switching the two around…

  8. I’m fascinated by the emerging leit motif of gapingvoid devoted to the question of “career” issues. I put that in quotes because I hate the word career (as far as I’m concerned, a career is a controlled skid), but I’m riveted–as most of us seem to be–by the underlying question of how we realize and manifest our authentic selves in our work. I’m as interested in how this plays out for kids coming out of college as I am for 60-year olds who want to rethink their lives. And most of all I’m interested in connecting the wisdom of each age bracket to the one below. That’s what’s been going on in the last few posts that feels really important.
    As for the hobby-professional pursuit question…I’m not sure you’ve touched the DNA of the problem. The mistress/wife analogy is apt, but not necessarily the way you’ve presented it. I think it has much more to do with the powerful fantasy we all harbor that what we love involves no friction, no responsibility, no drudgery. The need for a mistress is a need to sustain the fantasy that you can have intimacy–which is, after all, a deep encounter with yourself–without the headwinds of all that that entails. You can’t. Yes, we all need creative pursuits, and that need is not the same as the need to support ourselves financially in the world. But to conclude that we must be wary of marrying the two isn’t the point. I think the point is that we mustn’t fall prey to the fantasy that when we do we’ll float through life as if in a dream…without anxiety, the weight of responsibility, and a healthy percentage of time devoted to that which we’d rather not deal with.

  9. I read this post earlier, left, & came back. It’s nagging at me. Didn’t you once post about enjoying living a life that totally consumed your spirit – well, maybe not totally, but something along those lines? And feeling lucky for it? What if one’s job is an expression of one’s creativity? Such as yours. Isn’t this then perhaps also a hobby? Maybe I want to have my cake & eat it too . . . a seamless whole that is not consuming to the point of being draining but a seamless whole that is inspiring & makes us want to achieve more. My hobby is intertwined with my career – not entirely – but it is part of its fabric, one an extension of the other.
    I don’t mean to sound idealistic – but this post is nagging at me, putting me on the defensive within myself. Oh ,those personal demons . . .

  10. Who has just one hobby? I have so many things I’d like to do that sleep is a real hindrance.
    And here’s a twist on the question of following a passion. I’m creating a job out of a passion with little expertise to back it up. I’m co-founding a community music school, but can’t play an instrument, don’t know anything about education, and have little business experience. My contribution seems to be ideas and making connections. And determination. At almost-49, though, I’m at a different life stage. I’ve raised my children and am done collecting material possessions. I also feel I may never have another opportunity to follow such a path.
    This project has given us all renewed faith in our fellow man–with people all over the world (literally) offering to help. I think, even if we don’t succeed, this lesson alone will be worth the financial risks and hard work.

  11. Strange hobby? Not at all.
    I can’t help but think of Uncle Toby:
    “A man’s hobby-horse is as tender a part as he has about him.” (Sterne, Tristram Shandy)

  12. a., I would agree with you NOW. But back when I was nineteen, my hobby was chasing girls, pretty much.
    So teaspoon collecting was well off my radar 😉

  13. One exception is if you work for yourself (and I mean, primarily for yourself, not freelancing only) and you’re good enough at it to not ever go out of business (even if you earn a pittance). I consider myself as having lots of hobbies and no job, it’s just that all my hobbies make money! Of course, that’s not the answer you give the tax man.

  14. I landed my first professional writing job last year. The only downside is that I am not wanting to write loads when I come home, but at least my true love in life pays the bills.
    The trick is to have more than one hobby – I’m not gonna become a capoierista, traceur (look it up, noon-Parkour peeps), bikram yoga teacher or origami expert anytime soon :-)

  15. I have a quote on my wall that I made myself a couple of years ago that confuses most of my “co-worker/customers”:
    “Never do what you love unless you love what you’re doing.”
    I like yours better!

  16. I would say that varies from person to person, since I know plenty of people who don’t have a hobby at all, plenty who drink and have hobbies AND jobs, and also some who only have hobbies and no jobs (and either drink or DON’T drink) -of course, they are all happy in some ways and unhappy in some other ways. It’s more the outlook on life that’s the point… In my experience, those who are less happy are usually those who are content to let things happen around them, and do less actively (those whose ‘hobbies’ probably include watching tv… and… watching tv..) and those who are more pleased with their lives are still curious, enjoy simple things in life like cooking or gardening, something where you can still learn something and explore actively, experiment, use your own ideas. I guess this Andrew had forgotten how to do that, but thankfully, not everyone does. Now it just falls on our shoulders to remind all those Andrews out there through subtle nuances… like for instance through a blog? I always love the STOP AND THINK moments you leave in your blog, Hugh, thanks.

  17. Agree, Jen. It does vary from person to person.
    Which is why I said “Beware of this”, not “Don’t do this”. Because regardless of who you are, it still warrants some thinking abut.

  18. There’s a difference between hobbies, work and pass times… A hobby to me is something you enjoy doing and are obsessive about to some degree. (you keep going back to it because it’s always there for you.)
    Work is something that pays the bills and are more like chores. You can enjoy them some of the time but at the end of the day they are repetitive things that earn money. A means to an end. Hobbies are different because they are a focused effort to get to a particular point with something be that a piece of art or a state of mind.
    A pass time is different again. It’s something that involves effort but is done as a time filler. Think computer games, long walks. Things that just fill the gaps between the hobbies, work, eating and sleeping.
    And you’re right about alcohol… it’s not a hobby it’s a pass time… a thing to do when you don’t know what else to do… beware of falling into the abyss that is alcoholism.

  19. […] But what Hugh Macleod says is also true. “Beware of turning hobbies into jobs.” […]

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  21. […] be careful that it doesn’t happen the other way around. You don’t want to turn your hobby into your job only to have it turn into the kind of job you […]

  22. […] be careful that it doesn’t happen the other way around. You don’t want to turn your hobby into your job only to have it turn into the kind of job you […]

  23. […] be careful that it doesn’t happen the other way around. You don’t want to turn your hobby into your job only to have it turn into the kind of job you […]