Should You Make Your Passion Your Day Job?

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Sounds like an obvious question, doesn’t it? In fact, this is a debate I’ve had with a few different people and surprisingly there isn’t one, simple answer.

Entrepreneur.com believes that ‘follow your passion’ is terrible advice because, put simply, it is too egotistical. To ‘follow your passion’ focuses solely on what it is that you want to do, and ignores the fact that to make money, you need to forget ‘you’ and remember that it’s your customers (if you are entrepreneurial) who are going to provide you with an income. I attended a Meet Up talk last year and the guy speaking warned against turning your passion into your day job: he explained that 90% of running your own business is administration and a mere 10% is getting to do the thing you love.

There’s a reason hobbies are called hobbies and work is called…well…work. The latter is grounded in realities and mundanity and the former is something taken up to escape from everyday life, something magical and done purely for the enjoyment of it. The fact that it isn’t relied upon to put food on the table and pay rent frees it from the stresses and responsibilities that a job brings with it.

Interestingly, when you seek out novel activities such as learning to play an instrument, trying your hand at coding or even improving your knowledge in certain areas, new synaptic connections are formed in the brain. With every new activity you undertake, these connections build on one other and improve your brain’s plasticity – plasticity being “the number of connections made between neurons, how that affects subsequent connections, and how long-lasting those connections are” – maximising your cognitive functioning. Essentially, by broadening your mind and engaging in many different hobbies – alongside the routine job you do every day – you can increase your intelligence.

There is also scientific research that proves creativity and being taught to approach problems creatively improves the brain’s capacity for analytical thinking and logic. This is why it pays to pursue your creative pleasures around your day job: not only does it remain a magical, no-strings-attached outlet for your day-to-day stresses but it also makes you better at the job that brings home the bacon.

Many creatives stuck at their days jobs and dedicated weekends and and evenings to their passions:

  • William Carlos Williams wrote poetry whilst he was a paediatrician in New Jersey
  • Charlotte Brontë was a governess
  • Robert Frost was changing light bulb filaments in a Massachusetts factory when he sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” in 1894
  • Joseph Heller worked in magazine advertising by day and wrote Catch-22 in the evenings
  • T.S. Eliot worked as a banker and wrote his poetry in his spare time
  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in the afternoons before he began his night shift at a university power plant
  • Bram Stoker wrote Dracula while managing the Lyceum Theatre in the West End
  • The American composer Charles Ives worked as a $15-a-week clerk with the Mutual Life Insurance Company in New York

All of these people, and there are many, many more like them, did eventually find fame for their creative pursuits. They didn’t let their art consume them and this is perhaps the reason why the work they produced is so formidable – because they made sure to use every spare hour that most people waste, creating. 

For most people, turning their passion into their career just isn’t practical – at least, not while money has to be made. However, the true test as to whether you really should and can turn what you love into a full-time gig is by channelling your energy into it around your day job. That way, you find out whether you really do want to spend more than an hour or two each day on your hobby. Freelancing in your free time may be exhausting for a while, but if you put enough effort and energy into it it will eventually, with any luck, bring you enough work to justify quitting your current day job. Same goes for whatever your hobby may be: food blog, app designer, web developer, fashion photographer.

Working around the job that brings you a steady pay cheque means that you don’t risk anything – you haven’t jumped into the deep end not knowing whether you will any iota of success. When your efforts pay off and your passion starts taking over your life and earning you a living, that’s when you can confidently – and successfully – turn it into your day job.

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