I love a side hustle. My hobbies—blogging, podcasting, making comedy videos, even tweeting—have all become my job. I even contributed to a book called The Hustle Economy: Transforming Your Creativity Into a Career. So believe me when I tell you: Your hobby is also allowed to be completely useless.
For some hobbies, this is obvious. My dad has, over the years, raced R/C cars, ridden in charity bike tours, and built a sailboat. He never had to pretend that these were any more than a fun and fulfilling way to spend his time. He never had to turn them into a hustle.
But other hobbies might feel like they have to lead to something. If you cook well, and cook enough, someone will eventually suggest you do it for money. If you make any sort of craft, someone will push you to sell it on Etsy. If you write anything mildly funny or affecting, you’ll be told to write a book.
And maybe you will, and maybe you’ll enjoy it, and maybe you’ll make a living doing what you love. But if you do, you absolutely will learn that the real work of your career is not the fun bit. Otherwise every good cook would own a restaurant, and everyone who’s funny at parties would have a half-hour special on Comedy Central.
When you turn your hobby into a hustle, your whole outlook changes. All the existing stakes are raised, and one big new one piled on top: money. Each project has to prioritize profit, which necessarily means de-prioritizing everything else, however slightly. There are bigger consequences to your commitments, customers to satisfy, regulations to obey, taxes to pay. You have to keep track of things, manage emails, follow up with clients. You might have to schmooze, advertise, travel.
Before you tried to make money, your hobby might have been fulfilling even when you didn’t achieve your goals. Now, no matter how great you are, if you end up losing money, you’ve “failed.” And the harder you hustle, the more prominent your failure will be.
Sometimes that’s worth it. Sometimes it can even make you rich. It can rescue you from a dead-end career or a directionless life. And I wholly encourage that.
Just don’t let anyone convince you that it’s the superior choice. The people who make money with their hobbies are not better people than you. You can even pursue a hobby that’s traditionally done for money—if you aren’t undercutting someone else’s way of making a living, you’re doing no harm.
About a year ago, redditor obviously_sane realized that their screenwriting hustle was actually killing them:
I was working 6 days a week, and writing in the mornings and evenings, I was killing myself and my social life for this lucrative dream. Somewhere in there I realised I just couldn’t hack it as a professional writer. I tried to write to a Nichol’s deadline once and I almost drank myself to death, literally.
So they gave up. Not on writing, but on hustling.
I threw in the towel, not on my aspirations but on my schedule. I thought, “fuck this, I need to have a life” and so I did. I worked and I lived, I travelled, writing when I felt like it. Some days I’d open final draft and fuck around with title pages for an hour then go do something else…I don’t have to write for anyone or anything, fuck it, I’m writing whatever I feel like writing about.
Of course, ironically, if you focus on the quality of the activity and the work, you’ll probably start making something that seems even more marketable. But this isn’t a “trick” to actually boost your career. This is legitimate permission to give up the “hustle” part of your side hustle, and to just enjoy yourself. And when focusing on the hobby itself makes you better at it, that’s not good because it’s worth money—it’s good because it’s good.