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How to kill a hobby

October 9, 2008

“When I grow up I want to be a fireman ’cause its really fun.”

I hear that a lot when I was a kid. I had a passion for video games and the Internet and I was adamant about turning it into a career so I became an IT programmer. Well, I’m now ready to toss that passion-to-career ideal to backyard of urban legends.

I liked programming. I get to express my creativity with C and Java code the way a painter does with his brush and canvas. I was as passionate as the next artist and in many ways a perfectionist too. What no one told me was that in a programming career, it’s all about writing it the way other people wanted it, not the way I wanted it. I had to write a ton of code in ways I thought was stupid. No, I didn’t get to choose how the data is structured, how the logic flows or how versions are controlled. The only thing that mattered was how fast can I do it. Nobody cared about the programs I wrote on my own even though I thought they were masterpieces.

A cousin of mine reviews food for a Sg magazine. Her passion is health food. She borrowed money to open up a small restaurant selling the food she liked. A few months later, she learnt that people hated the food she liked. They liked their food spicy, salty, deep fried, and all round unhealthy. She didn’t like serving that type of food but if she didn’t do it, she’ll go under.

Its a common thing I guess. Passionate artists unable to sell their prized paintings, fashion designers whose creations make people shudder, brilliant writers who must write trash to survive. All realizing how individual and short-lived passions can be. Some passions may not even be bankable. Fancy lining your living room with art made form garbage anyone?

So the biggest lesson I learnt in all this was: The fastest way to kill a hobby is to turn it into a business.

Here’s the problem. Passions have a beneficiary. The beneficiary is you. Hobbies are what you do to satisfy yourself, and maybe meet other like-minded people which is really a way of satisfying yourself with their companionship. Passions are all about you. That’s why its hard to take other people’s criticism of your masterpiece, your idea of perfection.

When you start commercializing your passion, the beneficiary changes. Its no longer about you. People pay you money to make their dreams come true, not yours as my cousin and I found out. For a fee you let their ideals overrule yours even if it makes you barf. Do it long enough and watch passion turn into cynicism. And that’s how you kill a hobby.

Personally I’m no longer concerned that my work is not my hobby. To me a hobby is where I’m free to create things that other poeple find ugly. Work on the other hand is a service. Its never going to keep me excited the way a hobby does but that’s okay. As long as I get paid for making other people’s dreams come true, then I’m happy.

[Note: This article had been sitting in my queue of articles for months. Decided to put it up earlier as an antithesis to the How do You Turn Passion Into a Career article in the Get Rich Slowly blog. Thanks to Alvin Lim for the link. IMHO anyone can turn a passion into a career. A larger question is how long will it remain a passion after being subject to the unkind realities of a business.]

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2008 10:58 am

    I guess it also depends on how much you need the money. Many famous artists etc. either lived penniless (initially at least) or were able to draw on some other income to support doing what other people were not interested in.

    Yes, that’s probably where the term starving artist came from, hehe.

  2. October 9, 2008 11:49 am

    Dude, you’re spelling out what’s in my mind. That’s why I’m stuck here in a 9 to 5 roundabout, waiting for the right time to exit. Right time being when my obligations are fulfilled.

    So your painting hobby is fully on hiatus while you’re on the 9 to 5? You’ve got patience man!

  3. October 9, 2008 12:10 pm

    At other times when I thought I hadn’t done enough to fulfil my dreams, I’d look back at what I’ve achieved and decided I really should not regret.

    I read the poem. Not everyone can walk away from those trials in one piece so kudos to you. πŸ™‚

  4. October 9, 2008 1:41 pm

    I think passion and interest will change over time. Therefore, you have the time and money we should follow our passion and interest. I think this is where innovative is born. πŸ™‚

    Yes, money can spur innovation. Some innovations are also born out of desperation and a simple will to survive.

  5. October 9, 2008 5:18 pm

    Ah, such an interesting post. My practical side tells me you’re right. But my heart tells me that if we all follow your advice, some truly great works of art and historical moments would never have been possible…

    Case in point? Philip K. Dick. All round brilliant science fiction writer ever author of books inspiring films like Total Recall, Blade Runner and Minority Report. Until his dying days, he made barely enough to eke out a living. If he was living today, film producers would probably worship the ground he walked on.

    I know you’re arguing the point that we could work on a full time job *that* they didn’t like whilst pursuing their hobby. That’s exactly my argument as well… If they didn’t pursue their passion wholeheartedly,they might have failed to create such work of arts. Maybe their dreams would fade and die off, whilst living in the relative comfort of their mundane day to day job.

    An alternative argument would be they would be forced to water down their vision to satisfy the lowest common denominator. True, but only in the beginning. As time goes by, your cousin would be able to slowly change the menu and encourage healthy alternatives. People don’t change their stripes overnight.

    Wow, my longest comment here yet. Shows you that this topic has been on my mind for some time.


    You must’ve thought about passion for a while eh. πŸ™‚ Yes, we would’ve been a lot poorer if the great artists had given up their passions because they didn’t want to starve. One funny thing tho. Today the innovations haven’t stopped even though no one is starving. If anything it is increasing at a faster pace, in art and technology. Somehow humans have managed to stay creative in spite of opulence.

    Yes, many great artists will be dead before anyone appreciates their work. That’s the thing about works of passion. Whether it stirs public interest on day one or 100 years later seems as random as the weather.

    On my cousin, yes she could have watered down her concept but that would mean sacrificing her ideals. One thing about passionate artists – they are stubborn perfectionists who would rather starve than compromise. Forcing them would only kill their passion. But you guessed right – my cuz did relent and she survived to pay off her loan. Can’t say the same about her passion though.

  6. LC Teh permalink
    October 9, 2008 10:30 pm

    Thanks, Damien.
    Sometimes I’d still look in my paint boxes, grab a brush and doodle around, afraid I’d find out that the passion has deserted me.

    Keeping the engine warm eh. πŸ˜€

  7. October 10, 2008 10:53 am

    I love to draw comic and write story. But my daily job has nothing to do with this. I used to like programming, but my daily job has changed me.

    I actually tried to change industry into game development but my commitments don allow me to do so. I like creating story n characters. Hahha, so nowadays, i will stay home whenever i m free and write my story, which will later convert to a comic if possible (and if my drawing skill permits).

    It’s easy to forget who we are esp during such difficult time. But it’s very important for us not to do that…remember our dreams and ambitions. If we cannot make it full time (which might not be a good thing…i don think i wanna force myself to do comic just to survive…since i might not be my most creative self when forced), then do it when we free.

    Who knows one day, we can make that 1 big breakthrough. πŸ˜€

    I think your creations are fantastic. For pragmatic reasons you’ve opted to keep profession and hobby separate like most people. Its another example where the passion-to-career idea is easy to say but not easy to do. But if you manage to keep the dream and ambition alive until it can generate you a decent living, then I think that will be wonderful.

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