Doing what you love doesn’t need to be profitable

The importance of hobbies, and maybe even being bad at them

It’s time I stop seeing my hobbies as a way to make money, and simply enjoy doing them. Graphic Joey Bruce

"What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a phrase that’s rung in my ears ever since I was old enough for a stranger to assume I could answer. 

It’s echoed through countless conversations with adults, family, peers, and teachers, and it has followed me throughout my student life. Everytime I discovered a new passion or hobby, I thought I was one step closer to finding the answer to that question. I would excitedly announce that I wanted to be an actor after joining a musical theater club, or declare I was destined to be a photographer after finding a love for light meters, 35mm film, and composition. 

At the beginning of grade 12, I found myself binging portfolio review videos on YouTube and fantasizing about being the next Nan Goldin or Robert Frank. I wanted to study photography at Parsons School of Design in New York City, and had even picked out the photos I would use for my application. It was my dream job, or so I thought. When I realized my photos would have to be good enough to make me money I stopped taking them. I felt uninspired. I was frozen. 

They say if you do something you love you’ll never work a day in your life, but this obsession of capitalizing on hobbies just added pressure and a fear of failure to the activities I once did for fun. My desire to take perfect photographs paralyzed me. I realized how easily overwhelmed I become when I don’t think I’ll meet my standard of success, or the possibility of a hobby becoming a career seems no longer plausible.

I wasn’t doing art for myself anymore. Instead, it was for some strange form of external validation that I subconsciously craved. In other words, by trying to market our hobbies as profitable we’re never doing anything truly just for ourselves. A decline in mental health and happiness is unavoidable if we keep equating activities we love to their monetary value.

It’s no surprise that by living in a career-centric digital world, the pressure to perform economically has been pushed by social media, especially with trends like “hustle culture” and #GirlBoss.

There’s nothing wrong with using platforms like Instagram as a tool for sharing art, hobbies, or interests. Its photo format makes it a great place to get creative inspiration from other artists, creating an exciting sense of community. I really admire small businesses and artists who can use the app to their advantage, unfortunately I couldn’t.

The fun of photography died when I created an Instagram account dedicated to my work. I was more aware of the likes and follows than on my personal account. In the end, the sheer amount of content on the app created a strange sense of second-hand burnout from constantly comparing the quantitative success of my art to that of other creators. 

A common conversation starter to get to know someone better is to ask what they do for a living, or what they’re majoring in. While it’s a valid inquiry, the fact that it usually opens conversations shows how relevant we think someone’s career is to knowing who they are. Instead of asking children what they want to be when they grow up, we should be asking them who they want to be, and break away from this career-centric lens we use to look at life.

Now, I take pictures all the time. They’re not always good but it doesn’t matter. Not only do I take pictures, but I also paint, sculpt, write songs, and draw for fun. I no longer feel a sense of dread staring at a blank piece of paper, because I don’t feel like my identity, career, and financial future are riding on whether or not I create something good. 

I use my hobbies as a reward for doing my homework or as a way to unwind on Sundays. While this may not seem revolutionary I am proud to say I’m working to recenter my identity around what I do for fun, not what will make me money. I allow myself to make mistakes and experiment without any added external pressure, and I encourage you to do the same. Go out there and get a fucking hobby.