December 28, 2009
Is turning your hobby into a business a recipe for misery?
One of the things I love most about the December holidays is they they encourage us to channel our inner Martha Stewart, if for no other reason than to save a few bucks. Suddenly we find ourselves baking cookies, knitting scarves, making holiday cards, and fashioning our own soap, candles, and knickknacks for days on end. Before we know it, we may even find ourselves thinking, "I would love to just make stuff like this for a living."
A recent New York Times article about Etsy -- the wildly popular online marketplace for craftsters and their wares -- explores what it's like to do exactly that. If you've never taken a look inside the life of a professional hobbyist, the view might surprise you.
Sure, there's sitting in a rocker knitting sweaters or beading necklaces all day long. But, according to the New York Times, for some of Etsy's six-figure earners, "all day long" can last 12 to 16 hours. In other words, that relaxing hobby you once savored has become just another job, albeit an autonomous one you can do in your slippers.
Here's what Yokoo Gibran told the New York Times about her thriving Etsy business, which earned her more than $140,000 this year and landed her a deal with Urban Outfitters:
"I have to wake up around 8, get coffee or tea, and knit for hours and hours and hours and hours....I'm like an old lady in a chair, catching up on podcasts, watching old Hitchcock shows. I will do it for 13 hours a day."
On the one hand, Gibran, who worked in a copy center before becoming a full-time craftster, said Etsy "saved my life." On the other, she said it's "the hardest job I've ever had."
As a self-employed maker of stuff (articles, essays, blog posts, books), this story really resonated with me. While I don't spend untold hours a week boxing up my wares and shipping them to customers, the unpaid hours I spend on marketing, administration, and customer service do eat up a decent portion of my work schedule. And while I often have a fair amount of control over the subjects I tackle each week and how I tackle them, writing just for the sake of creation -- rather than for deadlines and commerce -- is a luxury I seem to have less and less time for.
Moral of the story: Making money making stuff can be empowering. But it can also squeeze every last ounce of joy from that professional hobby if you're not careful.
"The challenge is to find balance," New York Times reporter Alex Williams wrote. As Caroline Colom Vasquez, another Etsy six-figure earner, said in the article, "What's the point of doing something you love if you are too exhausted to do what you love?"
What do you think? Can hobbies and commerce coexist? Or would you rather pursue your pastime only when you're off the clock?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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