An article entitled “The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles” has soothed many creative people this week. Writer Molly Conway gives you permission NOT to make your creative passion into your career, and I support that sentiment wholeheartedly. Yes, you may create stuff solely for the sake of creating. Of course you do not have to “monetise your joy”. If you’re among the relieved majority, and the article gave you peace, then I support that. Go forth and enjoy your hobby with my enthusiastic blessings.
But if she sounded like a concerned parent advising you to manage your expectations and get a real job, then come with me, down the rabbit hole… because this post is for you.
Entrepreneurship is the new black
I have reservations about this article. While I support the main premise, I also think that the writer uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut. She empowers hobbyists by depicting entrepreneurship as a nightmare. That makes your decision easy if you weren’t really into starting a business anyway – cue sighs of relief all over social media – but it also throws every other reader’s entrepreneurship dream under the bus.
Perhaps a kickback is warranted when monetising your craft has become so fashionable. But there are creative people out there who really DO want to be entrepreneurs, and their confidence also needs to be protected. For me, self-employment has been a positive experience, and I’m anxious to keep that option on the table for those who want or need it. So let’s break down some of the assumptions in this article.
Molly Conway’s article slips some strong opinions under your radar before you even begin. The title itself describes creating your own career as a “trap”. It immediately downgrades your career from a potential real business to an overwhelming spare time “hustle”. Sure, it’s fashionable to monetise whatever the heck you can. Entrepreneurship is exploding right now, and there’s a wider cultural context for that. The dream is no longer to receive a carriage clock for 25 years’ service to an employer, but to take back control in a world where long term job security is a great deal less common than it used to be.
Of course people envy you when you develop a skill that you could theoretically use to make money. They admire not just your skill, but your initiative. They have been sitting on the couch watching The Only Way Is Essex in the evening. You have learned to sew. No-one in the office knows quite how to make the fabled dash for freedom, but however it’s done, you’re streets ahead in developing some kind of skillset that could potentially help you in the employment apocalypse. People get pretty excited about that, as you may have noticed. Take the compliment.
Feeling offended is also the new black
When did we turn the innocent compliments of tourists in our world into reasons to feel oppressed?
Some of the articles we share on social media love to manipulate us into feeling strong emotions. They tell you what you should feel outraged, offended or victimised about today, and then turn that negative emotion around and empower you to speak out, giving you a shot of strength and support… and so you share. It’s the currency of viral content (and the story behind political polarisation, but that’s another post). The other word for it is… clickbait.
Here’s how it works in this case: Take something well-meant – like a colleague telling you that you “should” sew professionally – Gosh, that thing you made is so awesome, it could be professional! – and blow it up into overwhelming societal pressure to burn yourself out for the sake of money. It’s a subtle bait and switch. Yes, you have received those comments… but an article like this re-imagines people’s misguided admiration as crushing oppression from society at large, and by golly, we’re going to fight back. Congratulations, you’re now a victim, and you didn’t even know it.
What if I suggested that no-one is forcing you into making your hobby into a career? What if you were the one putting pressure on yourself? It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I want you to recognise that you and I are 100% responsible for any pressure that we put on ourselves to succeed. You’re not living in war-torn Sudan, and you aren’t a victim of an outside oppressor in this area. Perhaps we should call it “First World oppression.” If someone is putting pressure on you, it’s up to you whether to accept and internalise that pressure or not. If someone suggests you do something you don’t want to do, the answer is “no”. That’s it. End of. Even if you have to repeat it every day.
What if I DID still want to create my own business?
Did the lady in the orange dress want to start a business? We never actually asked. Was she overwhelmed about opening an Etsy shop because society was pressuring her (curse those thoughtless compliments!) or did she want to start a business in theory, but felt overwhelmed by the technology?
Starting your own business is not a walk in the park, it’s true, but there’s a big secret: that’s also the hidden gift. You’re pushing against resistance every day – the fear of putting yourself out there, the fear of failure, the fear of success, even – but that’s the work that makes you a finer human than you were before. It’s the most rewarding creative project I’ve ever attempted. Step 1, in 2019, is usually to overcome the fear of technology. How DO we set up Etsy, Paypal, a mailing list, a domain, a website? It’s overwhelming, but it can be figured out, one step at a time… if you want to. It feels awesome when you get it done.
Sewing for money: a dead end, or chapter 1?
When you start a business, version 1.0 probably will be sewing in return for money. It was for me. Molly Conway describes the overwork that follows in detail. It’s a trap, she says; go home, it’s not worth it. But if you are one of those people who read this article and felt discouraged, I suggest you reject the option to give up, and try surrendering instead. Surrender to the fact that sewing for money is hard, and badly paid – and that this is only version 1.0 of your project. This is wrinkly, badly fitting mock-up numero uno, people. It’s level 1 of the game.
I was a dressmaker too, once upon a time. I made too much for too little. It sucked, so I stopped. But my reason for stopping was not that doing something I love for a career was a waste of my health and energy. My reason for stopping was “there has to be a better way”. You’re right, oh craftspeople of the world: to be a for-hire dressmaker DOES kind of suck. But blaming society’s perceived expectations of you, and accepting permission to sensibly withdraw to a fluorescently lit office instead, is to ignore door number three.
If you are this capable and this creative, and you still want to work for yourself, then is there another way to get this done? Could we do something parallel but related to our passion, and make a living more healthily and sustainably? Enter Version 2.0. I can’t tell you what that is yet, because your version 2.0 is yours to create, but I gotta tell you, mine is pretty awesome, and so is that of former freelance graphic designer Lauren Stowell, now the CEO of American Duchess.
Making a Thing, and having someone give you money in return for taking that Thing away, is not the only way. You’re a creative; use that creativity already! Look past the dead end. Some creatives have uplevelled out of crafter-grade burnout. What are they doing differently, and how can you follow suit?
Burnout version 2.0: overwork with a better income
Even if you do find version 2.0, you’ll still hit the overwork beast. Entrepreneurs in all fields hit this wall sooner or later: there’s just too much to do. You beat the technology in version 1.0; this is the next stage. But overwork and burnout are still not the end of the story, they’re just the boss at the end of Level 2.0… otherwise known as the Fear Of Letting Go.
Overwork and burnout are symptoms of an unwillingness to get help. It is impossible to run a business alone. Most small businesses fail because the entrepreneur persists for years in attempting to do everything herself. Gathering, training and working with a team is challenging. It’s not what any of us signed up for. We resist the heck out of it, sometimes for years. Most people don’t want to go there at all, and so they paint themselves into a corner, believing, like Molly Conway, that their choices are a) overwork and disillusionment, or b) fluorescent lighting and a 6am start.
It’s a Thing I’ve been struggling to overcome myself for years, and I’m grateful to have a team who are putting up with my control issues while I get my sh*t together. But it’s not insurmountable. Hiring and working with a team is just another rite of passage, and it can be overcome.
And what is it all for, anyway?
Molly Conway tells you that you’re being victimised by a wider cultural statement that monetary worth is the only measure of value. “Every time we feel beholden to capitalize on the rare places where our skills and our joy intersect, we underline the idea that financial gain is the ultimate pursuit.”
This is the most subtle message of all – that the point of entrepreneurship is greed, and you wouldn’t want to be one of those awful people who’s in it for the money, now would you?
In the beginning, yes, you start a business in order to increase your income. But it soon goes beyond that. Once the basics are in place, your business becomes something bigger. First you build income, then you build time freedom, and then it starts getting much bigger and cooler. Now it’s about spreading a message. It’s about building a team and a community that feel like family. It’s about impact and service. It’s about doing good in the world – creating a platform from which you can say something useful and try to make the world a better, kinder, happier place.
Your attention does not “belong more rightfully on profit than on pleasure”. The profit enables you to bring pleasure – to both yourself and others, not one or the other. That’s the difference between hustle and entrepreneurship.
Conclusion – just to emphasise the point
I hope I’ve made it clear that my beef with this article is not the central theme. If you feel pressure to monetise your hobby and you don’t want to, then don’t. That message is valid.
It was the lens through which Molly Conway showed us our world that is flawed. In my opinion, she manipulated us to make the right decision for some of us easier to make. But I think you’re smarter than that; you are capable of making your own choice. I want you to feel empowered to create, empowered to create a business if you want to, and most of all, empowered to create your own identity in the world and communicate it confidently. Being a creative person is a joy, not a curse, and you get to use your aptitude for making stuff however you wish.
They say that entrepreneurship is the engine of innovation, and if it resonates with you, you do have the potential to create something that might one day make a dramatic difference in the world – a difference that goes way beyond an Etsy shop and some extra money on the side.
That’s a reality. I went into this wanting to make a real living, and I’m doing that, and even creating some income for a bunch of other people while I try to spread a message. The other day I received an email crediting me with stopping someone from attempting suicide. Someone found a lump while fitting a corset that she wouldn’t have been fitting without Foundations Revealed, and she’s getting treatment for kidney cancer now, and it’s probably going to be okay. The ripple effect of putting yourself out there can be astounding, unexpected, and even completely unintentional. It’s about so much more than the darn money.
Version 1.0 of your dream probably won’t work. That’s ok. If you want this, version 2.0 is waiting out there for you, even though you have no idea what that is yet. That’s a good thing, because if you saw how important your little project could become ten or twenty years down the road, it would freak you the heck out. You have to do it one baby step at a time – but you only need to see the next step.
To conclude, I’ll quote my friend Susie Moore, who helps people get that first “side hustle” going: “Your life belongs to you. And it’s happening now. It’s time to stop underestimating your talent, fulfil your precious potential, and straight-up love your life.” I couldn’t agree more.