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The danger of combining your passion with your paycheck


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Calah Alexander - published on 02/27/19

It's great to be able to turn a hobby into a hustle -- as long as you're careful not to let the hustle overtake your life.

When we first moved from Florida back to Texas, I was dead set on finding a job teaching taekwondo and/or kickboxing. Those two things had become my passion, and I loved teaching and training in both. But I also knew I’d struggle to make ends meet — what parent of 5 kids doesn’t? — and I worried that if I didn’t find a job that allowed me to earn a paycheck with my passion, my training would fall by the wayside.

I didn’t find a job in the world of martial arts, of course. I found a job — a fantastic job — with an outdoor group fitness boot camp called Camp Gladiator. It still allowed me to combine my passion for fitness with a paycheck. Slowly, though, my own workouts began to take a backseat. I started to feel guilty when I exercised instead of working. And taekwondo? Forget about it. As I feared, my own training began to fall by the wayside.

I’d fallen victim to what Man Repeller recently called “the modern trap of turning hobbies into hustles.” In the process of the hustle, I gradually lost the freedom to enjoy my hobbies.

When I was a kid, I often heard the phrase, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Like many millennials — who are now of course accused of wanting too much in terms of job satisfaction and security — I was encouraged to view any of my interests or talents as a possible career. This framework has carried through to adulthood, but now, instead of conjuring a Richard Scarry-esque image of happily occupying my time doing things I love, it reinforces the idea that my attention belongs more rightfully on profit than on pleasure. We live in the era of the hustle. Of following our dreams until the end, and then pushing ourselves more. And 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. If we’re good at it, we should sell it. If we’re good at it and we love it, we should definitely sell it.

Here’s the catch-22: I love my job. I couldn’t have conjured up a more perfect career for myself if I’d tried. The problem isn’t necessarily inherent in the intersection of passion and paycheck — it’s in the way our culture tends push the paycheck as the be-all and end-all.

One of the things they hammered into us, over and over, during my training was the idea that as trainers, we absolutely have to “fill our cup.” We have to take care of ourselves if we’re going to have the capacity to care for others, and that means scheduling workouts, family time, spiritual time, and time with friends before we fill in the gaps with work.

One of the reasons this was repeated so often is because the CEOs of my company know how easy it is to let the hustle overtake all the things we hustle for. And they know that inevitably, all of us would get this balance wrong and end up burnt out, exhausted, and depleted — and they wanted us to be prepared to give ourselves permission to fix that balance when the time came.

I dragged myself into 2019 feeling exactly that — so depleted I could barely convince myself to spend energy on doing the things I knew would fill my cup. Many weeks of back-to-back illnesses rotating through our house only compounded that feeling of depletion, until I realized that it had been a week since I had worked out. Then 10 days. Then 2 weeks.

Lucky for me, not filling my cup has a toxic effect on my mental health, so last weekend I snapped. I spent Friday night in the driveway, throwing sandbells and doing burpees and then running the neighborhood in a weighted vest until I felt like I was going to fall over from the combination of lightheadedness and sheer joy. The next day, I cleared the space around my punching bag and worked through my taekwondo kicks. Even though I was rusty, I was so satisfied.

I didn’t spend the weekend getting things in place for the week ahead, like I usually do. I didn’t do the laundry and have everything ready to go. Instead, I filled my cup … and you know what? I ended up having a better week than all the ones I’d gone into fully prepared for work, because I’d taken the time to fully prepare myself for life. 

I don’t think it’s always a mistake to turn your hobby into a hustle, but I do believe there’s an inherent danger in doing so. We need to be aware of that danger, aware of the temptation to let the hustle take over our lives and rob us of the joy our hobby brought us in the first place. And if we succumb to that temptation, we need to give ourselves permission to find our way back to better balance.

Because yeah, it’s great to be able to combine your passion with a paycheck — but letting that passion turn into a paycheck can sometimes backfire.


Read more:
Why you should stop trying to “find your passion”

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