We’ve heard it most of our lives. Chase your dreams, follow your passion, do what you love to achieve a life of purpose. In fact, the pandemic prompted many to re-engage with their passions, as hobbies or even professionally. Of course, all of this was, and is, only possible if you are in a comfortable position financially. But once that passion becomes your bread and butter, does it remain that fulfilling, especially when it is pursued every single day for monetary gains? Does it not become like a chore, much like the office work we do every day? Does it not eventually lead to burnout? Everything in life involves trade-offs and following your passion is no different.
Jennifer Moss, author of Burnout Epidemic and a workplace wellness expert, highlights an important aspect of passion as work. In a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, she wrote that the popular advice of “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” is a myth.
Pursuing a passion professionally can feel like work on many days, and that purpose-driven work can lead to an increased risk of burnout because one identifies so strongly with work that there is no clear demarcation between the personal and professional. In such cases it is important to draw healthy boundaries and switch off regularly, she writes.
We asked some professionals who decided to pursue their passions as serious hobbies or full-time jobs to understand that while doing what you love is a worthy goal, is it really worth it? Their top suggestion: take a more realistic approach when incorporating passions into your life.
Shilpi Karner, 41, for instance, took her interest in food photography and styling to the next level by going professional during the pandemic. Years of a successful career in hospitality and event management and varied interests in social media content, food blogging, travel and marketing, had given her enough experience and financial security to start a new business on food photography.
“I am fortunate that my passions are all related to each other so I am able to pursue most of them. Being put on indefinite leave from my corporate travel job due to covid opened my mind to other possibilities,” says Karner, who’s in Ballina, Australia. Photography classes and food blogging workshops sharpened her skills and between2kitchens.com, the blog she runs with her chef husband, allowed her to follow her passion, leading to paid opportunities.
One of her first paying clients for food photography led to a long-standing relationship.
She now works with the same company on branding and marketing, among other things. “ I am glad I took the risk and when opportunity came knocking at my door, I opened it and took a leap of faith. There is not a day I miss my corporate job, because whatever I had to achieve in that career, I had already. This was something new, exciting, challenging and it truly gave me joy,” she says.
Profession or pastime?
Taking time to explore your talent and whether it is worth pursuing professionally or just as a hobby is a part of the process. Delhi-based branding consultant and copywriter Deeksha Jhalani, 31, is keenly interested in writing, which forms a big part of her work, and painting, a hobby.
“Finances and time constraints hold me back from considering painting as more than a pastime. I want to devote more time to practice it before I feel confident enough to put it out,” she says. “Currently, I would rather be involved in paid projects so that later there’s room to learn, make mistakes and just experiment with my canvases and brushes.”
Gurugram-based aspiring artist Rasika Narain, 43, honed her art skills during the pandemic, but is uncertain about pursuing it as a full-time job. “There are so many talented people out there. I enjoy the praise from family and friends on social media, but will that praise amount to money at a show?”
If pursued full-time, Narain is concerned about losing the retreat and peace her art provides. “I’m happy my former career in visual merchandising didn’t involve art because whenever I needed to find myself outside of work, I knew where to find peace,” she says. “If following your passion pays, then it can’t get better. But then where does your soul unwind at the end of the day?”
Once a passion becomes a profession, it can lose its lustre, simply because you are indulging in it every day. Like Narain says, it’s no longer the thing you go back to at the end of the day to relax. What’s more, the creative freedom you enjoy when pursuing an interest or a passion just for yourself is often redirected or curbed by client or market demands to focus on what is more lucrative.
Gurugram-based musician Abhishek Gogna, 27, performs live, accompanies ensembles, composes music and teaches piano and auxiliary musical skills. He is honest about it being a mixed journey so far. “Completing a composition and listening to it is extremely fulfilling. Performing live was fun initially, but wasn’t as exciting after I hit a ceiling skill-wise. I stepped back to focus on honing my skills,” he says. “Though I earn most of what I need from teaching, there are times I wish I didn’t have to earn to keep up with my expenses so that I can focus solely on my own music education.”
Compromises are a part of any scenario. “Save up before going in, so that you can cover costs to fuel your passion better than you can afford to right now,” suggests Jhalani. “Also, passions develop—so if something isn’t within reach right now, when you’re better equipped, there could be something else that catches your interest and intellect.”
For most, being able to do what they love professionally is a privilege, and one that is perhaps only possible after working elsewhere for enough time to provide a safety net.
Karner had several years of experience and savings under her belt and the support, financial and otherwise, of a spouse in a full-time job, allowing her to pursue food photography professionally.
“It’s also easier to take risks in your 40s because you are confident in yourself, have experience handling stress and working in different roles and don’t need constant validation like when you are just starting off,” says Karner.
Disappointment, struggle, burnout and criticism will likely be a part of the journey. “The romanticisation of ‘following one’s passions” detaches itself from reality. Apart from the hard work, which no one talks about, those following their interests often get lost catering to popular trends,” says Gogna. “Then, being in their chosen line of work but not receiving the fulfilment they hoped for is heartbreaking. It becomes another ‘9-5 job’ cliché, something to pay the bills but not much else. There should be more discussion focusing on the process as well as the result, because the process is what takes most of the time.”
There will be excitement, but also stress and tedium in anything pursued full-time. Fulfilment comes in various forms and for those who cannot pursue their interests professionally, this could translate to prioritizing a job that allows the flexibility, finances and time to explore and enjoy your passions unshackled by monetary concerns. It is often our interests outside of work that make us make more productive and thrive in our professional careers, and keeping these separate can be an enjoyable and fulfilling way of pursuing passion.