I first picked up a camera with the intention of making art, and not just preserving memories, when I was 14 or 15. I loved that it gave me a way to easily share my world view with others, and I enjoyed it. I entered a few photography contests in high school, but mostly just did it because I loved it. This joy of taking photos and documenting life continued into a gap year in the Czech Republic and the first year of college.
Towards the end of that first year, I got the idea of working for the college yearbook and newspaper as a photographer. I was photographing things that were still fun to me, and it was fun to have some extra money in my bank account each month. I had another job slinging coffee, and then working with kids, but photography became a bit of a “side hustle” for me. I liked it.
But after graduating in 2010, applying to jobs day after day after day, and finally, despite a college degree, I went back to slinging coffee (for a large green and white logoed company out of Seattle) because it was the job that paid the most, and where I could get hired. At the same time, my friends were getting engaged left and right, and a few asked me to take some photos of them. From their, the idea grew, and I started working as a second shooter at weddings and opened my business in 2012. It was a proper side hustle now, helping me pay my down my large pile of student loans.
A couple years later, that side hustle became my day job when I quit the last of my day jobs (I had two, because neither had full time hours). Photography became my day and night job. It took over my whole life. All my other hobbies were thrown out the window. I took on more and more work to build my portfolio, to build my brand. I planned and shot creative shoots when I wasn’t shooting paid work, all to have more content. I did shows to get my name out, and shot more to cover those costs. I took on more work to save up for a house. We bought a house. I worked and worked, and when I wasn’t working as a photographer, I was working with my husband to renovate our house.
We had a kid, and I cut back a bit, because we couldn’t afford childcare, even with me working full time. I worked during naptimes, tag teaming childcare with my husband (the first two summers after our daughter was born, I walked out the door as my husband came home 3-4 times a week for consults, meetings, or shoots). I was up until midnight or later most nights working. My days were full of parenting, my evenings were for photography, and my weekend were filled with weddings and working on our house. The little free time I filled with traveling or the little volunteer work I squeezed in. Sometimes I worked out. But hobbies? I didn’t have any. Photography was my hobby. Renovating our home was my hobby.
In 2020, when I cleared off my desk so my husband to work from home for a few weeks, I had a feeling this was the end of the business I built. First, I deep cleaned my house (because I needed to do something with my hands). Then, as the days dragged to weeks and months, as I saw the writing on the wall, I told my husband that this was the end of my photography business. I officially closed it at the end of 2020, because of our move to Germany.
Because somewhere in the past 13 years since that first time I was a paid photographer, my passion for photography, my “muse” had abandoned me. I was constantly struggling to stay focused, I was in a panic to keep booking, more and more, to make sure I was doing it. The pressure to pay my bills, to be a success story has killed it. The passion was gone, and I had let my hobby become my side hustle and then my day job and then a thing I despised.
I went six months without picking up a proper camera. The desire to create was completely gone. But, gradually, that desire has come back. My desire to make photographic art for me, to share it because I love it, is back. I’m not currently interested in shooting for others, but the itch to create it back. I’ve picked up a few old hobbies and I’m looking forward to trying out a few more when we’re allowed outside our homes again. We’ve moved, selling the house we loved. My new and old hobbies are all things I love, but – with the exception of one – I have no desire to make money off of.
The one exception? I’m working on a book. I’m writing a story that I want to write, and maybe someday, I’ll be able to sell that story and make some money. But I’m writing it for me, not for my bank account. If I stay up till the wee hours of the morning, it’s because my muse and I are on a roll. It’s for the passion, not for the dollars.
But all is not lost. In the fractured remnants of my business, I pulled the things I learned, the things I was good at, out. I pieced them together, and am in the process of opening a new business as a virtual assistant. It’s a job, not a side hustle. And my hobbies are things I do for fun. If I start making art again, I may choose to sell that art in some way (because my husband has made some valid points about the limited space on our walls), but I’m here to tell you that you can have fun at a hobby and not turn it into a way to make money.
You can play the piano because it makes you happy. You can paint because you want to learn to paint. You can practice yoga even if you never want to teach it. Hobbies are the way our brains relax, they’re things that bring us joy. And while you shouldn’t hate your job, you shouldn’t rely on your job to bring you joy and money. Find joy in living, and live that joy.