Career Strategy: When does your art become a hobby?

The movie Moneyball is solidly on my list of top ten baseball movies of all time (behind Field of Dreams, and The Natural, of course) One of my favorite quotes in the movie comes when a baseball scout talks to Billy Beane about the moment a baseball player is told to hang up their uniform. Here’s the clip from the movie, followed by the quote:

Scout: “We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t…we don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.”

Instead of the above quote referring to the game of baseball, what if it was referring to our careers as artists?

So often, we let others dictate our path instead of identifying the path we were meant to take ourselves. While sage wisdom from our mentors, family, and friends are necessary for us to see the bigger picture, the key here is that we are the only ones who can determine our path.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m an eternal optimist. I’m also a realist who loves to gather facts in order to face challenges head on. I know some of you are resistant to having the discussion about when your art should become a hobby, but starting the process of asking tough questions of yourself now may ultimately be the key to your happiness in the long run. In light of this, here are five indicators that the pursuit of your art may be a hobby:

  1. You’re not making enough money: The challenge artists face when carving out a career doing their art is that the work is time bound. An hour of our time equals an hour of pay.  This equation places a limit on how much money we can make, especially in a world that often devalues our work. Tip: Don’t forget to look at the amount you are spending and try to make cuts there before making your art a hobby. In addition, look at your finances and identify what you would like to be making in 3 years. If you can’t reasonably find a path to making that amount of money within 3 years, it might be time for a career change. 
  2. The gigs are not artistically satisfying:  Quite often in our world there is a hierarchy to the type of work we can secure as an artist. Gaining experience in the trenches is often an important stepping stone to more satisfying work, however, sometimes, artists can’t seem to move up the chain, which can be frustrating. Tip: Only you can define where you’d like to be within the established hierarchy and there is often a “grass is always greener” mentality with artists.  Again, look at a 3 year plan to securing more artistically satisfying gigs before you make the decision to career shift. 
  3. You don’t have time for your family: If you’re running around taking every gig that comes your way to make ends meet and you don’t have time for your family or to enjoy life, it might be an indicator that it’s time to find a different line of work. Tip: Look at your work/life balance over the past six months, if you find that you haven’t had time to spend with your family, it may be time to make a change. 
  4. You have other interests you’d like to explore: A lot of individuals I mentor realize about 5-10 years after graduation that, while they have this gift of being an incredibly talented artist, what they REALLY what to be doing is X. Tip: Listen to the voices pulling you in the direction of your interests outside your art. If you decide you want to make a move in your career, start to carve out a plan for transitioning into something new now.
  5. It’s not fun: Life is too short people, if you’re not absolutely loving what you do, look for something that makes you happy. Tip: Just because you are good at your art doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to make it your career, especially if the work isn’t fun. Take some time to explore the aspects of your life that make you happy and jot them down on a piece of paper. The goal is to identify some other potential areas of work that could be more enjoyable to you. 

The most important thing to remember here is that you control your future. If you’re note happy, start to ask why and work to make the changes that will give you a more satisfying life and career.

Thanks for reading. If you’re comfortable doing so, I’d love to hear about the moment you decided that your art was a hobby rather than your career in the comment section below.

(Photo Credit: Steven Key)

Published by Nate Zeisler

Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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