Lately, it seems, Americans aren't in love with their current employment situation. About a third of U.S. workers have recently considered leaving their jobs, and millions are actually doing so every month. In what's been billed as the Great Resignation, 3.9 million called it quits in June, down just slightly from the record 4 million who left their jobs in April.
If you're one of millions Americans rethinking their relationship with their work, you could be coming back to that advice you got when you were 18 or 22: "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life." And you might be thinking now is the time to turn that side hustle you picked up or that hobby you've honed during pandemic downtime into a career.
Before you try to turn your passion into your full-time job, make sure you're being realistic about what the transition will actually entail, says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs. "The notion of a 'dream job' or turning a hobby you love into a job you'll love all the time is impossible," she says. "It's definitely possible to turn a hobby or a passion into a job, but it's important for the success and longevity of your work that you understand the positives and negatives."
So, she adds, "coming into the situation with a realistic mindset is important."
The internet is replete with stories of people who left their corporate jobs in the past year to blog or bake bread or teach yoga full time. And compared with the beige mundanity of your corporate gig, a life of doing the thing you usually do when you're off the clock can look like a much greener pasture.
But when the thing you love becomes your main source of income, your relationship with your favorite hobby can rapidly change, says Renata Dionello, chief people officer at ZipRecruiter. "Now you likely have to do things for commercial reasons, which may feel like you're selling out or not being true to your art," she says.
"You might have to work when you're uninspired or don't want to work, and now that thing is no longer fun. Now you've lost this special thing in your life that brought you joy, and it feels like work."
You're likely going to have to find a balance between the thing you love to do and all of the "work stuff" that comes with turning it into a business, says Reynolds. "There's always going to be good parts and bad parts, even if you think it's your calling," she says. "Business-related work like handling taxes, billing clients, and administrative work — all of that is going to increase exponentially the more success you have on the other side of the business."
Video by Helen Zhao
Job seekers focused on doing what they love are failing to take important factors into account, says Dionello: "Following that advice ignores the reality that some jobs are better than others in terms of the number of people who want them, how people are compensated, and how stable they are."
To find a calling, Dionello recommends following the Japanese concept of ikigai, which roughly translates to "a reason for being." Under this principle, job seekers weigh any potential gig on four criteria: work you love, work you're best at, work that can be lucrative for you, and work that delivers what the world needs most from you.
"Often, when people work for love, they're only thinking of the first two and ignoring the other two important factors," she says. "It's important to at least study what the long-term financial outlook for any career choice is. The other dimension, which is rarely talked about, makes it more sustainable and easier to stay in a career which revolves around a hobby if you feel a sense of purpose and a mission."
In other words, having a sense that your work is bettering the world makes the problems of combining a pleasurable activity with the at-times unpleasant realities of working easier to handle, she says.
It may also bring you comfort to know that there's no need to find a career that checks every box for you right away, says Reynolds. "We fall in and out of love all the time, and the problem is, you still have to do the work after you fall out of love with it," she says. "It's a lot more helpful to search for work that you're curious about and that you think you'll continue to be curious about."
By reframing your search for career fulfillment this way, you can take a lot of pressure off yourself to find your one and only calling, she adds. "That way, we don't have this pressure on any one thing to be our dream job," she says. "It allows us to less stressfully move on to something else we're curious about. You can say, 'I was curious about this thing, and now I'm curious about that thing.' You'll have lots of dreams and lots of jobs."
Video by Courtney Stith
If you're curious about a particular passion project right now, try it on for size before buying in, says Dionello. Start a smaller, "prototype" version of your passion project, and see how it makes you feel. Meanwhile, she suggests, hear from people who have pursued similar career trajectories.
"Talk with people in different stages — two, 10, and 20 years in," she says. "Talk with not only successful people, but people with middle-of-the-road outcomes. Ask them what's driving success in the field you're interested in."
Once you've gathered enough intel, you can take the plunge or not. "The most important thing is not feeling like you're stuck or having to do one thing," she says. "If you prototype, try something, and it doesn't work, you have plenty of time to try new things."
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