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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

6 Reasons to Keep Your Hobby a Hobby (and Not Make Your Hobby a Business)

Written By: Carol Roth | 24 Comments
There’s a reason your hobby is fun (hint: it’s not work)

I am a little bit tired (and by a little bit, I actually mean really tired) of hearing about how you should create a business from your greatest passion in life.  Well, you can really screw up your passion for something by having to earn a living from it.  So, here’s the other side of the coin- six key reasons why you may just want to keep your hobby a hobby.

Hobbies are all about you!

Having a hobby is a total self-indulgence.  It is something that you can do that is mostly- if not entirely-you-centric.  While you may think you can have a business that is all about you, you would be wrong.  A business is about your customers.  In your business, you only get a say if it jives with your customers’ wants-otherwise, they don’t buy from you!

You may kill the magic

Do you remember when Dorothy and the gang peered behind the curtain to find out the Wizard of Oz was kind of a douche bag?  Or when you found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real?  Or when you figured out that your parents weren’t superheroes, just people with flaws?  It sucked, right?  Our hobbies are about escapism.  There is a bit of magic and fantasy in them.  When you make that your business, you are privy to the nuts and bolts.  That kills the magic.

We need downtime

We weren’t designed to always be “on”.  We need time to recombobulate and relax.  And if you are earning a living in from your hobby, then WTF are you going to do in your free time?

There’s a good reason a hobby or passion is not called “work”

By name, work is work and fun is fun.  Sometimes, work can be fun, but it’s not called that for a reason.  Can your hobby take that?  Once you depend on something to earn a living, to put food on your family’s table and to pay your mortgage, it changes your relationship with it, introducing emotions like stress.  Do you want to do that to your passion?

Passion doesn’t guarantee success

There’s no relationship between loving something and being good at running a business related to doing that something.  A passion for cooking lasagna doesn’t automatically qualify you to run an Italian restaurant or start a food company (neither does a passion for eating lasagna, for that matter).

You’ll do less of what you love

Your job when you run a business is to run a business.  Ask how many hours the photographer spends shooting photos, the foodie spends baking and the wedding planner spends picking out linens and flowers vs. doing a bunch of crappy administrative tasks.  It’s a bit out of balance.  Just because you love doing your hobby, you don’t get to do that particular facet of it 100% of the time when it becomes your business.

At the end of the day, while you absolutely need to be passionate about making your business a success, but you don’t need to make a business from your greatest passion in life.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Article written by
Carol Roth is a national media personality, ‘recovering’ investment banker, investor, speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett (Shark Tank, The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) produced technology competition series, America's Greatest Makers, airing on TBS and Host of Microsoft's Office Small Business Academy show. Previously, Carol was the host and co-producer of The Noon Show, a current events talk show on WGN Radio, one of the top stations in the country, and a contributor to CNBC, as well as a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and other stations. Carol's multimedia commentary covers business and the economy, current events, politics and pop culture topics. Carol has helped her clients complete more than $2 billion in capital raising and M&A transactions. She is a Top 100 Small Business Influencer (2011-2015) and has her own action figure. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth
  • Carol,

    I know you know this – but you absolutely get it. I have folks reaching out to me all the time about changing careers and getting into sports because they love it. Just because you are a fan of a team, doesn’t mean you understand the business of sports. Enjoy your passion have fun with it. I love Ice cream, but I would never work in an Ice cream shop – because I know after a while the sweet smell would get overbearing and I would get sick of it and never want to eat it again.

    I am happy you wrote this, because folks continually miss the point in this area and when it comes to sports – well the seem to lose all sense of judgement. I will retweet this multiple times, because you are singing my song.

    Keep putting the real in reality.

    My best,
    Lou

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  • Great advice!

  • Carol,

    And here I am trying to have a nice productive Monday morning and you want to raise all this controversy over here. Now you’re actually making me think… because I disagree wholeheartedly, but also see your point. This one is a toughie.

    Where you got it right:

    1. Hobbies are all about you (self indulgence), and business is all about the customer.
    2. Killing the magic, not being able to escape.
    3. No Downtime.
    4. Passion doesn’t guarantee success.
    5. You’ll do less of what you love.

    And my arguments: (lol)
    1. True, but some of the most successful people dedicated their lives to doing something better, and that something was their hobby. (ie. pro football, baseball, etc… Edison, Tesla, and so on…
    2. If you love what you do for the cheddar enough, why do you need to escape?
    3. No downtime. Disagree, you just spend it doing other stuff, like your family and friends.
    4. Passion does not “guarantee” success. But, the more passion someone has about their business, the better their chances at success.
    5. You’ll do less of what you love? Not if you do things properly. If you open a restaurant because you love making lasagna and everyone loves your lasagna, you can hire the right people to do the other work that you hate, and focus on doing what makes your business shine, making the lasagna. Or you could just get a job making lasagna. lol

    In the end, you have a valid point. But, it would be even more valid for someone that was not entrepreneurial minded. I think people need to refocus on doing what they love, whether its in running a business or the job they have. Pro sports players don’t work, they aren’t called employees. They are players, and they practice all week, and play at game time. It’s not work time, it’s game time. All low paying jobs are called work, funny how most of the highest paying jobs aren’t.

    I guess it’s really all about semantics. You’re right, if you know nothing about running a business, you have no business doing it. Get a job and let someone else do all of the “work” making the business “work”. Starting a business just because it’s a hobby and you love doing it, is stupid. It’s like every time I go on vacation, I always think I should move here. Of course moving there would make it suck eventually and would rule it out as a future vacation spot. I get it.

    There’s my 2 cents anyways. Guess I would have to disagree with you at some point Carol. lol

    Okay, I’m ready for my bashing!

  • @Andrew

    Yay, controversy! (lol)

    Ok, first I will content that there is no right or wrong answer (onyl what’s right or wrong for you), but I do believe that a life passion is a wrong place to seek business.

    As for your points:

    1- other than Telsa, none of those folks had businesses. I am sure that the business aspect was a bit of a shock to Telsa too…

    2 and 3- no matter how much you love something, your brain needs a rest from time to time. Plus, you risk changing the relationship when you have to earn a living from it

    4-Totally agreed that you need passion, but I content that you should be passionate about the opportunity instead of finding opportunity from your passion to make a successful business

    5-Totally disagree here. If you love to make lasagna, your job is to still run a business. You can hire everyone else in the world, but you are still responsible for them. And as nice as it sounds, most people who love doing something don’t get to continue to do just that.

    I think we are not really that far apart- you were just in a feisty mood. LOL!!

    C

  • @Lou

    Thanks Lou. I contend that if passion = best opportunity then Imelda Marcos should be running Zappos instead of Tony Hsieh. 🙂

    Carol

  • @Carol

    True, we aren’t that far apart.

    And no, I’m not particularly feisty today. But, today’s internet culture has changed so much about business and what makes one work and what doesn’t. While in a traditional business sense you would be totally right, we aren’t in a traditional business environment.

    For example; Mark Zuckerberg, while surely he has a few new hobbies now that he’s a kagillionaire, prior to that his hobby was computer programming. He has made several websites, most all of which never went anywhere. Facebook did, that is the culture of today’s aspiring entrepreneur.

    Today people don’t just sit and watch TV to mindlessly waste their life away like in the 80’s and 90’s. Today people are hacking life work balance. And while some entrepreneurial pioneers made great examples of turning their passions into successful businesses (Shari Fitzpatrick “Shari’s Berries”, Debbi Fields “Mrs. Fields”, ), those stories are commonplace now.

    Yeah, I get what you’re saying and agree with why you wrote the post. I am with you, everyone should not try and turn their bouncy ball collection hobby into a business. At the same time, those that can’t fight off the burning desire to create should look within to their passions (not necessarily hobbies) for inspiration.

  • Carol, after reading this post you left me with many compelling thoughts. Since I haven’t been here in a while I felt it best just to keep it short and simple.

    “Walt Disney”

  • @Andrew:

    While you may find an opportunity (and likely) from things you are passionate about, I don’t think it’s the best starting place to create a business.

    And of course, while there are exceptions to every rule, the exceptions don’t make for a good strategy. It is possible to win the lottery, but you still shouldn’t invest all of your money in lottery tickets.

    It may work for some, but it is important to understand the other side of the coin.

    I disagree that the Internet has changed people mindlessly wasting their lives away. They are even more distracted now and just do it online instead! There are also 28 million small businesses in this country (almost 22 million of which are “solo” enterprises) with 6 million new ones being started each year and a 90 percent failure rate. That is not going to change if the mindset doesn’t change and if aspiring entrepreneurs go in to business with the wrong expectations.

    Zuckerberg created a project that became a business once an opportunity presented itself. The story is obviously now at legend-proportions, but he did it and it became an opportunity….totally different.

    I think people will naturally look for opportunities in areas of interest, which is good, but starting from a hobby sets a dangerous course…

  • @Steve

    Exceptions are not the rule. And the landscape has changed a LOT since then….

  • Okay, that we can totally agree on. lol

    Passions can become a business when an opportunity presents itself, but should not be the place to look to go running off half cocked from your job you hate.

    Of course, that 90% failure rate I believe is more to do with laziness than it is to do with inabilities and bad luck. People are always looking for the magic pill to make their lives better (their version of better) and I agree that people need to change their mindset and expectations.

    And I do think it’s great that you give solid advice without telling people what they want to hear, you tell them what they need to hear.

    P.S. A good portion of those small businesses are MLMers, and that is hardly starting your own business. People should understand that. lol

    Thanks Carol!

  • Have to jump in here and add my 2 cents…
    I agree with you – in part 🙂
    Every hobby or passion does not = the ultimate business venture.

    As someone who works w/a lot of folks in creating or refining their business, I spend a lot of time talking about this. The reason that I do is because I spent nearly 20 years in a business that was not fulfilling (because it was easier to stay where the money was that to change it). My mantra is to ‘live your purpose, share your passion’.

    [Hopefully] there are a lot of things that people may be passionate about, each and every one isn’t the ‘golden ticket’. My belief is that you have to look at a combination of things.

    1. What’s behind the goal.
    We all want to make money. Knowing what the fundamental ‘whys’ are for you (beyond eating & having a place to live) is very insightful. Is it because you want to travel? Want more time to ___, etc. This comes first, because no matter what you are doing, this can be very motivating – being crystal clear on your “why”

    2. Being clear in what the passion truly is.
    What’s the why behind the hobby or task. Why you are passionate about it, is also important. Maybe you love to make pies because you love to create things, and you have memories associated with homemade pies that made you feel a certain way. You may also love to create other things too – why? When I give people (as I did myself) this exercise of listing what they are passionate about, there are always a variety of things, which brings me to #3.

    3. What are you good at? What are your skills and talents? You may love to paint, but aren’t very good at it. Cross reference your skills with your passions and goals. This is KEY! This is where some land in the ‘stay in hobby category, and others may move to biz opportunities’.

    4. The linchpin is to then look at your possibilities and see which ones line up with your goals, and the life you want to live! This is where things get drilled down – a lot! You may love to teach, and be really good at it, but you know that you would be miserable in a classroom all day every day. NOW you look for other ways/places to teach. Most people don’t think this far. They see only what they’ve always thought ‘teaching’ meant. There are lots of ways to teach: tutoring, Corporate training, etc. Recognizing which ones line up AND could be viable businesses is the final filtering process. The others stay hobbies.

    5. Ultimately recognizing that you want a business that utilizes your talents, will allow you to reach your goals AND be FUELED by your passion is ‘the ticket’ IMHO. As Michael Gerber points out brilliantly in the E-Myth (just as you do here), being a great pie maker doesn’t make you a brilliant business person. However, you can find the talent that you need to fill in the gaps. Steven Spielberg isn’t a brilliant Director, Producer, Special Effects Tech, Grip and and and…He recognized his passion, his talents AND hired out his weaknesses.

    Alignment is the final key. Just because you love to fish, doesn’t mean you should be a fisherman, and just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean it is what you should do, or that you have to do it ‘one way’. As you point out, work is often work. When you are passionate about that work however, you will be more inspired to do it, much better at it, and happier while you are doing it 🙂

  • @HeatherO

    Excellent points and totally agreed. I further agree, if an opportunity intersects where you are the best person to deliver on that opportunity, that is where business magic happens. It of course requires passion, but it may not be wise to be the starting point.

    Carol

  • Rosanna

    Carol,

    it all depends on how good a person is at his/her hobby. There are “artsy” people who think they are great at it but in fact are not. THAT is why they fail. There also are scientists who think they are, for example, great at genetics while in fact they would be better at neuroscience.

    Similarly, there are people who know the business side of something but it’s the lack of passion that make them lose clients or not get enough.

    So what do I think?

    I think that nobody should start a business unless they have:
    1. passion about that field
    2. talent in that field
    3. talent in the business side

    As a matter of fact though, the biggest hindrance is the lack of insight about one own’s skills and limitations (see opening paragraph). Whoever thinks s/he can be anything they put their mind at (or anything there is market for) is doomed to fail. Also, whoever thinks that the business mindset can be delegated is doomed to fail.

    As always in life, the keyword is balancing opposites into harmonious outcomes.

  • i am one of those people who has turned my hobby into a business. i started out with a passion for photos and designing creative things with them, that lead me on a journey to learning about photography and photo editing, and now has me on a journey to learning about starting a little business and making it a success. so far all of these new interests, new passions, have kept me busy and excited and fulfilled. but sometimes i miss the days of working on photos just for me. and i wonder if the day will come when i slow down and miss my hobby. or maybe this journey will just keep taking me down new roads, leading me to new passions.

  • @Rosanna
    Very eloquently said. Thanks for your contribution!!

    Carol

  • @Karen:

    I think the challenge for you (should you choose to accept it- lol) is to figure out if you want a job or a real business. If you are running a true business, you will probably spend less time doing photography- if it is a job, you don’t have all of the upside benefits of creating a business with equity value. It is a continued conundrum…

    Keep us posted!

    Carol

  • Michelle Dale

    Interesting read. I built a business from something I love to do in order to pursue my greatest passion, which was travelling, so I developed a business that would allow me to travel, but the business itself has nothing to do with travel lol. The combination of doing something you love in order to live your dream or passion has been phenomenal for me, and has pushed me more.

    I can see both perpectives here, and I am sitting on the fence. One thing I do know, is that if you try and pursue something you don’t love to do, it’s too easy to give up, fail, get bored or worse, feel empty and not fulfilled with life.

  • RickPuaPila

    I have had to sacrifice a lot of hobbies just because fibromyalgia so oftentimes is all about survival. However, losing hobbies also means a loss of self. I think that most hobbies can be modified. For instance, I used to play violin before I got sick. However, I was too tired to go to lessons or play in an orchestra. Plus, my fingers wouldn’t move that way anymore.
     
    http://www.addvalue.com.au

  • RickPuaPila

    I wish that I would’ve transferred to a different instrument. I was looking at the music123 site today. I like that it solves multiple problems especially with the Learn to Play music tools. The instruments often come in packages including a case but also with manuals. My favorite part of the site was the Cash Out section. Trade-in options are also available which I hadn’t heard about now but it would work well in my situation. This means that I may be able to trade the gear that I can’t play anymore into something that I can actually play. Have you either lost or revived any hobbies since you got sick?
     
    http://www.addvalue.com.au

  • danny4572

    I totally disagree with this article… if ur good at ur hobby u should try to make a living out of it… u are more likely to make more money and have a better life at doing something u love as a job… of course its not a gurante tha u will make anything out of something u love doing but its much better to try than pending the rest of ur life regretting not doing it… and also just because u do ur hobby as ur job it doesnt mean u still cant do it for u without getting paid… like say if someone became a dancer they could still do it in their spare time… or say a music producer could still create music in their spare time… especially since the music the producer is getting paid to make will be styled towards the artist and not themselves… its always best to do what u love for a living and u will have much more of a chance at making the most out of it than at a job u hate…  btw sorry about the short type im on my phone

  • danny4572

    I totally disagree with this article… if ur good at ur hobby u should try to make a living out of it… u are more likely to make more money and have a better life at doing something u love as a job… of course its not a guarantee that u will make anything out of something u love doing but its much better to try than pending the rest of ur life regretting not doing it… and also just because u do ur hobby as ur job it doesnt mean u still cant do it for u without getting paid… like say if someone became a dancer they could still do it in their spare time… or say a music producer could still create music in their spare time… especially since the music the producer is getting paid to make will be styled towards the artist and not themselves… its always best to do what u love for a living and u will have much more of a chance at making the most out of it than at a job u hate…  btw sorry about the short type im on my phone

  • danny4572

    I totally disagree with this article… if ur good at something and have a passion for doing it u really should try to make a living out of it… u are more likely to make more money and have a better life at doing something u love as a job… of course its not a guarantee that u will make anything out of something u love doing but its much better to try than spending the rest of ur life regretting not doing it… and also just because u do ur hobby as ur job it doesn’t mean u still cant do it for u without getting paid… like say if someone became a dancer they could still do it in their spare time… or say a music producer could still create music in their spare time… especially since the music the producer is getting paid to make will be styled towards the artist and not themselves… its always best to do what u love for a living and u will have much more of a chance at making the most out of it than at a job u hate…  btw sorry about the short type im on my phone

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