About a decade ago, Sara Perry noticed that some of the students taking yoga classes alongside her were starting to teach yoga, too. She considered the same path, since, as a graduate student with little money, the extra income was enticing. But as she watched others turning yoga into a mini-career, she noticed something odd. A surprising number of the new instructors burned out quickly, despite the fact they were combining a passion with making a living.
Studying industrial psychology, it seemed worthy of a deeper look, and she began to research what she and her colleagues came to call "hobby-jobs" – situations where people were pursuing a hobby for profit, whether yoga, scrapbooking, cooking, photography or flying. And she found a similar pattern of burnout. We are told to pursue our passions. But clearly, it was backfiring.
Her research explains why. Now a professor of management at Baylor University, she isolates five factors to keep in mind if you plan to turn your hobby into a job:
How different are aspects of the job? For example, some yoga instructors might teach the same positions day after day, which is not as energizing as mixing up the routines.
These are the obstacles that keep you from doing the job well, or easily.
Time spent on the hobby itself
Doing the hobby is usually restorative, something people enjoy. But what if a hobby-job ends up reducing the time available to reinvigorate yourself by immersing yourself in the hobby itself? Her research delves into the time people spent on the hobby before and after it turned into a job.
How similar are the hobby and the job? Somebody who enjoys scrapbooking and then opens a store may find their life caught up in ordering, stocking shelves, and dealing with customers rather than actually scrapbooking.
How well are you and the job's values aligned? Even yoga instructors might find themselves teaching in an organization with values that rankle.
She posted invitations to take part in a survey on 20 career online discussion forms for individuals 18 and over who had hobby-jobs, with 271 people completing it. The hobby-jobs covered five types of activities: Making goods to sell (36 per cent of sample), instructing others in the activity (9 per cent), providing professional services related to the activity (51 per cent), selling goods in a related area (3 per cent), and competing in the activity in a professional capacity (less than 1 per cent).
She found the less variety in the job – the more monotonous it was – the more people experienced burnout, or what she terms emotional exhaustion. The more constraints the individuals encountered at work, the greater the chances of burnout. People who spend less time on their hobby after beginning a hobby-job experience higher levels of burnout. Finally, the less similar the hobby-job is to the essence of the hobby itself, the greater the likelihood of burning out.
As well, she found that lack of variety in the job can lead to cynicism, a precursor to burnout. The less variety, the greater the chance the person will also feel ineffective in the job.
As for fit, she founds the less that a job's values reflect the person's needs, the greater the chances of burnout.
Her interest in personality led her to study the interplay of conscientiousness and emotional stability. Conscientious individuals tend to be model employees; they pay attention to details, are self-motivated and have strong organizational skills. She figured highly conscientious people would be less likely to become frustrated and burn out in their hobby-jobs.
In The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, she and her three colleagues write: "Individuals with low or average levels of conscientiousness were likely to experience increased exhaustion as they spent less time on the hobby. These results suggest that people lacking in focus, planning, rational problem-solving, and achievement orientation (i.e. conscientiousness) may still require the restorative function that the hobby offers, even after starting the hobby-job. In contrast, those high in conscientiousness may be able to stay ahead of the demands that the hobby-job presents, even without the restorative hobby activity."
In the interview, she speculated that disorganized people make less of the time they have to experience the rejuvenating aspects of the hobby. As for emotional stability, the greater the individual's abilities in that area, the less burnout, presumably because it helps them deal with stress.
Her studies convinced her she was wise not to explore making yoga a job. For her, yoga was restorative, a break from the pressure of her studies. "I wouldn't have been getting the restorative benefits if I turned it into a job," she said.
Even aspects of a non-hobby-job you like may not provide that energy boost. She enjoys writing, part of the academic routine. But writing for work is not the same tonic as writing in a journal. "All the research shows that we need restorative activities separate from our jobs – on our own terms, for our own intrinsic benefit," she says.
So follow your passion. But make sure you are able to retain the elements that excite you.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter