Credit: GG Illustrator AJ Duncan (@ajc.illustrates)

Commercialising your pastimes: facing the fantasy

By Emily Hay

As enchanting as the thought of earning some extra cash on the side may be, turning your hobby into a job may not be the fairytale you’ve been looking for.

Which TikTok sounds do you hear in your nightmares? Come on, I know you have at least one. One that plays over and over in your head when you close your eyes at night. One that, when you hear it start playing, you impulsively swipe up to get away from the video as fast as you can. Chances are that it didn’t start out that way. It was just another inane TikTok sound, until one day you’d sat through it too many times and something snapped. Now it’s like a UTI for your ears: surprisingly painful, and something you’ll do almost anything to avoid.

During our seemingly 20 year lockdown that sound for me became “small business check!”, or, even worse, “I-was-furloughed/fired-from-my-job-so-I-took-up-X-Y-and-Z-hobby-and-turned-it-into-a-business-check”.

It started out as one of my most-watched genres of TikTok. I’ve always been kind of addicted to crafts (the more old-ladyish, the better) and lockdown only exacerbated this, but it pretty quickly turned sour for me. Since I took up a frankly alarming amount of crafts with a decent amount of ferocity a few years back, I’ve had countless people, from friends to family members, my partner and even my boss, comment that I should make things to sell them rather than just for me. And I have to admit that after refuting that suggestion time after time it now strikes a raw nerve with me. The answer? Quite honestly, I just don’t want to.

When you’re a teenager, almost everything that you think you might want to do with your life starts out as a hobby. Want to study English Lit at uni? Reading is your hobby. Want to become a photographer? Taking pictures is your hobby. Want to become a writer of any description? Making a blog or writing in your spare time is your hobby. Due to the competitive nature of university admissions and job openings, if you want a chance at something becoming a future career it feels like you have to make that thing your life as a teenager or a young adult. But the problem is, once that thing becomes something you have to do, you end up needing to take up new activities to allow you to de-stress from it – to give you the same sense of serenity you once gleaned from the activity itself. This is exactly the trajectory I followed. Once upon a time reading was my life, and then I started a literature degree and reviewing books for a magazine, so I needed something else to take up my spare time that didn’t feel like work. I used to write because I loved putting words to paper, and then I took on responsibilities with various publications and suddenly I needed something else to do in my free time that was purely for me. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle. If you let something that you love become a potential career or source of income, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you love it any less, but it does bring with it a whole host of stresses that you didn’t have when it was just for fun.

When my life fills up with deadlines and my stress-levels skyrocket, I find escapism in the form of reading or watching TV difficult because I just can’t silence the thoughts in my head. But what I found did help me more than anything else was doing something with my hands, which is why I so aggressively took up knitting, crocheting and now, weaving, during my uni years. Working with my hands forces me to concentrate and pushes out all those anxiety-riddled thoughts so that I can actively relax. I can’t think of anything worse than looking down at that yarn in hand and seeing yet another deadline or piss-poor profit margin to just add to the noise in my brain that I’m trying so hard to escape from. I’ve been there and done that, with last-minute gift making at Christmas, and it put me off picking the knitting needles up again for my own projects for months after.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising those people who want to turn hobbies into businesses or future career paths – after all, isn’t that what I’m actively doing with reading and writing? Especially for people who have been forced to earn money any way they can due to a lack of work and an even bigger lack of government support for being out of work. If you’ve fallen victim to the cogs of the capitalist machine in the past, I can see why you’d want to take matters into your own hands and become your own boss. 

But what I do take issue with is a society which is obsessed with the idea of everyone having a side-hustle to earn extra money, when that society itself isn’t providing them with enough financial security. One which has drilled into people that all of our time – even our downtime – has to be monetised, and if it’s not then we’re failing in our potential as participating members of society. One which has created a culture where if art isn’t made for profit, then it’s inherently less valuable than that which is.

Thanks, but no thanks. I think I’ll keep my free time just that – free.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments