From Hobbyist to Professional
To choose or not to choose a career in the creative field
Choosing a career path can be one of the most challenging decisions of a person’s life, and it’s one that can change along the way. There are many factors to consider including income, interests, passions, skills, and education. Interest and passion tend to have a lot of importance in this choice, considering a person’s career will stick with them for most of their lives.
According to recent research on career changes and work, the average person spends almost 100 000 hours of their lives at work. That’s just shy of 11.5 straight years at work. It’s a lot of time to spend doing something unpleasant, which can damage workers' and students’ mental health. In fact, in a 2014 Dutch study on 17-24-year-olds struggling with psychological problems, a successful intervention with a career choice counselor helped significantly decrease said problems.
One way to avoid getting stuck in an unfitting career choice (and by extension, the field of study), is by turning a creative skill that’s already enjoyable, aka a hobby or passion, into a career. Though not all hobbies can be successfully monetized, many can, and making this choice comes with its own list of pros and cons.
The most commonly discussed con is potential income. The stereotype of the starving artist may not be completely true, but it’s a constant possibility for career artists. Indeed, many jobs in the creative field tend to take the form of freelancing and short-term or seasonal contracts. This can lead to lower job security and unstable income, which is an important factor to consider, though its weight will vary by individual.
Another con is the fear of that hobby turning into just another dreadful task, especially considering it’d be going from relaxing and enjoyable to doing it under pressure and with a paycheck or grade on the line. For some people, the added stress to something that could be enjoyable just isn’t worth it. This is the case for Hiyam, a visual artist who decided to pursue social sciences at Dawson instead of photography or illustration, which are simply hobbies for her. “I don’t like being told what to do, I hate deadlines, I can’t see myself drawing for someone else, drawing is just for my pleasure” she says.
Despite these cons, many artists have made a choice to pursue a creative career. Miyuka, an illustration student at Dawson explained her choice by saying: “Of course money is really important for like… living. But, if you don’t feel anything from doing your job, then it’s just gonna be sad for the rest of your life. At least when you turn your passion into a job you can even enjoy the little things.” One of her classmates, Robin, who had dropped out of illustration several years ago and went on to graduate from McGill with a degree in social sciences only to come back to illustration, added: “No matter what you do you’re gonna suffer, so might as well do something you enjoy.”
This sentiment is echoed by Adam Savage, former co-host of the TV show MythBusters, on a YouTube video where he talks about work and fun. “Work is boring. Ninety percent of what you will do for a living is a crushing slog.” He shrugs and goes on to highlight the enjoyable side of freelancing. For him, and many less famous freelancers, it’s worth it despite the cons.
For some artists, viewing art through a professional lens actually brought about positive changes in their relationship with their craft. Such is the case for Neal Armstong, a former student and now professor in Dawson’s Illustration program. As someone who went from painting for fun and studying graphic design before choosing illustration, Neal says: “Once I was introduced to illustration, once I started getting into it, I really got obsessed with it. […] The big change for me was coming to school and being introduced to a system of techniques and knowledge that would prepare me to make money as an artist in the industry. So without going to school, I would be completely lost, and there’s no way I would ever become an artist.”
At the end of the day, everyone will have a different priority for their career choice, and there’s no shame in changing it. This is just one path to an enjoyable career, and it may not be for everyone. But with the necessary knowledge and skill set, it can kickstart a life without regrets.
Zippia. "21 Crucial Career Change Statistics : How Often Do People Change Jobs?" Zippia.com. Sep. 15, 2022.
Kunnen ES. The effect of a career choice guidance on self-reported psychological problems. Front Psychol. 2014 Jun 4.
Ailluri94. "Job Security in the Creative Industry ." Film and Digital Media A Multi-Author Discussion of the Creative Industries in the Digital Age, WordPress.com, 7 Sept. 2015.
Savage, Adam. “Ask Adam Savage: On Turning a Hobby Into a (Still Enjoyable) Business”. YouTube, Adam Savage’s Tested, 2021.