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Real Jobs vs. Hobby Jobs...why do they feel so much better?


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I have been thinking a lot about how we make money in this world. I have a good job, working for the university, it is in some ways my "dream job", secure, engaging, flexible, intellectual, challenging...But I still crave MAKING things. I have always enjoyed producing things with my hands. sometimes it feels like I was born too late, or something, because we outsource production jobs these days, and if I had been born earlier I would have ended up a housewife anyway...But still.

Some time this next year we are buying a place. I keep telling myself to wait to buy any more tanks. It is sooo hard though, some of my tanks are producing things people actually want! And somehow, despite the fact that I have a REAL JOB now, with benefits and a big girl salary, those little trickles of money feel so much better. I keep pointing out places with basements...

There is something about producing a thing with my own hands, be it a shirt, a plant, a loaf of bread, or a fish, that makes me feel much better about whatever meager income it nets me. It isn't really practical yet. But I think one day, before I retire, it actually likely will be. The trouble is it will never replace the kind of money and benefits I currently enjoy--and I am far from wealthy.

This pandemic has made me question what I am doing here in this world a lot. Much mulling over of life decisions. Mostly I am satisfied with my choices, but I do miss the pride I once got from selling things I directly produced.

What has it made you question?

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Hahah, I feel you! I grew up in my mom's yarn store. Designing patterns and knitting them are what I "do," but doing it professionally for a company had me burnt out and unwell, feeling so trapped and stressed that I was actively contemplating suicide. Producing on demand, whether you want to or not, I felt like a dog in a puppy mill, disconnected from my work, my identity, and my major source of joy in life.

I've since gotten lots of therapy, which involved a lot of work cultivating other hobbies, unrelated to what I do for work. I have a huge entrepreneurial streak and I'm always thinking of angles, ways to turn 1 dollar into 10 into 100, and while I could see the path to making money designing patterns for a living all on my own, I knew that it would be hard, hard work doing a lot of stuff I don't enjoy (like working the convention circuit, teaching, promoting a book, pitching concepts, endlessly posting pictures on instagram, maintaining a perfect-looking, aspirational lifestyle). It was also making me miserable and increasing the trapped feeling.

So, fish keeping, along with all the other hobbies I started, like gardening, painting, taking voice lessons, hiking, and traveling, got me to appreciate the joy of the non-monetized hobby. No pressure to do anything you don't want to do or to cut corners that compromise your values. No anxiety about how you're going to pay rent if an experiment fails. 

Now, to find a way to give away all these endlers! 😄

Edited by Kirsten
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This unfortunately happens to most. One would think I have a dream job. The reality is it's tons of work. Today I was in a meeting from 11am till 3:30pm. Going over out of stock products, versions of products we want to launch. Feedback on products etc. Then I start working on videos. An unboxing, we've done over 80 of these now. And the 800 gallon move. This follows up drafts I watched earlier in the week. Then a meeting yesterday about the 800g video with Jimmy that lasted 3 hours.

The point being all this actual work isn't fun. It makes money, pays the bills etc. Even most of the stuff done in the fish room is work. However breeding fish, giving them away, selling em etc, doesn't matter. I enjoy that. Traveling to other countries to look at fish I enjoy that as well. Both of these things could be done regardless of my career.

I believe with wisdom, people find that getting the enjoyment out of something is worth more than money. Money can always  buy enjoyment, it can put you in situations to have enjoyment, but it's individual for each person. $5,000 to puke in the forest trying to find fish is a lot of enjoyment for me. For my wife, it's the opposite. However, I believe the enjoyment would fade if I monetized the trip, which has been offered to me many times. The company can charge more if you get to adventure with "aquarium co-op" however I want it to remain an enjoyment thing for me and not have to be playing hostess, and be at work. Instead I want to be on vacation. Filming already intrudes on that, but is manageable.

I get fulfillment out of the work I do. Rarely is the "work" enjoyable. However the end result puts me in enjoyable situations and that is the driving force.

The advice I'd give, if I was speaking to people who wanted to listen to me about finances. Would be work the job in which you can get the most financial reward for time that is within your morals. Meaning if you can make $10 an hour breeding fish, or $50 an hour doing a job that is tolerable. I would find a way to work say 25-30 hours at that $50 an hour job, and do my passion projects with my other free time. Which may be breeding fish.

That is the balance I work towards every day. Build my business so that it is minimal time investment to support the life I want to live with my wife. A big part of that will be keeping fish, camping, gardening, ping pong and more.

I personally made a choice to give up my 30s essentially and work every hour I possibly could. At age 37 I can safely say I have done that so far. Even now, it's closing in on 11pm, after the meeting today and proofing of videos, and I check in on the forum to see where I can participate to ensure it's continued success. I definitely am jealous of those who have weekends off, or leave work at 5pm, but I know at some point I'll be able to work fewer than 40 hours per week to support my wife, myself and our 3 pups.


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I've had 16 jobs.I guess though I had ideas I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, my chosen profession didn't afford me a living so I had to find another option. I am now in a career that I've had since 2009- and in that career I've moved to the same capacity in a different place. I'm not doing anything related to my college degree. There are things I would have done differently had I a second chance but nothing that I hold regrets for. One thing in one of my many jobs I worked my boss shared an office with an old Colonel, I will never ever forget what he said,


While some jobs can be rewarding, fulfilling, thrilling, satisfying, or whatever- it's really what we do outside of work that matters most, the people we love and care about, our friends, family, and the things we are able to experience. I have had more meaningful experiences contemplating my navel at home than being at work- and trust me, I have an interesting job- that makes me decent money- but it's hard, and it's stressful a lot of the times. I fight tooth and nail for every bit of time I can get away from work, and will keep doing that. 

Edited by xXInkedPhoenixX
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Your post really hit spot on for me.  Very similar for me, and I ended up in a situation that I needed to re-evaluate my career and where I wanted to go.  I'm still in transition, and actually have a few weeks off before I start a new role.  I had multiple options, same money, same thing, less money, something new (and maybe more "fun").

While I'd love to find a way to make money with fishkeeping, Reality is unless your like @Cory, its far from likely, and I have no doubt he has put in a crap ton of time and sacrifice to get to where he is.  Read his post carefully, there's a lot of time that it's not fun for him.  Shoot, I'm trying to sell some angelfish right now, and I'm turning people away and having to work with them about the right setups, this isn't fun to me.  Breeding the fish is.  Enjoying them/etc.

So my decision was to take the less money, something new and exciting, but still make enough money and have more time to support my family and hobby.  It has a better work/life balance, and that was what was most important to me.  But I still get to do something I love, I get to learn something new, and kind of work with my "hands" more in the field I'm in.  I'm in IT, so working with my hands is "virtual" but to see tangible results is what I will get to do.

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From what I’ve experienced and seen, the happiest people are people who find their work meaningful AND have a sustainable work-life balance. My first job was being a high school teacher. I found that job super meaningful, but it consumed my entire life and totally burnt me out. It pushed me to a breaking point. Thankfully I started therapy (therapy is amazing) and through that, realized I had the power to quit! Everyone was saying “give it another year” but I didn’t, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made for my health.

Like you @Brandy, I find something really satisfying about making physical things with my hands. There’s something about seeing and feeling the tangible progress that’s very rewarding. When I quit my teaching job I became a lab tech in an entomology lab. I loved bench work! Every day I was making something. And best of all, I never brought any work home. Work stayed at work.

The other thing that makes a huge difference is the people you work with. If you have good coworkers it’s energizing, but if you have bad coworkers it poisons everything, at work and and after.

To answer the title question, I think the reality is that internal motivation—doing something because you want to—is always stronger than external motivation—doing something for a reward, like money. What complicates things is that adding an external motivation will damp or even replace any pre-existing internal motivation. So if you want to tend the vegetable garden because you enjoy gardening, and then your dad says “I’ll give you $10 a day to tend the garden this week,” those motivations don’t stack. The external motivation actually lessens the internal one, and you can end up with less motivation than before. This is a known fact in the education world, something that’s been the subject of many studies.

I’m not saying that we should (or even that we should want to!) do our jobs for free. We do our jobs to make money, and being underpaid is a huge de-motivator. I guess what I’m saying is that hobbies tap into a different part of our brain, so to speak. Ideally though, there will be parts of our jobs that still ignite our internal motivation. We’re externally motivated to do our job, but we’re internally motivated to do it well.

ETA: I was hoping you’d weigh in on this @Cory. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

And @Kirsten, I’m really glad you got the help you needed and are doing better now. ❤️ I’m sorry things got so hard for you.

Edited by Hobbit
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Interesting how this has struck a chord.

I will never become an urban fish farmer on a large scale, that is for sure. However my skills are varied, and I can forsee a time when I am nearing retirement and I can just do what I want and the various things will give me "enough" to make it.

My grandfather worked his whole life in the timber industry, and was incredibly good at what he did, sought after, commanded a high salary for someone who left school in the 6th grade to support his brothers and sisters during the depression. By the end of his life, with careful saving and investment, he died quite wealthy (he also saved and reused paper towels, so he was not living the high life, lol). My grandfather also had a huge and varied skill set and was good at nearly anything he set his hand to. I am fortunate to have that adaptability from him. 

He retired in his early sixties and took up his first love, painting. By my teens he was making more painting than he had while working. He became locally famous. Posthumously his art is featured in several museums. Not that I think he would care--He just loved painting.

He really lived his whole life, every minute. I kinda hope one day I will be able to say the same. Honestly, my story arc has been a modern retelling in many ways, so I wouldn't be surprised, at the end of my life, to be able to say I did it.

I think the fish just remind me that is what I really love--making things. I do have a dream research job, but as I move up I spend less time at the bench than I would like and more time mentoring and managing people (a bit like Cory spends less time in his fish room than he would like). It is satisfying but stressful, and in an uncertian pandemic, doubly so.

It is good to have reminders of who we really are along the way, bright spots that help us remember why we took up this heap of work to begin with and where we are headed. 

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Thanks, @Hobbit! I should also mention that I got out of that bad work situation and into unrelated and quasi-related jobs. Translating my technical writing skills to freelance technical editing helped me feel more capable and independent. Now I'm back in the yarn world fulltime, but editing patterns instead of designing them all the time, which is a much better balance for me.

For anyone contemplating a career change, combining your experience and skills with a hobby you're passionate about can be perfect, if the pressure is off and if the balance is right. Just be sure to save some hobby space for yourself to enjoy at the end of the day.

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@Kirsten , I used to crochet a ton for fun, but as soon as someone offered to pay me for making products, I realized I hated making identical baby hats one after another like a machine. The only way I could truly enjoy my hobby is if I did it for myself without trying to make money. 

That's also why I don't want to be a full-time YouTuber. I enjoy teaching people and making videos, but once I start focusing on the views and revenue too much, it starts sucking the joy out of everything. I'd rather just do it for fun and make a little side money to pay for my aquarium hobby, new books, and nail polish. 🙂

Aquarium Co-Op is a great fit for me because I'm writing for work but it's about aquarium fish that I'm interested in. Very similar to how you're editing patterns and using your technical writing skills, but in a field that you're interested in. Plus, I don't work on weekends, so that helps with having a healthy work/life balance.

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29 minutes ago, Irene said:

Aquarium Co-Op is a great fit for me because I'm writing for work but it's about aquarium fish that I'm interested in.


To get all nerdy and D&D about it, it's all about the multi-classing 🙂

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Why do they feel better? There are a lot of reasons why.

I think since it's not your real job then there is less at stake. I think that it also gives the peace of mind that maybe you could leave that real job if you wanted to. 

I think our hobbies are our daydream getaways while we are at our real jobs and every time we complete a hobby job we need a new hobby job to getaway to. They feel good because they always give us something different from our real jobs to look forward to and you accomplish them because you want to not because you were told to. 

Making things with your hands is physical, tangible proof of your work and skill. Its evidence of something that occurred in your mind and appeared through your actions. You did that. That kind of accomplishment is hard to beat.

I think it's fair to say that we define ourselves through our hobbies and if others see value in our hobbies and the things we produce then we might see value in ourselves.

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This thread is such an example of why I am so grateful I signed up for this community even though I have never been a "forum person" before (not that I had negative feelings about it, just never really had time or felt comfortable putting myself out there to participate.  

I so appreciate hearing about everyone's journeys -- it's amazing how we can all feel less alone, on levels beyond that we're the only aquarium obsessed people we know in our "real" lives lol.  Burnout from what you once thought would or could be your dream job is so common, though I really strugged with it too when I reached that point at a prior point in my career.  

While I made a career move that caused less emotional burnout, I accidentally went into a place where the work is all-consuming and requires long hours.  I'm a public interest lawyer and I feel incredibly privileged and honored to do the work I do, but this pandemic has definitely made me rethink work life balance and how little time I have left over for the relationships in my life, or even simply to experience joy.  And there absolutely is something to working with your hands.  While I satisfied my Asian parent by eventually becoming a lawyer (haha), my favorite job ever was working in a cafe my senior year of college and for a while after graduation - making food, crafting lattes, and chatting up our regular customers.   

@Brandy - Something you said on the "advice to your younger self" thread really hit home for me and I think is relevant here too.  I hope you don't mind me paraphrasing but it was to not feel guilty about spending money on this hobby.  That's something I really struggle with -- and I think that's bound up with how consumed I am with my working life and "being a grown up."  My job was already interfering with the few things I did that were for myself and for my mental health, and the pandemic was the nail in the coffin for those things.  Setting up my first planted tank, so I could have something enjoyable in my home office, was the first step towards getting that back.  But I often spiral and chastize myself for doing this.  

One last anecdote and then I'll stop rambling on here, but last night, after a long day of work, I continued setting up the new 40 gallon breeder tank I got to upgrade my endlers and corydoras living spaces (or that's what I told myself I was getting it for... *evil laugh as I research rosy barbs/apistos/gobies/etc.*).  I worked until almost 1AM.  It's my third planted tank and my favorite set up yet.  And when I finally went to bed, I was amused at how easy it was for me to stay up wayyyy past my bed time doing that compared to the (many) times I'd force myself to stay up that late working.   

I hope Brandy that someday soon you can find a little more balance and dive more into your skills and talents in a way that keeps them joyful to you.  I hope that for all of us really.  I hope Corey soon can work less and get back to breeding fish in his urban fish farm and reconnecting with the the parts of the hobby that made him who he is and why so many of us look up to him. 

Edited by SWilson
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I had to deal with making the choice between a career that I truly enjoyed and one that would pay enough that I could both support my family and actually be home enough to spend some time with them. 

I'm a chef, and there is nothing like working in a good restaurants kitchen. Creating new dishes is a creative outlet unlike any other because food is something experienced with all the senses at once and there's no rush like being just a little in the weeds for an entire service but never falling behind. I loved being a restaurant chef, but fair pay and benefits are virtually non existent in the restaurant industry. 

I left the restaurant industry where I was a Sous Chef about a year and a half ago to work in the kitchen at a senior living community as a line cook. I started at a higher wage, have amazing medical coverage and more paid time off than I know what to do with. Oh and every other weekend off.

The downsides are the food is basically inedible, we aren't allowed to season anything, all my coworkers are completely incompetent, and most off the food comes in already made and just needs to be heated up. This job crushes my soul but it's worth it to be able to both support my family and actually get to spend time with them.

In order to keep my job from crushing my soul completely I've done a few things. Until covid hit I was working one day a week at one of my old restaurants so that I still got to cook food I was passionate about and found rewarding. I also started spending time trying to make money through my hobbies, at least enough so that they support themselves. I collect knives and had been sharpening knives for coworkers occasionally so I started a business sharpening and repairing knives. I also started trying to breed fish, and have plans to set up several tanks to breed fish and grow plants to sell locally.

I don't make a ton of money from the one day at a restaurant, the fish/plants or the knife sharpening (I actually make more per hour sharpening than I do at my real job but don't do that much volume) but the feeling that you get earning money from something you are truly passionate about and enjoy is so much better than when it's just a paycheck. 

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On 4/9/2021 at 11:51 PM, ChefConfit said:

...there's no rush like being just a little in the weeds for an entire service but never falling behind.

... but fair pay and benefits are virtually non existent in the restaurant industry. 

...all my coworkers are completely incompetent, and most off the food comes in already made and just needs to be heated up


The memories!

I had a hobby job.  It was love/hate all the way.  I managed a restaurant on a part time basis why working a real job full time.  I went there with the intent of learning viticulture, wine making, and paying my bills.  When the restaurant manager walked out I offered to fill in.  I showed the owner how he could actually cook everything on site and pay for the entire dinner service for the cost of the beef alone.  Restaurant management was added to my duties ...without a pay increase of course.

As "manager" I wore all of the hats. The work was interesting, and overall, there were enough perks that the pay wasn't super important. Among others, I was paid to drink!  After 8 years I quit rather than allow him to crush my soul.  I can see variations of this business in every episode of Kitchen Nightmares😬


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  • 2 years later...
On 11/6/2023 at 4:57 AM, Oghandaren said:

It's great to hear that you're contemplating how to merge your passion with practicality, even if it may not replace your current income and benefits. The pandemic has led many of us to reevaluate our priorities and what truly makes us happy.

Over the years, I have worn many different yet similar hats.  Some of them were a bad fit.  Some offered little or no compensation, but I enjoyed them.

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