In my last post, I discussed the ways in which people are discovering that work doesn’t have to look the way we thought it did. There are people working from home that could never imagine operating outside of an office environment. As business travel came to a screeching halt, the most tech-phobic became videoconference frequent flyers. And the importance of non-work life – time with children and partners, working on hobbies or side gigs, and keeping up with friends and family – all received new focus. Last time, I discussed the trends I saw among those who reshaped their approach to work, especially the day-to-day execution. For them, it might mean more telecommuting, and less travel. Not changing the job but how it’s done. There are others I’ve observed taking a more radical approach to the new world we’re in – truly stepping away from their pre-pandemic careers and embracing a hobby or other interest full time. There’s a lot to learn from this upward trend in turning side interests into new careers. In some ways, it could seem counterintuitive, during a period so unstable, to plunge into something untested. Or perhaps, in a year when everything we knew as certain, ceased to be, the risk of one more change seemed smaller than ever.
Why are people turning side interests into new careers?
FOMO fundamentals. While we have turned the idea of regret into a meme-fueled rally cry for Millennials, the truth is there’s a deeper, more thoughtful side to what motivates us. In normal times, when our lives are very stable, and the world around us very predictable, the trade-off between missing an opportunity and disrupting a satisfactory status quo is more difficult. And there’s a reason we associate FOMO with younger people — their status quo tends to be lower stakes, without children, a mortgage, or years of career stability. But the last year has stripped away so much of the normal equations we make. We aren’t balancing going into the office a little later so that we can garden for half an hour – without a morning commute people are gaining back a couple hours per workweek (or more). We don’t have to feel guilty about our desire to perfect craft beer in the evening rather than attend our partner’s work function. Frankly, we just don’t have to miss out on the things we want to do when the things we have to do just aren’t there anymore.
The time of your life. There’s also the stark confrontation with our own mortality that a pandemic has brought. Whether it’s conscious or not, the cost of suppressing risk taking is usually realised later in life. The things we wish we’d done when we were younger usually are reflected upon as the breadth of the horizon narrows. Last year, we were suddenly thrust into a heightened consciousness about how we spend our time, and every minute of it that we’re not spending it as we’d like. When you combine the existential consideration of how much total time you have on this earth, with the actual increase of time available during each day because the world is shut down, it’s easy to see how people started using their extra daily hours to enrich their overall lifetimes.
Dollars and sense. That doesn’t mean that those extra hours have to be applied toward income-generating pursuits. People could have used the last twelve months to learn a language, get healthier, renovate their homes. And many, many did. But the reality is that the pandemic brought economic change for people all along the income scale in very different ways, that could lead to the same incentive. For those in office-based careers, especially senior management roles, their jobs were stable, but their spending decreased. Without a commute or business travel, their time at home increased. You could justify splurging on that craft beer starter kit, fancy bread maker or hydroponics equipment and promise to make the time to learn how to really up your game. And a year is a really long time. You might discover this is a true passion. And you’re good at it. Like, make money good at it. And then those with the opposite experience – for example, those who were in jobs that were severely impacted by the pandemic, such as hospitality or entertainment industry positions, a total loss of income could have been a different type of incentive. Suddenly, whole days were free to focus on a new interest, especially if that interest might be a moneymaker. A side gig that was just “beer money” before becomes proportionately more important. And if the day job wasn’t a passion before, there’s nothing stopping you from really doubling down on what you wish you could do all day. The recent “meme stock” retail day trader frenzy is filled with stories of out-of-work people who admit they would never have had the courage or time to learn to invest before. (Note: I am not suggesting you start taking massive financial risks with stocks. I’m simply connecting the movement to the moment.)
Shifting hobby to hustle now is a unique time to turning side interests into new careers.
A radical shift in careers is less uncommon now than it was forty years ago. The idea of being a “company man” at one organization for an entire working life, seems almost quaint. Gig economy proliferation makes it easier to dip your toe in something new. YouTube videos make learning almost anything one internet search away. Add to that this once-in-a-lifetime (let us hope) moment to seize a change means our pre-pandemic and post-pandemic lives might diverge in fundamental and permanent ways we didn’t imagine.
Robert Kovach is an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100, and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership and team effectiveness. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own. Contact him for speaking inquiries.