Professionalize Your Passion

by Amy Shaw on July 20

professionalizeyourpassionWe almost always think about a “passion” in opposition to its “real world” alternatives: career, practicality, normalcy. We are taught that passion is something we save for the weekends—a hobby, something that we love doing but isn’t particularly valuable. Passion doesn’t pay the bills, society tells us.

Shows like American Idol thrive off this trope, the idea that an aspiring artist couldn’t possibly make it on their own. Instead, the big benevolent hand of the music industry swoops down and scoops an average Joe out of his normal life, giving him a chance at stardom. Rarely are contestants portrayed as hardworking individuals who are already involved in their local music scenes. In fact, the more “average” and thus unlikely the contestant, the more we tend to love them.

What made American Idol so successful is that its producers figured out a way to capitalize on our collective longing. We have all been there—dredging our way through mundane work, growing weary of routine, busting our asses in food service or in retail, and all the while, dreaming of something more. There’s a sense that, as one grows older, responsibilities multiply and the time for fun and enjoyment wanes. As a musician, I can’t tell you how many times people have shyly ventured statements like, “I used to play guitar, years ago…” or “I love to sing, but I could never do it in front of people.” In return, I smile politely, but what I’m really thinking is, why did you stop? or why not? Occasionally, I ask them. Life happened. 

It’s true. Life does happen, and it constantly tries to pull us away from our passions. But why are we so reluctant to think of the two separately? Instead of thinking that our professional lives are constantly trying to encroach on our creative lives, I think a much wiser and productive way to approach this is dreaming up ways we can professionalize our passions.

The good news about this is that professionalizing your passion is a lot more fun than professionalizing yourself for a career you don’t care about. I am seeking a position as a copywriter currently, and I was thrilled to find out that it’s typical to have a creatively-written resume (who knew that the words “sometimes i do things” could be cool and hip on a professional document?!). So in a way, professionalization becomes an extension of the creative work itself. Professionalizing doesn’t have to mean drudgery; it can mean more creativity.

So how can we professionalize our passions? What does that look like?

HONE YOUR SKILL: Whether you are photographer or pianist, you have to know your craft. Of course, there are many artistic genres and attitudes that eschew the whole idea of technique and thrive off sloppiness. Punk is like this; certain kinds of postmodern art are like this. If that’s your style, and that’s what you’re all about, fine. But you should get good at it—get good at being bad. People respect skill in artistic work, and rightfully so. There are many ways to get better at what you do. Take lessons or an apprenticeship, watch YouTube tutorials, or study what your favorite professionals do. Never stop learning.

GET IN THE FIELD/START SMALL: Putting yourself out there is what professionalizing is all about. Find events and organizations that support your kind of work, and involve yourself with them. My band has gotten some great gigs by listening to the local college radio station that we love, attending their events, and meeting the people who run it. You absolutely have to get to know your community, and don’t leave this factor out, or you run the risk of looking like a fraud. For example, there are bands who have several thousands of likes on Facebook, a snazzy website, and professional photographs, but cannot draw a crowd at a local show. Professionalism without community makes you look fake.

ESTABLISH A SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE: Professionalization in 2015 looks a lot different than it did 20, 10, even 5 years ago. Social media and digital marketing have become more important than ever; if you are some type of creative, it’s a given that you need to have the appropriate social media presence. If you are an artist, you should have an instagram or tumblr. If you’re a musician, bandcamp is a must (but not Reverbnation, which screams “I am trying hard to look professional.” Avoid this type of aesthetic).  Any website that promises to make you famous—especially if they charge you for it—should be met with skepticism. You don’t need a third party to professionalize. There are dozens of articles out there on how to market yourself on social media. Read them.

TREAT YOURSELF LIKE A PROFESSIONAL…BUT NOT UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY ARE ONE: In the beginning, be prepared to do a good amount of unpaid work. Offer your services for free to gain experience. Even if you have been doing whatever you have been doing for years, when you begin to professionalize and put yourself out there in a more visible way, you seem more credible if you show some humility. If you charge exorbitant rates for your services and have no reputation in your community and nothing in your portfolio, again…it looks phony. That said, once you begin to gain some name recognition, do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Part of professionalizing your passion means that this is no longer a hobby. This is work; this is part of your professional life. Therefore, you should be appropriately compensated. You have every right to turn down unpaid gigs or offers that won’t, in some way, advance you as a professional. As a general rule, when people start coming to you for your services, that is when you can start charging.

It’s true that the more you professionalize, the more work your hobby becomes. There are moments that will feel more like labor than leisure, but putting in the extra work has enormous rewards. Choose one of these tips and get started today.

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Amy Shaw

Amy is a part-time teacher, part-time freelance writer and editor, and full-time building a life out of her passions. Always seeking new, fresh ways to improve herself, Amy's approach to personal development has shifted over time: she has been influenced by everything from Tibetan Buddhism, to New Age spirituality, to Mark Manson's "slap you in the face" style of self-help. She claims no status of guru-ship, but she hopes that you can find yourself in her down-to-earth, reflective writing. Amy is Spiraling Up's editor, and she can also be found at Fiction Edit. She loves cooking meals from scratch, drinks espresso multiple times a day, and plays in a rock band called Dr. Martino.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Connor Dotay July 21, 2015 at 1:42 am

All solid advice. Bonus points for evoking punk.


Melvin February 18, 2016 at 6:06 am

As a poet, I have learned to soilcit feedback from my peers. I have also learned to offer feedback and to foster the development of others. The feedback that is least helpful, and I try not to give, is the kind that makes evaluative statements using words such as good, bad, like, dislike, etc. Feedback like this is mostly founded on opinion, and often turns into what this article calls criticism .I can’t understand why anyone would wish that on their craft.


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