Pleasure vs pro

It's become popular in recent times for people to quit their boring day jobs, and instead to work full-time on something that they really love doing. We've all heard people say: now I'm spending every day doing what I enjoy most, and I couldn't be happier.

This has been happening in my industry (the IT industry) perhaps more than in any other. Deflated workers have flocked away — fleeing such diverse occupations as database admin, systems admin, support programmer, and project manager — driven by the promise of freedom from corporate tyranny, and hoping to be unshackled from the manacles of boring and unchallenging work. The pattern can be seen manifesting itself in other industries, too, from education to music, and from finance to journalism. More than ever, people are getting sick of doing work that they hate, and of being employed by people who wouldn't shed a tear if their pet panda kicked the bucket and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile.

And why are people doing this? The biggest reason is simply because — now more than ever — they can. With IT in particular, it's never been easier to start your own business from scratch, to develop and market hip-hop new applications in very small teams (or even alone), and to expand your skill set far beyond its humble former self. On top of that, people are being told (via the mass media) not only that they can do it, but that they should. It's all the rage. Doing-what-thou-lovest is the new blue. Considering the way in which a career has been reduced to little more than yet another consumer product (in recent times), this attitude should come as no surprise. After all, a job where you do exactly what you want sounds much better than a job where you do exactly what you're told.

Call me a cynic, but I am very dubious of the truth of this approach. In my experience, as soon as you turn a pleasurable pastime into a profession, you've suddenly added a whole new bucket of not-so-enjoyable tasks and responsibilities into the mix; and in the process, you've sacrificed at least some of the pleasure. You've gone from the humble foothills to the pinnacle of the mountaintop — so to speak — in the hope of enjoying the superior view and the fresh air; only to discover that the mountain frequently spews ash and liquid hot magma from its zenith, thus rather spoiling the whole venture.

When I say that these things are in my experience, I am (of course) referring to my experience in the world of web design and development. I've been doing web design in one form or another for about 8 years now. That's almost as long as I've been online (which is for almost 9 years). I'm proud to say that ever since I first joined the web as one of its netizens (wherever did that term go, anyway? Or did it never really make it in the first place? *shrugs*), at age 12, I've wanted to make my own mark on it. Back then, in 1998, equipped with such formidable tools as Microsoft Word™ and its Save as HTML feature, and inhabiting a jungle where such tags as




were considered "Web Standards", it was all fun and games. In retrospect, I guess I really was making my mark on the web, in the most crude sense of the term. But hey: who wasn't, back then?

From these humble beginnings, my quirky little hobby of producing web sites has grown into a full-fledged business. Well, OK: not exactly full-fledged (I still only do it on the side, in between study and other commitments); but it's certainly something that's profitable, at any rate. Web design (now known as web development, according to the marketing department of my [one-man] company) is no longer a hobby for me. It's a business. I have clients. And deadlines. And accounts. Oh, and a bit of web development in between all that, too. Just a bit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to complain about what I do. I chose to be a web developer, and I love being a web developer. I'm not saying that it's all a myth, and that you can't work full-time on something that you're passionate about, and retain your passion for it. But I am saying that it's a challenge. I am saying that doing an activity as a professional is very, very different from doing it as an amateur enthusiast. This may seem like an obvious statement, but in Wild Wild West industries such as web development, it's one that not everyone has put much thought into.

Going pro has many distinct advantages: you push yourself harder; you gain much more knowledge of (and experience in) your domain; you become a part of the wider professional community; and of course, you have some bread on the table at the end of the day. But it also has its drawbacks: you have to work all the time, not just when you're in the mood for it; you're not always doing exactly what you want to do, or not always doing things exactly the way you want them done; and worst of all, you have to take care of all the other "usual" things that come with running a small business of any kind. The trick is to make sure that the advantages always outweigh the drawbacks. That's all that any of us can hope for, because drawbacks are a reality in every sphere of life. They don't go away: they just get overshadowed by good things.

Looking back on my choice of career — in light of this whole pleasure-vs-pro argument — I'm more confident than ever that I've made the right move by going into the IT profession. Back when I was in my final year of high school, I was tossing up between a career in IT, and a career in Journalism (or in something else related to writing). Now that IT is my day job, my writing hobby is safe and sound as a pristine, undefiled little pastime. And in my opinion, IT (by its very nature) is much more suitable as a profession than as a pastime, and writing (similarly) is much more suitable as a pastime than as a profession. That's how I see it, anyway.

For all of you who are planning to (or who already have) quit your boring day jobs, in order to follow your dreams, I say: good luck to you, and may you find your dreams, rather than just finding another boring day job! If you're ever feeling down while following your dreams, just think about what you're doing, and you'll realise that you've actually got nothing to feel down about. Nothing at all.

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