Just Because You Enjoy An Activity Doesn’t Mean You Want To Be Paid To Do It With Strangers


Ready For Their Close-ups

When AJ at The Errant Moon agreed to create portraits of my horses, they refused payment. “I work to pay the mortgage and I doodle to keep myself sane. I don’t want to cross those streams yet, if ever.”

While the result is far more than a doodle, I can see the point about payment. Not every hobby has to become a side hustle. Not every interest has to become a business. Just because you enjoy cooking doesn’t mean that you would enjoy running a restaurant.

Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. Sure. We’ve all seen the slogan. I’ve heard from people for whom it is true. Rock on. On the other hand, there are many for whom this is not the case, myself included.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to spend several months as a working student with a Big Name Rider. My big takeaway – aside from an increased inferiority complex and a horse who was completely unsuitable for the task at a hand – was ‘I am not doing THAT for a living.’ I’ve never regretted the decision.

Maybe I would have had more competitive success with Mr. & Mrs. Household-Name funding my horses. Maybe I would have torn my hair out. I can’t imagine living through the ups and downs of life with horses while simultaneously balancing the whims of owners.

A local barn has a sign at the end of their driveway: Training, Lessons, Boarding, Sales. Those are four totally different skills sets. No one can be good at all four. No one can enjoy all four. And yet, that is what is required if one wants to make money as a horse trainer. Ride any horse that is put in front of you. Teach the good, the bad, and the ugly. Care for other people’s horses. Oversee the folks who are caring for the horses under your control. Maintain your contacts in the horse world so that you can find horses for your people. Tell people whether or not a horse is right for them. And on. And on. And on.

No thanks.

I’ve talked to any number of people who entered the world of a professional horseperson all starry-eyed and ambitious, only to crash and burn from the reality. Of course, some of this is due to the demands of the job, both mental and physical. The barn life is not an easy path.

Let’s postulate a horse world that does not grind people to powder. Let’s say you have wonderful horses, a well-run barn, and obliging owners. Would you still like it, day after day after day? Maybe. Maybe not. Knowing you couldn’t change your mind without losing money and disappointing people who believed in you? Knowing you couldn’t skip a show even if it was your 14th weekend in a row? If you feel caged, it doesn’t matter if the bars are made of gold.

In the introduction to Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool (Abrams 2019), Clara Parkes writes about turning your passion into a profession,

Since 2000, I’d had a successful career as the world’s first and probably only professional yarn critic … I’d been doing the same thing, chewing the same cud, for thirteen years … My interest was starting to wane. Everything began to look the same; every story seemed to be repetitive. I was having a harder and harder time summoning enthusiasm for my subject. I felt like I was on the verge of coasting, just slicing and dicing the same bit of knowledge in as many permutations as possible to make it interesting to me again, as well as to my readers. Turn passion into a profession and the spark inevitably fades, I figured. I plodded on.

Full disclosure. Parkes found a way to invigorate her career. Hence the book. What if she hadn’t? We don’t read books by the burnouts. They just walk away. For every visible success there is an unknown denominator of failed experiments. Small number? Large number? Who knows.

There is a craft artist who I would love to buy from. However, they have closed their Etsy shop and no longer take commissions. The pressure of making things for others became too much. Now, the artist makes what they want and sells the results. Unfortunately, these are not the items I want. I am perfectly willing to spend money. For this person, the money is no longer worth the cost.

We’ve gotten a long way from paying a few dollars for one painting. The point is, when money enters a situation, people change. You change. Expectations change. Maybe that’s not what you want. You shouldn’t have to justify the act of doing something simply for the joy it brings you.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

4 thoughts on “Just Because You Enjoy An Activity Doesn’t Mean You Want To Be Paid To Do It With Strangers

  1. ‘If you feel caged it doesn’t matter if the bars are gold’ THIS!
    If you make your living (with all the pressures, obligations and stresses that go with it) from the thing you used to do simply for the love of it there’s a good chance you’re going to kill whatever it was that brought you joy…where’s the sense in that?!

  2. I’ve never sold a photo, and when asked to take them for a fee I’ll decline. There’s good and bad to that choice. Getting paid holds you to a different standard than doing it just for fun. But it often means having to take pictures of things you might not care about, which I will not do. It also forces you to solder on when maybe you’d rather not, which I also will not do. I’ve been in one too many barns where owners thought a horse business would be pleasurable and profitable. Neither have been true and sadly, it shows.

  3. “if you feel caged it doesn’t matter if the bars are gold.” Or platinum. I’ve sold a few photos over the years – ones I would have taken anyway – but can’t count the ones I’ve given away. I once did some needlework for pay – a minimal amount to cover some supplies I didn’t have on hand. I can’t count the pillows, quilts, etc. I’ve given away. My “payment” for the items is knowing how the recipient liked them.
    I started writing word search puzzles because solving them was becoming too easy. After 3 books totally about horses, some years of magazine puzzles about horses, and 30+ years of writing word search puzzles about postage stamps I’m starting to feel a bit worn out. These are all things I’ve been – and continue to be – paid for. In a way I feel like I have to keep going, even though the pay is minimal.
    Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life? Funny, my librarian jobs never felt like that.

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