Passion, a hobby or a career

I have a number of hobbies, some of them I am good at. For some of them, people have commentated on the fruits of the hobby saying that I should do it professionally. This always gives me some thoughts on what it means to do something professionally. The obvious parts are that doing something professionally means that you are expected to be paid for what you are doing in some form (whether it is for the end product or for the labor in doing something). The difficult part for these things (after, of course, the fact that I am not really that good at them) is the difference between doing something because you enjoy it and doing something to make a living. You enjoy doing both types, but only the latter involves some sacrifices/skin in the game.

I enjoy writing software and working with computers. I enjoy it a lot. I also do it professionally. It is my career and I plan on continuing to do it for a long time. I also enjoy taking photos and cooking, among many other things. Through this enjoyment, I have become decent at them. When I have cooked for other people or when others have seen some pictures, they have commented on the quality of what I have produced. It is flattering, but then they say something like:

You should open a restaurant.

I know that it is probable that they are just saying it to be nice and complementary but it still gets me thinking. What is the major difference between my work with computers and my other interests?

The biggest difference I believe is the passion I feel for the different things. For software, I am incredibly passionate and interested in it. Professional work comes with an obligation to continue working on something regardless of your mental or emotional state at the time. It means coming in and working on an off day or when you are hungover, and still being able to finish the day without hating everything you have done. There are nights I get home and don’t want to cook. But there are not days where I come into work and really don’t want to work with computers. (I do have many days where I would prefer to remain in bed and watch TV) The desire to continue to tirelessly improve yourself in your passion is what separates a hobby from a career. I want to be good at cooking but I don’t believe I can push myself very far to get good at it. Whereas I want to be good at software and I continue to push myself Monday through Friday, year after year, to do so.

It is always nice to know (or at least believe) that I have found some hobby that I can continue to enjoy doing after many, many hours and much pressure involved. Every deadline and new requirement, every big mistake or new hardship, all the undesirable parts like meetings and reviews, all of them have not stopped me from enjoying what it is that I do. It is hard to believe that would be the case for many things that I find interesting to do. I know I could not wake up every morning and cook for 8 straight hours for months on end or that I could both get good enough and manage assignments in photography to make a living off of. But with software, I can and do continue to enjoy and make a living off of what I do every day. That is thanks to to a passion I have for what I do, a fire that doesn’t go out with a little rain. Hopefully it continues to burn for a long time, otherwise I do not know what it is I would be able to do for a living.


I have heard and watched a few discussions on the idea of happiness. Not what makes someone happy but why certain people are happy and others not. The main discussion uses a comparison by trying to find the profile of those that are often more likely to be unhappy and those that are happy. The results are interesting, as people seem happier in worse conditions and those in great conditions seem to be more unhappy. I think this is caused by a bias in terms of what each defines as happy and has been something I have made an active effort to counteract.

Successful (in a global sense, so a solid job, certain home, food every night) people are considerably less happy than those who are struggling. Some theories range from survival instinct gives great mental rewards for succeeding in harsh conditions to the idea that people generally want a reason to be unhappy and those in successful positions end up always being unhappy due to the lack of obvious reasons. For me, it is more the latter than the former. Successful people seem to blow small things out of proportion as they are not checked into global reality for most of their day. Okay, that sounds cynical and mean, let me explain it better. In the day to day life of those who struggle to eat and sleep in mud huts or are in constant danger of being dragged into a war, small victories such as a good meal reward them with a positive reward as it is a big thing for them and they value these conditions. If the waiter is a bit slow for the meal is not a worry for them. Whereas those who are in a situation and life where many of those easy but small victories are expected, they find it harder to enjoy those facts and begin to dwell on “petty” issues. Things like getting stuck in traffic make them unhappy and ruin their days. The cause of this is that their status quo for life is very much higher than those who are much worse off. This causes a perspective shift that blows something as small as traffic out to be the negative equivalent of not getting a meal, but the positive reward of getting out of traffic is not equivalent of getting that much needed meal.

I have tried to keep perspective these past few years. When my flight gets delayed it is easy to get upset about having to spend an extra hour in an airport, but it is also easy to think that spending an extra hour in an airport is a pretty small problem to have in life. When the bed was pretty horrible in the apartment we stayed at in Hong Kong, it would have been easy to get annoyed/upset about it. But the real fact was that we were in our mid 20’s, employed, and could afford to spend the week of New Years in Hong Kong, and do so comfortably (financially at least). If we let a small thing like a bad bed ruin the rest of the overall great experience, we would have thrown out everything we worked for. It is easy to dwell on the small losses and lose sight of the big victories, because we have been trained to focus on the small and miss the large. There is a sort of pressure to expect the big picture and get lost in the details. People who complain that the kitchen doesn’t have a gas stove or the internet provider is bad (that is me) are the ones who miss the fact that they are able to afford to rent a great apartment in an enjoyable and (more importantly) safe area.

So I plead with you (whoever actually reads this) to continue to look at the big picture and let the small details become laughably petty. When Kim gets upset about some small detail and I laugh at her, she knows that I am laughing at the exaggeration and not her issue (like fighting about laundry or being annoyed by a rise in gas prices). Next time you have a good meal, remember how good the food was and not that the waitress’ breath smelled or she took a while to get you your check. When you drive home and have traffic, remember that you just got paid to do something that you (hopefully) enjoy and that you are on your way home to eat whatever you want and sleep in your own bed.