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Should you turn your hobby into a career? What I've learned so far

I knew I was passionate about skin care, but could I really turn it into a career?
What I wish I knew before turning my hobby into a career
I knew that if I wanted to turn my skin care hobby into any sort of career, I needed to get the qualifications. I wanted to prove, even if just to myself, that I had something to offer beyond extremely good Googling skills.Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/TODAY illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Like any good millennial, I’ve spent time trying out a lot of jobs. In college, I majored in psychology and planned to become a therapist. After graduation, I moved abroad to teach and returned to the states to work for the NYC Department of Education. I changed course again and went to work for a startup, first in customer experience and later on the product team. That was the first time I caught a glimpse of what job satisfaction could look like. I liked my job and my coworkers, and was excited about potential growth. But then, COVID-19 struck and I was laid off. The career stability I thought I had finally found disappeared overnight and, like so many others, I had no idea what to do next.

Throughout all of my job changes, however, I sustained the same hobby: skin care. It started when my adult skin suddenly decided it was time I experienced acne and I quickly fell down the skin care rabbit hole searching for anything that could stop it. I experimented with everything from a 12-step routine to only washing my face at night. Like a true crime detective, I read ingredient lists and became familiar with skin care jargon so that I could participate in discussion boards and follow along with YouTube videos. I even went so far as to literally product manage my skin, making a storyboard out of Post-its for every product I used and listed every goal I wanted to achieve. As my skin improved and my knowledge grew, so did my obsession. It was a feeling distinct from my other hobbies, but one I never thought to question.

At some point, I became the go-to person for my friends to ask questions about skin care. I knew all of their skin types and nothing gave me greater joy than recommending products they loved. I started getting photos from friends of friends that showed close-ups of their faces, asking for help. Like any good wannabe skin care blogger, I documented my routine on Instagram, posting flat-lay images of products and answering any questions that came my way. But I always made sure to reiterate that I was not a professional. I was careful not to tout myself as any sort of expert, only a hobbyist with slightly above average knowledge of the subject matter.

It was like there were two parts of me: the side that couldn’t stop sharing what I knew and was constantly seeking out more knowledge, and the side that kept telling me I was a fraud with no credentials or professional experience. Despite the confidence I displayed on the outside, I couldn't shake the imposter syndrome that I wasn’t allowed to be part of that world. After all, skin care was only a hobby, not my profession. Why would people listen to me? I have no business telling people what to do with their skin.

Once I lost my job and was forced into quarantine, I had nothing to do but my hobbies. Many people baked bread, others turned to puzzles and I devoted all of my energy into skin care. I, like many others, suffered from maskne and I documented my journey of managing it for others to see. I reviewed products, explained ingredients and extolled the importance of sunscreen. If I didn’t know the answer to someone’s question, I researched it until I did. None of it felt like work. In fact, it was the only thing that brought me any semblance of joy during an otherwise extremely joyless time.

And then it hit me: If I felt I couldn't tell people what to do without it being my business, then I should make it my business and become a professional. But could I really turn my hobby into a career? People say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. But don’t other people warn against doing that?

People say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. But don’t other people warn against doing that?

I knew that if I wanted to turn my skin care hobby into any sort of career, I needed to get the qualifications. I wanted to prove, even if just to myself, that I had something to offer beyond extremely good Googling skills. I needed to become an esthetician.

A few years ago, if you had asked me what esthetician school was, I would have pictured the scene from “Beauty School Dropout” in "Grease": dancers in foil curlers and a teen angel descending from above singing a very catchy but bleak song about careers and the potential to start over. So it’s safe to say I had no understanding of what a career in beauty could look like, let alone how to pursue it.

While areas of cosmetology and esthetics certainly overlap, they are entirely different specialties, requiring different instruction and licenses. Estheticians are skin specialists, aka experts who are able to assess and treat skin in a variety of ways. The requirements for esthetician licensing vary by state, but generally include at least 600 hours of theory and practice that covers curriculum such as biology, chemistry and anatomy.

The complete A-to-Z guide to skin care

Once the idea to get licensed was in my head, I spent hours researching schools and talking to estheticians about their experiences. I was excited about taking this next step, but there was still something in the back of my mind questioning if this was just a hobby gone too far and if, like other careers I had tried, this one wouldn’t stick. Around this time, I started reading Angela Duckworth’s "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance." In all honesty, I picked it up for the “perseverance” part — the interminability of the pandemic was becoming unbearable and I was hoping for some guidance as to how to ready my mind for the upcoming months. I was not expecting it to aid with my decision to apply to school.

Part II of the book starts by discussing the psychology of interest. Duckworth gives examples of various experts in their respective fields and how their initial interests came to be. She provides evidence that passion is not sudden, and that many of the foremost experts she’s encountered in her decades of work tried many different career paths before finding their own.

“Passion for your work,” she writes," is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” I felt like I had been smacked in the face with clarity I didn’t know I needed. She goes on to say that “paradoxically, the initial discovery of an interest often goes unnoticed by the discoverer ... what follows the initial discovery of an interest is a much lengthier and increasingly proactive period of development. Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention — again and again and again.”

Skin care triggers and retriggers my attention, that I’ve known. What I didn’t know was how to recognize that significance — the difference between making yet another career pivot and choosing to develop and cultivate my passion. So that's why I'm starting esthetician school this month.