what if not everything had to be maximised for profit?

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Mar 22, 2022   —   3 min read


Although I graduated into the aftermath of the 2008 recession, I kept hold of what felt like an unobtainable dream about what work should be. I categorised everything I could do into two sets: things I enjoyed and things I was good enough at to do professionally. At the intersection of these two sets resided my dream job, I thought. Aged 21, I thought all my preferences and skills had attained their final form, you see. How wrong I was.

A decade and a half later, that vision of the overlap between what I like and what I can do has been on my mind again. I have made a version of it come true: I love to read, to over-analyse books, articles and TV shows, and to write about them. These are the things that I now get paid to do. I’m extremely lucky that this is the case. The consequence of this, though — unforeseen by baby graduate me — is that by professionalising the things you love, you change your relationship to them, sometimes for the worse.

I spend a large proportion of my work days now reading: about illness for my hypochondria book, longform journalism for The Browser newsletter, and murder mysteries for my podcast Shedunnit. Reading is what I used to sneak away from my parents to do as a child, to sink into deliciously as a teenager knowing that there was nothing else I had to do but turn pages. Now it happens on a schedule, in exchange for money. Sometimes I reach the end of the day and my “reading for fun” time and just… don’t want to do it. It feels like work. And even when you love your work, you can’t fill every waking minute with it.

It feels highly spoiled to even admit this, when so many people have to do things they don’t like or that actively harm them in order to make ends meet. I don’t think this is a real problem in the grand scheme of things. But I do think it’s worth demystifying the idea that turning your most treasured recreation into your job is the ideal end point of every career. Phrases like “side hustle” and “passion project” obscure this truth. They suggest that if you can only work out how turn your “side” hustle into your “main” hustle, you will achieve happiness and success.

But what if not everything had to be maximised for profit? I have had to learn to recognise and check the capitalist impulses I’ve imbibed from the world around me. There’s no need for my every idea and hobby to become part of some fundamental transaction. I don’t need an Etsy store to sell what I knit, or an ad- supported podcast dedicated to the obscure facts about saints that I collect. Some of what I do can go undocumented, without a price attached.

Long time readers will know that social media usage is a topic I return to often. It impinges on this too, as a more subtle intrusion of the market on our days. Perhaps I reject the obvious hustle and don’t put my craft projects up for sale on Etsy, but if I post about them on Instagram for friends and acquaintances to see, am I monetising them? A company is running ads against that content, even if I don’t see a cut of it. A financial value is still being assigned to what I’ve made.

I’m yet to work out what this means for what I read. I don’t know how to throw up that wall in my head between the murder mysteries I read because writing about them is my job, and the murder mysteries I read because I love the genre. I think that love is what makes me good at writing about them, but it’s also what keeps pulling me in these two contradictory directions. Sometimes it can feel like work has stolen all my hobbies. This is the best I’ve come up with: do what you love, but be aware that it might be painful one day.

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