Three years ago Jack* was excited to take a position with an organization that funded arts education for inner city youth in New York. He was specifically pleased to be supporting the program’s ballroom dancing curriculum, as he had an avid interest in ballroom dancing.
As time passed Jack began to feel more and more disillusioned with his work. While he still cared about the mission of his organization the workload had become intense, the hours were frequently out of control, and the pay wasn’t so great.
Jack wrote to me saying, “Having this experience really makes me question – what could I be happy doing until I retire? I struggle to think of anything. I’m also starting to wonder – is it so wrong to get a relatively easy/unstressful job that you don’t love that leaves you with the energy to pursue what you truly want to do outside of work?”
“No, nothing wrong with that,” I thought to myself as I read Jack’s email. However, I wondered why Jack was writing me in particular, since I help people pursue work that they do enjoy. There had to be more to the story.
When I got Jack on the phone I already had a pretty good sense about what we should be talking about.
“Tell me more about ballroom dancing,” I instructed.
“Well, I always really liked dance. Then in college I found out about ballroom dancing. It was absolutely my favorite experience at school. I competed and taught introductory classes through my school’s Ballroom Dance club,” he said.
“And do you do anything with ballroom dancing today?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m still involved in the ballroom dancing community. I have a blog where I cover local competitions. I also run a group that attends ballroom dancing events together,” he told me.
“And I saw something on your website about lessons,” I prompted.
“Well I just started that. I gave my first few private lessons earlier this month. They went pretty well. Though, of course, I’m still figuring it all out,” he replied.
Jack had such a strong interest in ballroom dancing that he was already spending a good chunk of his free time participating in the ballroom dancing community. He was even beginning to venture into earning money in the field by offering private lessons.
I was curious if Jack’s natural enthusiasm for ballroom dancing was something that he wanted to pursue full-time.
“So if I had a magic wand that could make it possible to do any job that you wanted, what would it be?” I asked.
“I don’t really know.”
“Probably something to do with ballroom dancing. Maybe teaching. Or maybe something combining ballroom dancing and travel.”
This fit well with the energy I had heard in Jack’s voice as he discussed ballroom dancing.
“So the question for you isn’t so much ‘what do I want to do?’ It’s more, ‘how do I go about doing it?” I offered.
One of Jack’s big concerns was if it would make sense financially to pursue teaching ballroom dancing. After all, he only had so many hours in the day, which would cap both the number of students he could teach and his income.
“The trick to making more money is to leverage your time. So instead of working solely 1-on-1 you can earn more by teaching groups of people,” I shared. “Also, your current prices are definitely low.”
By the end of our conversation Jack had concluded that working full-time on ballroom dancing instruction was what he wanted to do. He planned to support himself with another, less intense job as he learned how to run his business successfully.
Jack wrote me a few days after our conversation.
“I really enjoyed speaking with you! It was great to get some positive feedback (from a neutral party) about my plans, and it’s helped me acknowledge that what I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time is actually a viable option. I’m now more motivated to continue on with my blog, ballroom dancing group, and lessons, and I want to professionalize my approach a bit.”
Not every hobby is worth pursuing as a full-time profession. Jack’s high level of engagement with ballroom dancing and his established presence in the ballroom dancing community made taking this hobby seriously as a business make sense. The key piece for Jack to move forward was for him to get a basic understanding of how to make that business profitable.
*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality. Printed with permission.
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