Geek Job Guru: Use Your Hobby As A Backup Career

You may be quite happy in your career.  It pays the bills and plays to your interests.  You have your hobbies and passions, yes, but they’re fine where they are or are going in the direction you want.  Nothing to worry about.

However radical changes can come quickly as we all know.  You get laid off.  A company moves and you’re not ready to change locations.  Your profession starts to contract or alter radically – more radically than you’re ready to face or adjust to.  Trust me, I’ve been there – I’ve had many a sudden career change over the years.

So you may be left one day not only without a job, but without many prospects of doing what you’ve been doing.  You can’t even rely on relocation because the market has changed so radically that you’re not sure you can count on your old career to work the same way.

You may want to consider hobby-as-career not just as a laudable goal to tap your interests or a “someday” plan, but as a backup career in its entirety.  Perhaps for a time – perhaps as a transition that’s more permanent.

Myself, I’ve direct experience with this a few times.  Once when laid off (you’ll notice I have a lot of stories about that), while job searching I experimented with seeing what kind of writing gigs I could get – and the answer was pretty good.  Another time I met a cosplayer who used costumes as backups for doing publicity appearances and hosting.  I’ve known many people who had technical skills that we’re useful, even though they were of the “messing around” variety – and they knew they could call on them.

It’s too easy to get buried in our current career and forget the options we have.  Or perhaps we don’t want to monetize a hobby and keep it for fun.  In the end, though, having a backup is something that is useful, practical, and comforting to have.

Now, I’m a “Plan A” type of person – I like to have a good core plan for my life and career as I find having too many plans quickly goes awry.  However I also think any good plan is willing to integrate others, have some variants, and have some emergency plans.  One of the problems with sticking with Plan A is that it can become a suicide run, and you really don’t want that.

Having a “Plan B” backup career is a good way to have that little extra in your job goals to make sure you can keep going during economic turmoil until you can be sure what’s going on.  Think of it as a “PLan A-1” or a subplan if that helps (which is really what I do).

Besides, money aside, having that little extra “second career” option can give you peace of mind so you can focus.  Remember, you don’t have to do it forever – and maybe just knowing it’s there will help your sanity.

So here’s what you do.

First, take inventory of your other skills, interests, and “jobs” outside of the one(s) that you do for money – in short, your hobbies.  Go ahead, take the time, and most importantly, don’t leave anything out.  I learned to type very fast between school reports, computer usage and gaming, and fiction writing as a teenager, and that helped pay the bills during tough times a decade later because I could always get a temp job as a secretary or admin because of that typing speed.

Secondly, look over which seem monetizable.  This is where you have to look at both skills and professions – some skills are enough for you to get paid for, sometimes it’s more a set of skills, a “career” or “job.”  The typing I mentioned is a good example of the former (supplemented with a few basic office skills), the latter may be like the cosplayer I’d mentioned – a combination of costume, personal, and presentation skills making them an excellent host.

Third – find out how you get paid.  How do people actually use these skills or “hobby careers” to make money.  I’m not saying that you have to do the actual job, just find out if there are job boards, temp agencies, freelance sites, and so forth to hook you up.  Talking to someone doing your “Plan B” career for a living is obviously the best idea.  Knowing this lets you switch gears quickly and gives you piece of mind.

Fourth, prototype.  I would actually try, if possible making a little side money with your now-chosen Plan B skillset from your hobbies.  This lets you find out if you’re right, teaches you what you may be missing, and helps put your mind at ease for the future.  My experience with freelance writing is a good example of that – there’s nothing like lining up actual cash to know “I can do this”.

Of course now that you have a PLan B (or Plan A1) you can make sure your skills are honed, get experience, and keep an eye out for when you should use them.  I find this becomes unconscious after awhile because it is hobbyist skills you’re talking about – in fact you may be doing it automatically.

But now you have a plan, just in case.

One danger you may face is you could put so much time into Plan B you neglect Plan A, or that you treat them as separate plans and thus split your time inefficiently.  You have to keep this kind of effort in its proper place.

Though maybe if Plan B is so appealing you just learned something about yourself . . .

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at