Discover more from The Queer Agenda
Why I don't bake for money
Bucking the capitalist urge to turn hobbies into side hustles
During the stay-inside phase of the pandemic, the two hobbies I spent a lot of time on were baking and doing makeup. I’d dabbled in both pre-pandemic, but in the dark times of 2020, I started getting more serious about them. I perused ideas on Pinterest, learned new techniques on TikTok, and purchased tools and supplies to help me with my endeavors. Now, after three years of continuous practice, I have greatly improved at beating this mug and beating buttercream.
When it comes to baking, decorating tends to be my favorite part, and I usually will post process videos and pictures of my creations online (examples here and here). Not only because I know other people get enjoyment out of the content, but also because it’s fun to document my progress over time. I tend to get comments like, “OMG I could never do that. You should sell these!” Increasingly, I also get offline requests to do just that: bake for hire.
After sharing some of my baked goods with a neighbor in Austin, she asked me on two separate occasions if she could pay me to bake for events she was hosting. Another time, an instructor at my aerial studio reached out to see if I’d be willing to bake some cupcakes for a surprise party, stating she’d seen my creations on Instagram. Whenever I get those kinds of requests, I always gently decline and point the asker in the direction of professional bakers I know.
It’s not that I don’t think I’m good enough to be paid to bake. While I’m still very much an amateur baker and I have a lot more to learn about the science of baking (complicated further by the fact that I now live at a high altitude—*shudder*), my bakes are generally aesthetically pleasing and delicious if I do say so myself.
It’s not even that I couldn’t use the money. I was constantly chasing my next paycheck as an entrepreneur, and since I closed down my business, I’ve been cobbling together a variety of jobs to bring in cash until I feel settled enough to start searching for steady employment.
The truth is, if I were to turn my hobby of baking into a side hustle, I think it would completely ruin baking for me.
I actually adore baking for other people! In fact, almost all of the sweets featured in the photos of this essay were baked as gifts. But the magic is in the gift—in expecting nothing in return. When I bake for people, I’m giving them a piece of my heart. I’m saying, “I want to share this delicious and beautiful creation with you because I love you and you’re worth the time, effort, and ingredients it took to concoct this baked good.”
It doesn’t surprise me that people frequently encourage me to turn my baking into a business. We’re living in the era of side hustles where we’re all urged to develop multiple streams of income (or have to in order to make ends meet). We’re expected to maximize every waking hour of our days in addition to figuring out how to make “passive” money while we sleep.
Grind culture has laid out a clear dichotomy:
If something can earn us money (either directly or by helping us develop skills that make us more valuable in the workplace), then it’s considered a good and productive use of our time.
If something can’t earn us money (and, Gaga forbid, costs us money), then it’s considered a waste of our time and one more thing to feel guilty about.
After all, why knit for yourself when you could start an Etsy shop and ship scarves all over the world? Why love on your own dogs when you could be a petsitter for other people’s dogs on nights and weekends? Why keep your interest in a niche topic contained to online forums when you could start a lucrative podcast/blog/YouTube channel/TikTok?
Well, I can think of at least two reasons.
First, I want to push back on the idea that time spent doing things you love is less valuable if you’re not earning money. Just because something isn’t profitable in a monetary sense doesn’t mean it lacks value.
Hobbies offer innumerable benefits. They can:
Help you live in the present moment and get you into states of flow;
Allow you to play and connect with your inner child;
Reduce stress and make you feel good from the inside out;
Challenge you while fostering growth and learning;
Expand your social circles and connect you with community;
Strengthen your creative muscles;
And improve your mental health and overall well-being.
Hobbies are also usually, you know, FUN. Even though capitalism might lead you to believe otherwise, you’re allowed to have fun and experience pleasure for the sake of it.
My hobbies are my lifeblood. I live for things like executing a glittery eyeshadow look with a perfect wing, enduring an arduous hike for the payoff in views at the top, hours spent singing while playing piano or guitar, and the look of bliss on Jessie’s face when she digs into whatever tasty treat I’ve made for her. If I were to attach payment to any of those activities, they would no longer be for my own pleasure and enjoyment and would morph instead into labor.
Second, even if you did want to turn a hobby into a side hustle, doing so would probably be a lot more complicated than articles or people on the internet make it seem.
Side hustles are businesses, not magical money-making machines.
The website Millennial Money has a list of “30+ Best Side Hustles in 2023” with some ideas that are so laughable it hurts. Suggestions from the article include:
Launching a profitable blog (earning potential: $10K-$200K/month). Do you know how many profitable blogs there are in 2023 in comparison to the total number of blogs online? Very few!! The golden age of blogging has been over for some time, and starting and growing a new blog rarely results in an easy payday.
Become a photographer (earning potential: $46,000/year). You don’t just “become” a photographer. Photography is an art form and a skill. Plus, even if you’re a talented photographer, you have to be able to market yourself and get clients in an increasingly saturated market.
Start your own podcast (earning potential: $10,000/month). I guffawed at this one. Y’all, I hosted a podcast consistently for three years, and despite producing 134 episodes, including interviews with 98 different guests, and having over 75,000 downloads to date, I never earned a dime. I did, however, spend much more than $10,000 on equipment, branding, hosting, editing, transcriptions, and other things to keep my podcast going.
Social media influencer (earning potential: $200,000/year). As with photography, one does not simply “become” a social media influencer. Growing a following is difficult, time-consuming work! Conceptualizing, filming, editing, and marketing videos is labor intensive. I have about 19K followers on Instagram after over six years on the platform (with the vast majority of that growth coming in the last six months since I stopped using IG for business) and 28.6K followers on TikTok after a year and a half on the platform. Many people would argue I’m an influencer, but I’ve yet to have any money or successful brand deals come out of my social media accounts.
Start a coaching or consulting business (earning potential: $65,000/year). I was a full-time coach and consultant for 6.5 years, and I never earned anywhere close to $65,000 in a year (not in revenue, and certainly not in take-home pay). I was an excellent coach, but I was still constantly hustling for my next client, building and launching programs, and marketing my services by offering free stuff like an email newsletter, podcast, blog, and regular social media posts. Online coaching and consulting businesses also require a lot more overhead than you might think. You have to pay for things like graphic design, office equipment, software like Zoom and Canva (so. much. software.), a CPA for taxes, business licensing, etc.
Also on the list was, of course, “sell baked goods.” So let’s consider what it would take for me to do that.
To bake professionally, I’d have to hold myself to a higher standard of product and aesthetics. I’d likely have to bake or decorate things multiple times to get them perfect, wasting valuable and expensive ingredients in the process. I’d have to practice my piping and other techniques in my spare time so that my baked goods would be photo-worthy (which would be one thing if I was doing it for my own satisfaction and something completely different if I felt obligated to do it for customer satisfaction). I’d have to squeeze my baking time into nights and weekends around my other work and personal obligations in order to meet client deadlines. And I’d have to actively market myself and my services on social media to get clients.
To me, that all sounds terrible and like a fast track to hating the sugar, butter, sprinkles, and edible glitter I currently love so much.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having (or needing!) a side hustle, but I wish people would stop glorifying these second (or third, or fourth) jobs as cute easy things we should all be doing. Work is work, and it’s okay to not want to do any more of it than you absolutely have to.
And your hobbies? Those exciting, engaging things you look forward to doing when you’re clocked out from work? I promise you they’re fine and wonderful exactly the way they are, no price tag required. So wail away on that saxophone, splatter paint on that canvas, dribble that soccer ball, or do whatever else your heart desires in your free time because you’ve only got this one life to live and you deserve to have some dang fun.
I’ll be over here licking the spoon and praying my lifelong luck doesn’t run out when it comes to escaping the wrath of the raw eggs in my batter.
Please feel free to share parts of this newsletter that resonate with you on social media (tags appreciated!) or send it to those you love.
If you'd like to support me outside of becoming a paid subscriber to The Queer Agenda, you're welcome to purchase an item for me from my Amazon Wishlist or purchase an item for yourself from my Amazon Storefront.
The Queer Agenda is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.