On Using My Interests to Pursue Income, Mastery, and Enjoyment

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3 min read

In my day job as a data scientist, I use data to analyze trends, build models to predict sales, and optimize processes to reduce company expenses.

This job requires two primary skills: statistics and programming. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, my interest level in statistics and programming is about a 6. Fortunately, this is high enough that I don’t find my day job to be unbearable, which is good considering it accounts for about 80% of my monthly income.

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I have other interests that rank higher on the scale, though. Namely, my interest in writing and data visualization is about a 9 and 9.5, respectively.

These two fields are fascinating to me. They resonate with me at a deep level, which is why they’re the primary focus of this blog. Combined, they account for around 10 – 20% of my income each month. Last month alone I earned $1,044 from this blog.

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Lastly, I have some interests that are complete 10s like weightlifting, playing basketball, hiking, and playing piano. I earn zero dollars per month from these interests, which is fine because I don’t need any incentive to pursue them. Nobody has to pay me a dime to hit the gym and lift weights or to sit and play the piano. I do them purely for the joy they bring.

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I have a simple strategy for utilizing my interests to earn income, develop mastery, and find enjoyment.

For income, I pursue my interests that offer the highest salary: statistics and programming. It’s okay that I don’t find deep meaning in these two fields or in my day job in general because that’s not what I’m using it for. I’m using my day job to build up my net worth.

For mastery, I pursue my interests that I actually have a deep desire to improve in. Namely, writing and data visualization. This is why I write every day and work on data viz in my free time. I actually do find deep meaning in these two fields. In the long term, I’m simply using my day job to buy the freedom I need to pursue my interests in writing and data viz full-time. 

For enjoyment, I pursue my interests that are complete 10s that I never plan on monetizing: weightlifting, hiking, basketball, and piano.

I have found this strategy of using different interests for specific reasons to work really well for me. 

One mistake I see many young people make is assuming they must earn the bulk of their income from their 10-level interests. Unfortunately, it’s usually difficult to earn a full-time income from these interests. Most young people would be better off using their 5-7 level interests to pursue higher incomes while building up their 9-10 level interests in their free time until they’re good enough to earn an income from them.

Through maximizing income, it’s possible to buy freedom and flexibility in the future to actually have the means to pursue 9-10 level interests with more free time.

I often think of the advice that human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives to recent college grads:

“Many students come to me full of wonderful intentions hoping to change the world; they plan to spend their time helping the poor and disadvantaged. I tell them to first graduate and make a lot of money, and only then figure out how best to help those in need. Too often students can’t meaningfully help the disadvantaged now, even if it makes them feel good for trying to.

I have seen so many former students in their late 30s and 40s struggling to make ends meet. They spent their time in college doing good rather than building their careers and futures. I warn students today to be careful how they use their precious time and to think carefully about when is the right time to help. Its  a well-worn cliché, but you have to help yourself before you help others. This is too often lost on idealistic students.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t earn a full-time income from your 10-level interests, but more often than not it’s more realistic to pursue a high income with lower-level interests and build up your skills in higher-level interests in your free time. This way you can build up your finances as well as your skills in the field you love at the same time.

This is the exact strategy I am currently using. Since graduating college, this has helped me save $100k in 2 years (mostly as a result of my day job income) and also build up an income stream of $1,000/month from writing and data viz.

Moving forward, my plan is to stick it out at my day job only until I have the financial means and the necessary skills to earn a full-time living from my high-level interests.


My favorite free financial tool I’ve been using since 2015 to manage my net worth is Personal Capital. Each month I use their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track my investments and ensure that I’m on the fast track to financial freedom.

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12 Replies to “On Using My Interests to Pursue Income, Mastery, and Enjoyment”

  1. I learned there’s a difference between work and job. Work is your 10’s and job is your 6’s. Ideally you want to make a full time living with your 10’s since you don’t have to work a day in your life.

  2. This is a really good analysis. It’s a variety of the old follow your passion advice. I like how you use the scale. You don’t have to be completely passionate about a career to excel at it. You just need to be able to tolerate it for a while. Your scale of 6 is on spot. The only thing I want to add is that your interest level will change over time. I started out at 9 with my engineering career, but it dropped to 2 or 3 after 16 years. People change.
    Really nice job with your side income. Congrats!

    1. Fascinating to hear that you went from a 9 to a 2 or 3 after 16 years. I can imagine this is fairly common, though.

      Thanks for the kind words, Joe!

    2. Fascinating to hear that you went from a 9 to a 2 or 3 after 16 years. I can imagine this is fairly common, though.

      Thanks for the kind words, Joe!

  3. This is an interesting way of looking at it. It’s definitely made me want to sit down and think a bit about how this relates to my work situation. There are aspects of my job that are deeply interesting and fulfilling, and aspects that make me want to run screaming.

    My plan, eventually is to try to work myself into a situation where I can spend as much of my work time as possible on the parts of the job that I enjoy, and outsource as much of the rest as possible. Sadly, there are many years of both career capital and financial capital needed before that happens!

    1. I have a similar plan – to quit my 9-5 job at some point and be able to work mostly on writing and data viz, which I love, while not needing to deal with commutes, meetings, performance reviews, etc.

  4. Nice way to view interests. I think as people we have a higher level of interests in things we voluntarily choose to do as well. For example, we have to go to work, typically, to earn a living. So it would be hard to find many people who categorize that as a 10. On the other hand, we can do the things we love whenever we want, without, for lack of a better phrase, feeling like we have to do them to survive. Apart from our natural or developed interest, I think that optionality makes it appealing too.

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