“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Dr. Steven J. Hausman

An interview with Phil La Duke

Phil La Duke
Sep 11, 2019 · 10 min read

If you listen to the media it sometimes seems like all that most people in the United States are interested in is the latest reality show or who has the best singing voice. It can be argued that we live in a society that is fueled by technology and that many of the critical decisions of the day are informed by science. It may be far too idealistic but I would like to see respect for science and the scientific method given more credence so that decisions that are important to society will no longer be based predominantly on potentially biased and narrow self-serving agendas.



Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

I had completed over three decades employment in the federal government at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where I started out as a researcher and eventually became Deputy Director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. My work with the government continued to be very fulfilling but I decided that I wanted to work for myself. I had been giving lectures on new technologies to NIH staff as an enrichment activity for a number of years and had found it exceptionally enjoyable. It seemed like a natural transition for me to continue that activity after I left the government and to speak about developments in technology and the future to outside organizations.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I did some research and found that there was already a thriving business model related to being a professional speaker and that many people were already earning a living this way. It turned out that there was an organization devoted to enhancing the work of professional speakers called the National Speakers Association. The criteria to join as a professional member were rather stringent, in terms of the numbers of presentations given per year and the amount of earned income, but after a couple of years I qualified for membership. Fortunately I had the financial resources to self-fund my business while I was getting started.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

I think that people should make certain that their hobby actually has the potential to earn money and, perhaps even more important, that you are able to be successful in pursuing your passion. To cite a fanciful example, it might be that your passion is to play tennis, but you have to realistically assess your capabilities to play the game at a professional level. If you are just a recreational player then becoming a tennis professional would not be practical.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Fortunately, I have never had that problem. Because technology is constantly changing and evolving I have to continually keep abreast of new developments and advances and find that challenge to be invigorating rather than something to be dreaded. Learning about new technologies is what keeps me inspired and refreshed. It would not be inaccurate to say that what I do for a living is fun and an integral part of my life rather than just being a job.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I enjoy the freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it. My philosophy is that if something is fun and interesting then I would like to do it, even if I don’t earn money doing so. Certainly running your own business has challenges, not the least of which is keeping track of your finances. When working for someone else it is likely that taxes will be withheld from your paycheck and that some sort of retirement account is available. When you work for yourself you need to handle all of those arrangements yourself and make sure that you have enough money saved to pay your taxes and that your retirement accounts are funded. I fortunately had been well schooled by my parents in financial matters and was relatively well-versed in managing money so those issues were never really a problem. Some might consider that the other downside of running your own business is that you have to do everything yourself, like being your own IT support person, accountant, personnel manager, publicist, social media coordinator and so forth. I personally like the variety of multi-tasking in that way.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I actually had never really given much consideration to the realities of the job before I started. In a sense I just “jumped into the water and started swimming” so I really created the job for myself. Over the years, after talking to other professional speakers, I found that while our stories and what we do have some similarities we all reached our current jobs by following different paths and have encountered different obstacles, so I am not sure that I could have predicted what the job would have been like in advance.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

Fortunately, never. In contrast, what I often say now is that I don’t ever want a “real” job again. It is much more fun working for myself with no need to be in a specific place at a specific time each day. The variety is what I like and most enjoy.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

As a professional speaker being in front of a live audience always provides me with a lot of energy. I would like to think that my words have a positive impact on people’s lives in terms of acquainting them with new concepts about technology and the benefits that might accrue from technology in the future. For example, it is very rewarding to lecture on topics like aging, nutrition and tips for healthy living and to see people taking extensive notes and asking questions which leads me to think that what I am saying will make a real difference in their lives.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

One of the things I have done is to provide lectures to students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to show them what advances in science can be like and that pursuing science as a career can be fun and intellectually rewarding rather than just an arcane and esoteric occupation. I also explain that a career in science can open doors to a future that they could not have envisioned by enabling them to travel around the globe while helping humanity. In addition, every year I return to my high school for career day to talk to the students about a career in science and try to provide suggestions as to how to achieve their life goals.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If you listen to the media it sometimes seems like all that most people in the United States are interested in is the latest reality show or who has the best singing voice. It can be argued that we live in a society that is fueled by technology and that many of the critical decisions of the day are informed by science. It may be far too idealistic but I would like to see respect for science and the scientific method given more credence so that decisions that are important to society will no longer be based predominantly on potentially biased and narrow self-serving agendas.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I use a lot of quotes in my presentations and have been collecting relevant ones for many years. There are so many that I have found to be inspiring that it is hard to limit myself to just one so I will cite two of them. For example, Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” That is especially relevant to technology where things change so rapidly and it makes me want to always learning more and more. Thomas Jefferson supposedly said “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have” although I also heard the same sentiment in the Amish saying “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” The lessons are obvious to me: if you work hard, keep learning and treat other people well, then you will be successful and happy.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I have no illusions that he might wish to meet with me but my initial answer to your question is Warren Buffett, not because he is rich and famous but because he seems like a genuinely wise and good person. From everything I have read he lives well below his means, is not flamboyant and not only came up with a plan to give away most of his wealth but also was able to convince others to do so as well.

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrust Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Phil La Duke

Written by

Author of “I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business” and “Lone Gunman. Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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