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We used to have hobbies, now they’re hustles

Burgeoning content creator, Brian Pu Ruiz (left) spent time with fellow influencers Gabby Mbeki, a fifth grade teacher, and Brayan Messa, a recent graduate at the Broadsheet Coffee Roasters coffee shop in Cambridge.
Burgeoning content creator, Brian Pu Ruiz (left) spent time with fellow influencers Gabby Mbeki, a fifth grade teacher, and Brayan Messa, a recent graduate at the Broadsheet Coffee Roasters coffee shop in Cambridge. (Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe)

Sometimes the 9-to-5 gig just doesn’t do the job.

After a day at a desk job at HubSpot, Matt Cruz swings by Blick Art Materials for materials to build small-scale dioramas and has landed his first paid commission: a miniature forest.

“SimCity wasn’t working on my computer one day, so I kind of made my own,” the 26-year-old Watertown resident said.

For those millennials where neither a traditional job or part-time work in the gig economy is enough, turning their hobbies into a second vocation offers a taste of being their own boss without worrying about going broke.

“The thing about side gigs is that they are 100 percent self-driven,” said Cruz. “At my job I have a job description and as much autonomy as they give us. When we’re doing our own side gigs, it’s 100 percent self-serving. You’re the one doing the spreadsheets, you’re making the product. It’s up to you.”

Cruz isn’t looking to join the legion of independent contractors trying to make a living off of part-time work and odd jobs through digital services such as Uber. And good thing, too, as recent research suggests most gig workers aren’t making much.

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Still, being your own boss has its allure: 61 percent of millennials feel they get more job security working on their own than for someone else, according to a recent study by America’s Small Business Development Center and The Center for Generational Kinetics.

Though precise data is scarce, a subset are hobbyists who find side work gives them personal satisfaction the day job cannot.

Cruz’s dioramas grew out of a childhood fascination with reading blueprints and building things. He has created mini forests and Hobbit houses, and finds the exacting work teaches him problem solving skills.

HubSpot helps employees like Cruz by allowing them to use the company’s web-building software for their own pet projects, so long as it’s on their own time. This prompted Cruz to revive another side project of his: beard balm. Dubbed “Beard Fog,” Cruz began making the balm when he realized it was easy to produce, costs less than store-bought—and was highly profitable. He built a website using HubSpot software to launch Beard Fog, priced at $6 a tin.

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Some industry specialists say this longing to create something of their own may help explain why so many millennials want to be entrepreneurs.

“It’s very characteristic of millennials to want jobs that feel meaningful,” said Carrie Lane, a professor of American studies at California State University Fullerton who follows employment trends.

Lane said millennials did not grow up in the bygone era when a career meant a lifetime of steady work at a single company, and so don’t fear the uncertainty in today’s job market as older generations might.

“Traditional jobs are so insecure today, so what was supposed to be secure is changing,” she said. “Many of the younger people I interviewed saw doing a whole bunch of things separately as security. They have to be this Jack and Jill of all trades.”

Nick Loper who runs a website SideHustleNation.com that offers information on side jobs, said being your own boss, however modestly, is good experience.

“It makes you a better employee as a whole, if you try to put on this CEO act in your free time,” Loper said.

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Brian Pu Ruiz has managed to turn his passion for photography into a paying side gig. The 22-year-old posts cityscapes and landscapes of Boston on his Instagram account, and has received sponsorships from brands such as Coach and Daniel Wellington.

“It’s a passion thing, but once brands started to pay me for posts or for collaborations, my creativity did slow down a little,” Pu Ruiz said. “It took time to figure out how I can balance making a profit and keeping true to my creativity that got me the attention of these brands.”

But Loper warned millennials not to over-romanticize their early success making hobbies pay.

“Maybe it’s the, ‘I’m young, I’m hungry’ hustle mentality, where I want to take control of my own destiny, versus the, ‘I have an SUV, a mortgage, and three kids, I’m really tired’ view,” Loper said. “We’re trading security for flexibility, while on the one hand is very exciting, but on the other has its own set of challenges.”


Natasha Mascarenhas can be reached at natasha.mascarenhas@globe.com.

Correction: The names of Brian Pu Ruiz and Brayan Messa were misspelled in a caption in an earlier version of this article.