Many successful actors began their acting careers with only occasional bit roles and earned their “bill paying” money doing exciting things like waiting tables, carpentry services (Harrison Ford), working in construction and many other flexible, albeit low-paying jobs. In the early years, acting was more of a hobby than a career.

What does this have to do with inventing?

In many ways, inventing has amazing similarities to acting. Like acting, inventing is high-risk and most who dream of creating the next big hit product, remain wannabe inventors – working at a day-job that pays well, but isn’t their passion.

Inventors, however, have a different challenge: it is very difficult to walk away from a career as an engineer, software developer, accountant or other profession that offers a high salary and benefits to become a full-time inventor. Not only is that little voice inside your head saying you are crazy, but your significant other, family and friends may implore you not to be crazy and give up a ‘secure’ career to become an inventor.

How can you tell whether or not, for you, inventing is destined to be just a hobby on weekends – or a career that consumes all of your time and much of your capital?

Read on.

Inventing as a Hobby

Does any university offer a Bachelor of Science, Inventing? I don’t think so.

No one sets out to be an inventor. You choose a recognized career path: school teacher, professor, engineer, truck driver. Then, one day, an idea pops into your head out of nowhere – you come up with a solution to an annoying problem, an invention. You may sketch a few drawings or just imagine your idea as a product, but, odds are, you will get swept up with the busy-ness of life and soon forget about your brainstorm. It happened to me many times.

Then, years later, you see something just like your idea selling in the marketplace. You say, “that was my idea!” with a pang of regret for what might have been. Has this happened to you? I bet is has!

For others, like me, they come up with a ‘brilliant’ idea and tinker with it for a while, maybe even invest some time and money developing it a bit further. Then, they set it aside to focus on all of the other exigencies in their daily lives. Later, another idea comes to mind and they repeat the pattern: working on it for a bit, then setting it aside. Then, there is yet another idea – ideas seem to haunt them, begging for attention.

Are ideas haunting you?

If so, the invention bug has bitten you, and it is not going to go away .At some point, you decide you must do something with one of your ideas. You really want to get it ‘out there.’ You have reached a turning point: inventing is more than a hobby, but still is not a career yet.

What to do now? How does inventing become a career?

Inventing as a Career

When you invent as a hobby, it doesn’t really matter to you if your invention would make money, you just love to tinker and dream of what it could be. The decision to invent as a career isn’t an on-off switch decision, it is a gradual process with a series of tipping points along the journey.

For me, there were several tipping points that pushed me from merely tinkering – towards inventing as a career.

My first such tipping point came as I was building prototypes for my thin, flexible wallet.

I realized that my wallet design wasn’t just innovative or a little bit better than other wallets, it was a lot better. It was truly comfortable to sit on because it flexed. It that held a lot of cards, but was still thin. I realized if it was such a great experience for me, then lots of other people might like it too. It was more than a great idea, it was a great product!

The second tipping point came when I realized I could get my wallets manufactured cheaply: for only $8 each. I decided to have just 500 made (about $4,000 cost to me) and only make more if I sold the first 500 for a profit. I would do a market test and find out if other people would buy my product and enjoy it.

They did! Customers had no problem paying $25 for my wallet, they liked the wallet – some even loved my product. I used my profits to have 900 more wallets manufactured.

The genie was out of the bottle.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I was going to become a career inventor. It was more like my product kept beckoning for me to take the next step, to see where it would go. I was taking small incremental risks with each step and testing things out. Each small success pointed me to the next step, to take it to the next level.

Customers were giving me great testimonials – I had some implore me: please don’t quit making these wallets, they are the best wallets I have ever owned! It had become as much a mission as a product or business for me. Now I had a larger purpose. At some point, I developed a burning desire to take this invention as far as I could. I wanted to get it to thousands of buyers (which I did by selling on QVC) and then millions of buyers (which happened when I licensed into DRTV – infomercials). That is the story of the process whereby I became a career inventor.

I never could have accomplished any of those objectives if I continued to work full time in my job – I had to become a full time inventor with all the risk it entailed. For me, it was the right decision, though it took years to realize success. I never looked back.

So, to wrap this up, most people have no desire to tinker on ideas and inventions in their garage on weekends.

But some people ask why about many things. Why isn’t there a better way? Why does it work one way, but not another? These are the tinkerers, they enjoy inventing as a hobby. But, they are not going to quit their day jobs to chase such a risky endeavor as inventing as a career.

For others, tinkering isn’t enough. They really want to make a difference in the world by inventing something and getting it ‘out there’ where thousands or millions can buy it. They have that burn in the belly. For them, they know they would always regret the choice not to pursue their passion and take it as far as they can. At some point, they become career inventors, for better or worse.

I decided that I’d rather try to do something that really mattered and fail, than to work at something that didn’t and succeed.

Has the bug bitten you yet? Are you on the path to becoming a career inventor?

Stay tuned.