In his spare time, on weekends and after long days at the office, Albert Einstein wrote the seminal papers that defined Special Relativity, the Photoelectric Effect, and Brownian Motion.
The world was very different after 1905 due to work one twenty-six year old guy did when there was nothing else to do. Physics was not Albert Einstein's job. He didn't get paid for it. In fact, his bosses at the patent office counseled him to get more background in mechanical engineering to be more effective on the job.
You might be inclined to wonder what Einstein might have done had he nothing distracting him from his physics. In fact, we know that after 1905, when the world began slowly to integrate his ideas, he was offered professorships and stipends. Later came the Nobel Prize and the freedom to spend all his time thinking.
We know that after he became well-known, Einstein left his wife and child, had several affairs and eventually married his cousin. In short order he developed the absolutely groundbreaking Theory of General Relativity, and then spent the next few decades trying in vain to produce a Unified Field Theory. One could say that ultimate freedom did not make him any more fruitful in terms of world-redefining physics, though his lifestyle changed quite a bit.
Antoine Lavoisier was a bureaucrat in Paris when he invented the law of conservation of mass. He identified the yet unnamed gasses, hydrogen and oxygen, as the constituent components of water. He identified elements as substances which could not be further decomposed chemically.
Yet none of this was his salaried profession. In fact, he eventually lost his head in the French revolution due to the fact he had been tax collector and had been denounced by a would-be inventor whose device he refused to consider interesting.
When he had nothing to do, he invented chemistry.
Emilie DuChatelet determined that the kinetic energy of an object was proportional to the square of its velocity, thereby contradicting Newton, and providing the world the correct math. She did it in her spare time, having to endure the criticism of her family and friends who regarded her engaging in science as a sort of inappropriate oddity.
She translated Newton's Principa to French and wrote the mathematical chapters in Voltare's Elements of Newton.
Between everything else.
Michael Faraday was a bookbinder before he convinced Sir Humphrey Davy to hire him on as an assistant.
And so on. With a little research, I'm sure we could come up with twenty or more examples.
Our world has been irrevocably changed for the better by hobbyists.
It's obvious in the business world. The concept of a "garage shop" came about in silicon valley because of all the inventions and major corporations that started as side projects in people's garages. Inventions scribbled on the backs of restaurant napkins have become some of the most impactful technology of our time.
It's easy for us to bemoan our lack of free time. If only we had more money we could spend less time working and more time doing 'X' or 'Y' or 'Z'. We could become the great "whatever-it-is-life-prevents-us-from-being".
Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman who liked submarines. He wrote "The Hunt for Red October" in his spare time in his local public library.
J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book on her kitchen table between her daily chores.
Lots of great people have had the luxury to sit down and work at their passion. Lennon and McCartney wrote lots of brilliant songs when they had nothing to do but write brilliant songs.
The stories that stick are the ones that start where you are right now. Kurt Warner stocking shelves in a supermarket. Morgan Freeman, an ex-air force mechanic scrounging empty bottles to reclaim deposit money.
Most of us were born nobody, and grew up nobody. Then something happens. Kurt Warner leads a football team to the win the superbowl. Morgan Freeman becomes one of the most respected actors of our time.
Something can happen. It's important to be there, and be ready when it does.
I have always found bookstores depressing. When I was younger I wanted nothing more than to see my name on the spine of a book at B. Dalton Bookseller. It didn't happen (though I did have my name on the cover of a SciFi magazine at Barnes and Noble one month). Consequently, most of my bookstore trips were reminders of my failure to publish. Thank god for Amazon. I could buy books on line without having to be reminded of the steady stream of rejection letters I was getting.
Now I walk through one of these book megastores in awe at the volume of new paper being printed. The "new fiction" racks hold fifty titles which blend into each other like a collage done for a 4th-grader's social studies project. There's perpetual twilight in the ten-yard aisles of the science fiction section. The black spines of the paperbacks seem to be made from pigment designed to absorb the spectrum of fluorescent light. The spines in the non-fiction area are red and white.
Sum the hours of human effort that went into producing the literature section. Years spent creating the draft after draft of the manuscript. Editorial effort. Proofreading. I want to guess 5-8 person-years per book. And the bookstore is full. Cardboard boxes of the latest Clancy. Koontz. The latest expose from the girlfriend of the killer. The book of the confession. The disaster survivor.
Who's writing these books? Who are these people? Who's reading them? Why? Why would I devote myself to any one of these production efforts? Out of every ten books I lift and read from, I find nine in which the writing is inferior to that found here on E2. I find one that seems well done, but the subject doesn't hold my interest. Overstocked titles are going for 80% off. Pick one up and scan through the pages to remind yourself why it wasn't worth your time at full price and still not worth your time, even for free.
Why would I want to contribute to this mess? Dropping another title into this sea of infinite mediocrity is like pissing into the ocean. My name and contribution is doomed to dilution in a sea of endless human sputtering.
I'm hurt and angry. This is a dead thing. I don't want to be part of it.
But I am still alive. I have energy and ideas to write. And I have absolutely nothing to replace it with.
Maybe if I keep writing I'll prove string theory.