The anxiety of finding a hobby
Howard Winsten-Korver examines and rejects the guilt that can emerge from feeling the need to be productive at all times.
After having tested positive for COVID-19, and subsequently being forced into the confines of my room for ten days, a little bit of anxiety crept in. At first it was alright, fun even – I spent most of the time either watching Netflix, playing video games, or facetiming my girlfriend. I was also lucky enough to be isolating in my family home, meaning that my meals were taken care of.
However, after starting to feel better, and therefore having less of an excuse to just watch Netflix all day, a sense of dread started to creep over me. Without being able to go to work, and with university yet to start, I questioned what I would actually spend the rest of my solitary days doing. I looked up things to do at home, and came across a huge variety of different hobbies and activities. People were so knowledgeable and passionate about topics ranging from embroidery to poetry writing to PC building. I came across articles about how hobbies give life meaning, making the day to day more exciting and giving someone more than just their day job.
I found myself realising that there’s nothing I seem to have that level of interest and knowledge in. This realisation gave me a worrying image of a future version of myself who just goes to work, eats and sleeps, with no other meaning in life other than work.
It is entirely necessary for a full and meaningful life to have leisure time.
A hobby is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘an activity that you do for pleasure when you are not working’. This definition I find more reassuring. There are things I do when I’m not working, such as seeing friends, reading, gaming, and watching TV. I then realised that my main problem wasn’t not having a ‘hobby’, but feeling like my current hobbies were not productive. This may be a symptom of the idea that is drummed into us from society, about how time not being productive is somehow ‘wasted’. In reality it is entirely necessary for a full and meaningful life to have leisure time, or at least time that is not dedicated to the unhealthy pursuit of productivity. This is not exactly a novel insight, but one that I have to keep reminding myself of.
Another reason I wasn’t satisfied with these hobbies was that I had nothing to show for them. If you learn an instrument, then you can show your work with a piece of music. After baking, you have a product to consume and share with others, but what can be shown from my current hobbies? Perhaps a bit more knowledge about a certain topic, but nothing tangible. There certainly were activities that I have tried to start in the past – such as guitar, drawing and writing – however these never stuck. On reflection I think that this was because I was frustrated by my lack of progress on them, which leads to another problem with how hobbies are interpreted: the expectation that a person has to be good or exceptional at the activity for it to be worth pursuing. This reasoning can be justifiable – some activities, such as piano, are arguably more enjoyable when one is good at them. The starting process of learning the notes, hand positions, and reading music can be time consuming and boring. However I think that there are deeper personal and societal issues underlying the worry about being ‘bad’ at a hobby.
How good you are at it is neither here nor there. If you enjoy it, then do it.
We are often guilty of tying our own, or others, self-worth on external accolades and prestige. The question ‘so what do you do?’ is a good example of this – it is often a way of quickly gathering information about someone’s prestige and societal standing and therefore worth as a person based on what they have as a job. This idea can be so ingrained in some people that it even translates to their hobbies and what they supposedly do for fun. Picking a hobby should be something that is enjoyable – how good you are at it is neither here nor there. If you enjoy it, then do it.
Something else that can deter people from pursuing an activity, which I have certainly been guilty of, is asking ‘will this be monetarily beneficial in the future?’ When starting something new I have often fantasised about how to monetise the activity, perhaps through selling pieces of artwork or through busking. Starting my writing endeavour I thought about selling books or articles, and when this doesn’t happen it can be frustrating. This goes against the initial definition which includes the words ‘not working’.
Of course, certain things, such as sharing with others, can enrich the experience of a hobby, but it should not be the main purpose for doing it. Just do it for its own sake.