Something I read resonated with me, this week. It was an article on how to budget your time and your money for your hobbies. http://lifehacker.com/productivity/ The phrase that stayed with me was this: the “trick to happiness: treat your hobby like a career, but more important.”
There’s an essential truth here, I think. Your hobbies are your interests. They’re the things that light up your imagination, absorb and engage you and the things you care about doing most. Those of us that are fortunate enough to make a career out of our hobby are in the best possible situation, but for many people, what you do to earn your living might be completely different to what you are most interested in as a hobby, or as in my particular case, just one of the many things you are deeply interested in.
I think we live in a culture that teaches us that one’s career is serious, earnest and worthy of devotion, upon which you should lavish your time, attention and even money (in the case of personally funded training or education for career advancement, for example). It takes precedence. Your career is said to equate to your real life – that part of your existence devoted to earning a living, putting food on the table and sheltering and providing for those you love. Your hobbies, on the other hand, are considered to be somewhat less serious, even trivial, of no consequence in the scheme of things, or relevant to your ability to provide. They can be put on hold or deferred indefinitely, while you attend to your commitments and responsibilities.
The only problem with this cultural viewpoint is that it is profoundly wrong.
Our very essence is revealed and developed through our hobbies. They’re what make us tick. What’s trivial and inconsequential about that? Why would that be an aspect of our existence that we can ignore, subjugate, abuse or dismiss? Isn’t it time that we recognised the real importance of our hobbies and what they truly mean to our self image and personal development? Shouldn’t we pay more attention to these significant human needs?
I know I grew up thinking that art and music were nice things to know how to dabble in, but hardly as important as studying or working hard as an engineer. As I get older, I have come to know that for many decades of my life, I effectively turned my back on the very marrow of my humanity. There was always more work to do on succeeding in my career – more overtime to put in or another all-nighter, to release the software and then show it at a trade show on another continent, next day.
Yet, miraculously and somewhat magically, my hobbies always found a way of subtly insinuating themselves in my life. It wasn’t like I really had the choice of escaping them. They were always there, often when I least expected them to be. I have always been a creator. I have loved to make music since I was a small child. Surely that is worthy of spending some of my time and money on, placing the same importance on doing so as we all do on turning up at the office, punching in and doing a solid day’s work, delivering as much value as we can.
My hobbies can be expensive, but it’s amazing what you can accumulate if you are patient and canny enough. Even without all the best gear, you can still do a lot with what you already have. I’ve sometimes taken out a single tube of paint and a single brush and produced a painting. By the same token, you can get amazing musical results with very cheap guitars. Seasick Steve doesn’t even have all six strings!
What I need to be better at is treating my hobbies with the same reverence and protection that I treat my working life. I wouldn’t dream of not turning up to work without a very good reason, but turning up for my hobbies doesn’t seem to have the same level of commitment from me. At least, I don’t think I feel an unconditional, unarguable compulsion to reliably turn up for my hobbies, like I do for my job. That’s something I would like to change, without simply punishing my family by not being there for them. Think about how it would feel to turn up to your hobbies, come rain, hail or shine, no matter how bad you feel, because you must – because it’s more important to do so than to turn up for your job.
If you take a careerist approach to developing your hobbies it can, if overdone, be stifling and turn your fun into drudgery. If you get to that point, you’re doing it wrongly. Never lose the sense of play and, in fact, see if you can’t import some of that playfulness and joy into your day job too.
I think I am going to feel less guilt about time and money I spend on my hobbies, in future. I don’t think I will be as dismissive of my artistic output and will be as proud of it as I can be of my work products. Taking pride in your hobbies ought to be as important as taking pride in your work, only more so. This is the essence of “you” on display, after all. You should care about making that presence good, really, or at least I think you should try to be the best that you can be, at whatever you do. I think happiness is also tied to growth. When you stagnate or lack challenge and achievement, life gets pretty bleak, no matter what you do. Hobbies provide limitless opportunities for growth.
Your hobbies might not represent a “real job”, but they are a manifestation of the real you. That’s worthy of some respect and reverence, some application and some nurturing. If you can’t find time and budget for your hobbies, you have more or less given up on yourself, as a unique, creative creature. That’s a very sad cul-de-sac to find yourself trapped in.
So next time you feel tempted to put your art off for another day, or feel like your hobbies are foolish and produce work of no import, or when you experience pangs of guilt for buying another musical instrument or piece of software for your hobby, look at it from the perspective of preserving and enhancing your happiness and your personal development. You’re nourishing your soul. That has to be good for all of those around you. Even if it isn’t directly and immediately benefiting them, well, it is a statement of self-respect. You’re important. Being who you really are is important. It’s all about expressing your authenticity and integrity. This is about fulfilment. If being who you are can be so readily manifested through your hobbies, then that’s something you must engage in with heart. It also happens to inspire all those around you. If you have kids, inspiring them is one of your parental duties and responsibilities, of course.
Being who you are is far more important than earning a lot of money or advancing up the corporate ladder. Your hobbies really are more important than your career. Your boss (if you have one) might not like the idea, but it doesn’t make it any less true.