WHY YOU SHOULD INVEST TIME IN DOING SOMETHING YOU ARE NOT OBLIGED TO DO
I’ve recently been thinking more about hobbies and how I spend what little time I have left after working in my day job, looking after the kids, maintaining some semblance of a social life (albeit something that is becoming increasingly difficult to fit in around the practicalities and logistics of life) and generally running a household. I had cause to ponder this after a friend commented that she would not allow her kids to do any extracurricular activities outside of school and daycare because it put too much pressure and expectation on her children to engage in activities that were mainly dictated by the parents. I pondered this comment for days after, vacillating between wondering whether the fact that my daughter does ballet on a weekend and my son plays soccer meant that I was becoming one of ‘those’ parents who forced their kids into various activities for fear they would not grow into well rounded individuals or whether I was giving my children the opportunity to explore different activities which might spark a passion or interest that would endure beyond a single term and become something which they find joyful and rewarding by the simple nature of it being a hobby.
I am not tied to what activities my kids participate in but I do believe in giving them exposure to all different sorts of experiences so that they can learn to know what interests them and what doesn’t.
Fortuitously I came across an article by Alex Preston in Quartz entitled “If you want to be a better person, find something to do outside of work” . All those years I spent buried in the corporate world, working crazy hours with blinkers on meant that I thought I had no time to pursue anything resembling a hobby outside work. Any kind of hobby outside of work came with a sense of obligation which took any joy away from the task at hand. It reminded me of a time when I was a teenager and I had a passion for art and painting. I had finally gotten the courage to exhibit some of my work at a local exhibition. There I encountered a man who wanted to purchase some of my artwork. I gratefully declined and have never so much as picked up a paint brush since. The very fact that someone wanted to purchase something that I considered a hobby turned the hobby into something which now came with the added pressure to perform. This pressure evaporated any joy I felt from doing something I loved for the simple sake of it.
Years later however I came to realise that the lack of anything other than work did indeed impact on the person I had become. I had lost the ability to experience joy from anything. I had no idea what I was interested in having abandoned any kind of joy inducing activity long ago.
The article by Preston explores the history of hobbies and the development of leisure time. He notes that ‘leisure pursuits derived from models established in pre- Industrial societies, where the aristocracy chose economically unproductive professions and pastimes – warfare, hunting, religion, art – while the lower class performed productive tasks – manufacturing and farming. Hobbies were very much viewed as an unproductive activity and only to be indulged in by those that were not dependent on being ‘productive’ in order to survive.
By its very nature, I had come to view my having a hobby as deliberately unproductive and that I had no time to devote to such folly. The more I came to identify with my career as a lawyer and what I produced in that career, the more I moved away from that person who enjoyed indulging in art, reading, writing, craft activities for the simple pleasure of it. I had lost the ability to value joy over identity and work.
As Alexander Pope said ‘if you really want to know someone, you must find out their ‘ruling passion’. What someone did outside of work, how they spent their leisure time, often revealed so much more about who they actually were as a person than what they did for a living.
My wish for my children is that they know who they are and what sparks joy not only from their careers or what their achievements are but from what they do when they are not at work.
So now when I find myself with the smallest of time, I don’t spend it doing mindless activities, cleaning, grocery shopping or running errands (though granted those things still need to be done). I try to spend thirty minutes a day on something that sparks joy, that recreates a sense of nostalgia at the person I used to be. And at present that is reading and writing. I had abandoned writing my blog because I had lost sight of that fact that writing something, anything, sparked joy inside me and that it ultimately should not depend on the outcome – it wasn’t work after all, it was a hobby. I got too caught up in the mentality of ‘why bother’ and ‘no one carers what I write so why waste my time’. But something was missing from my life. When I stopped doing it for the love of it, I felt a gaping hole that was quickly filled with the mundane tasks of daily life. Those things didn’t make me a very interesting person. So now I try not to be concerned with my output or the ultimate outcome of what I am writing. I am back doing it because I love it, because it reminds me of a time when I used to write all the time for the fun of it, when I was free of the stresses of life, when I still viewed the world as wonderfully exciting, when I was young and carefree.
Preston notes that ‘hobbies should be the space in which play time finds expression in the adult world’. Somewhere along the line, most adults have lost their capacity for joy and play as an expression of their individual selves rather focusing on expending their time and energy in the ‘production’ of doing what they are obliged to do.
Hobbies puts us in touch with a memory of our younger selves and are a radical expression of our individuality, a celebration of doing things that we’re not obliged to do. That’s what I’m hoping to create for my children.