This past weekend, I spent three full days with a group of writers at a retreat. We wrote in the morning, had a class in the afternoon and a couple of author chats over lunch. It was great fun! As I drove home Monday thinking about this weekend and the newsletter, I began to wonder about the idea of having a hobby. This started me wondering what actually is classified as a hobby because while some of this group of writers have published books, many have not. So was this a group of hobbyists?
I think many of us have different ideas about hobbies and about their values. For example, last week’s newsletter mentioned the twelve-week Creative Leadership Workshop I developed at Trinity. Over time, I developed other versions for different purposes. One version was designed to be presented within the conference timeframe of approximately an hour. Its particular purpose was to help people see creativity as an everyday kind of activity rather than something special only a few people are gifted with. I started by asking if people thought they were creative. Every time, easily half the room said no, they weren’t creative. Then I handed out pieces of paper and asked participants to write down a hobby they enjoyed and hand it back. After the group split into smaller groups, each one pulled one piece of paper from the pile in my hands. Their assignment was to develop a leadership workshop based on that hobby. The on-the-spot creativity was amazing.
I’ve done the workshop several times now and I’ve had to add some instructions since that first time. Now, I ask participants to choose a hobby and then continue to explain that playing with your children may be your favorite thing to do, but it’s not a hobby. It’s often true that parents of young children don’t have much time for hobbies, so I remind them of Merriam-Webster online definition of hobby as a “pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in, especially for relaxation” and encourage them to pick a hobby they’d like to pursue, someday, when they have time.
But, it turns out, the idea of a hobby is a complex one. Some websites have guides for the five hobbies you should have – one that keeps you in shape, for example. I have to admit I never thought of any of the active things I do, except maybe ballroom dance, as a hobby. Then there’s the “3-hobby rule” from the Public Health Millennial website. Wait, there’s a rule about hobbies? And on both these pages, the first hobby suggestion is one to make money and the IRS has something to say about that. From their perspective, if it makes money, it’s not a hobby.
There’s also a negative idea about hobbyists which is the idea of the dilletante with one synonym being dabbler. While it originally simply meant amateur, it now has a more negative connotation of someone who has an interest with no real commitment or knowledge. But who cares? A hobby isn’t about becoming an expert, making money, or anything so transactional. It’s about something you enjoy for its own sake.
I have hobbies and I prefer to do them well so in knitting I like to learn new stitches, but I prefer knitting to be about relaxation, so I don’t do sweaters or socks or anything that has to fit a human being correctly. I knit baby blankets and Afghans and scarves, all rectangles that don’t have to fit. Same with my embroidery hobby. I want to do well enough to make things look good, but no pressure to make something others would spend their money on. It means I can choose whatever colors, sizes and styles I want even if nobody else likes them. For me, all of the activities I classify as hobbies are for fun and relaxation. I want to improve my skills because that, for me, is also fun. Stretching oneself and learning more skills is one of the ways hobbies become what Mihaly Cszksentmihaly as a flow activity. But writing is different.
Which brings me back to my group of writers gathering this weekend. There were many levels of experience in the room. Some love the act of writing, some find writing difficult, but they love having written. All of them, however, are working at improving their skill and have a goal of creating a well-written book that people want to read. However, I don’t think it’s our collective goal of writing something publishable that takes us out of the realm of hobbyist though I’m not sure what category is correct. I think it’s not a hobby though I certainly can’t call myself a professional. But it’s not a hobby because our group members are working to master an art form. I take my writing more seriously than I do my knitting or other needle work. It’s more than a hobby even if it’s not (yet) a profession. (And I have no idea where Gage’s Notes fits into this equation. It’s also sort of a middle ground thing.)
Where do you stand on the idea and reasons for hobbies? If you are someone who can’t come up with a hobby, I encourage you to try some versions on for size. Hobbies are fun in themselves but they are also important as part of a balanced life. If you have a hobby you are deeply invested in, have you spent any time on it lately? If not, can you find an hour for it, even just to read about it or watch a YouTube video that will teach you something new? Try to find time in your week for a hobby. It’s got value for its own sake, but it also refreshes us mentally and emotionally and that helps us in our work and our lives.