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Stephen Petrey

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Contributing New York Times opinion writer, Tim Wu:

I’m a little surprised by how many people tell me they have no hobbies. It may seem a small thing, but — at the risk of sounding grandiose — I see it as a sign of a civilization in decline. The idea of leisure, after all, is a hard-won achievement; it presupposes that we have overcome the exigencies of brute survival. Yet here in the United States, the wealthiest country in history, we seem to have forgotten the importance of doing things solely because we enjoy them.

[…]

But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.

While hyperbolic at first, I think Tim is onto something here. Having a hobby is hard. There’s certainly a deep social expectation that one must be an expert to satisfy the appearance of a hobbyist. I’ve felt it. What once was leisure, is now subject to the intensity and bombardment of excellence.

There’s nothing’s wrong with maintaining mediocrity — and there’s certainly nothing wrong with amateur hobbies either. Be it painting, drawing, yoga, reading, jogging, or even playing video games (or golf, for  a different generation). Skill shouldn’t matter in the arena of hobbyists. That’s the whole point. It’s just a hobby.

I’m not saying hobbies have no room for improvement. I’m sure many will seek out means to hone their craft. Others will not. Some will become frustrated and move onto other hobbies. That’s how it should work. Probably best to ignore societal pressures to pro-actively level-up your hobby too. Let’s say you enjoy gardening. You’re under no obligation to study up on heredity, and follow the footsteps of Gregor Mendel in breeding varieties of pea plants. Because, well that would no longer make it a hobby wouldn’t it?

The entire concept of having a hobby at all is because we enjoy leisure and relaxation. Focus on yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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