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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Too Many Hobbies?

After spending my childhood drawing and painting, I feel that part of me has atrophied–I may be a published author, but in another sense I still feel creatively unfulfilled. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a kid, which probably has a lot to do with why I’m so obsessed with knitting now.Last spring (thanks to Margaret) I discovered Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider, which is one of those great books on craft and practice that can change your life, if you let it. But one of the passages that struck me most concerns everything that isn’t writing or reading: the concept of too many hobbies. Schneider proclaims, “I gave up sewing forever,” and rather implies that there is no room in a writer’s life for any other creative endeavor. I don’t know that she meant to say this, but that’s the impact it had on me, and naturally I have to disagree.

To a certain extent I think the practice of diverse arts can enrich and inform, like creative cross-pollination; but there’s no denying there is such a thing as too many hobbies, leaving one feeling scattered and unaccomplished in the few activities that matter most. There never seems to be enough time to do everything because there isn’t enough time to do everything. A couple of recent posts on the Unclutterer blog have driven this home for me (Saying farewell to a hobby, part 1; part 2).

The trouble in giving these hobbies up, though, is that on some level we all think we can be Renaissance women and men–if we only devote enough time to each thing in which we think we ought to excel, then we will, and in the process we will become better, more “well-rounded” people. I “ought” to speak at least two foreign languages, play the guitar, sew my own sundresses, knit all my own sweaters, paint and read and write. But we can’t all be Leonardo da Vinci, and if you’ve ever read his biography you’ll know that’s actually a good thing.

I have a left-handed Fender acoustic guitar in my closet that hasn’t come out of its case in years. I guess I should find it a better home. I know I’ll never be as good a painter as I am a writer, even if I do take it up again. But I’m not really talking about jettisoning the hobbies you aren’t AMAZING at–if you love to do it, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t “good enough” to do it along with the pros.

Maybe it comes down to this: if you’re truly passionate about it, you’re already doing it. What do you think?

7 Comments to Too Many Hobbies?

  1. Pare's Gravatar Pare
    November 11, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I think there is value in doing whatever fuels you creatively.

    I have boxes and boxes of cast-off fabric and squares of felt and embroidery thread and googly eyes that I hardly ever touch, except once or twice a year when I need to tear out the sewing machine and make a horrible, drunk-looking stuffed animal. It frees my (horrible, drunk-looking mind).

    Why stop doing something you enjoy? There is never enough time for it all, no, but what time there is is that much sweeter.

  2. Jenny's Gravatar Jenny
    November 11, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Interesting topic! When is a hobby not a hobby!? I've several 'things' that I don't even dare to call hobbies because I'm not actually good at them and don't spend much time at them. The main issue for me is that can I feel guilty about spending too much time at one thing, neglecting another thing, or spending a few hours researching something before deciding not to delve any deeper into it (I once had a notion I would learn the clarinet. Bought a book and everything. The book put me right off!). Seeing as we're talking about hobbies, which are meant to be enjoyable, relaxing and fulfilling, then having guilt attched is ridiculous!
    Now I'm getting into the habit of being a bit more realistic about what I can do in the time I have and with the budget I have, and within that, doing what I enjoy doing. And not feeling (too) guilty if I don't finish a project. Those people who speak three languages, play two musical instruments, cook well, dance beautifully, make all their own clothes, fund raise for charity and still find time to have a career and/or take care of a family? Either don't exist or are very old so have had lots of time to learn all those things 🙂

  3. Camille's Gravatar Camille
    November 11, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments! Yes, the guilty feelings make no sense, and I definitely want to follow your lead, Jenny, in conditioning myself not to feel bad about the things I'm not making time for. That's what Erin at the Unclutterer was getting at—if it's making you feel guilty, then get rid of it. I don't feel guilty about the projects I'm actually working on, even if I don't spend as much time on them as I would like. And yes, I prefer to believe that these amazing Renaissance people don't actually exist.

    Pare…I hope you never get rid of your crafting stuff. There's always room in the world for more drunken stuffed animals.

  4. Emily's Gravatar Emily
    November 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    I meant to comment earlier but had to run to work – I agree that it's always hard to find a balance between allowing oneself time to do the things that are nourishing, and admitting that there just isn't time to do EVERYTHING that might be interesting. I do strongly agree that some degree of diversity in arts makes for a more interesting, engaged person, though. So it's all about finding a middle ground.

  5. Susan's Gravatar Susan
    November 12, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    It's too bad we don't know for sure about reincarnation; if we did and if it were so, we could devote one life to one hobby and do it to perfection. At least that's my contribution on the subject!

  6. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    November 17, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    The problem is that there is only so much time in the day. I feel the same sort of guilt when it comes to Chinese–I would consider it to be my hobby (if a language can be a hobby), yet it always gets pushed aside.

  7. Camille's Gravatar Camille
    November 17, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Dude, you are going to law school full-time (commuting!) AND working nearly full-time. AND law review and all the other stuff you do. I think you get a free pass on the Chinese!!!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.