CREATING COLUMN Finding a new hobby can inspire creative growth.
Making time for yourself is important – but it’s what you do with that time that can bring growth
Why are there no good words for hobbies? Pastimes, interests. They all sound a bit banal, conjuring visions of stamp collecting in musty sheds, or trainspotting on a dreary February morning. There’s nothing aspirational about the word ‘hobby’; it’s diminutive – these are small, unimportant things that ll time. And in the digital age, they seem to be a bit outdated.
I used to be somebody with lots of hobbies. In fact, it was something people commented on: “You’ve got so many things that you like to do!” I blogged, I took photos, I was an active part of some thriving online communities. I hoarded novels in a vast, rainbow-spined wall, I took yoga classes. My hobbies, in many ways, were my identity.
And then things changed. A chronic illness meant I had less energy to do anything physical. I had a baby, and my free time shrank down into the small fragments that tted around her needs. Then I launched my business, turning some of those hobbies – photography, writing, the internet – into my every day. For a long time that sustained me. My work was my hobby and my hobby my work – if I was bored, I would work more, and that suited me. When you love what you do, why would you need to do anything else?
About a year ago I was invited to Google HQ for an event. A smiling woman sat me down to ll in some paperwork – what did I do for a job? I explained, as usual, the rangy, multi-hyphenated role of an online creative. And then she said, “and what do you do for fun?”. I was stumped. I’d like to say my mind simply went blank, but the truth is, there was nothing for me to try and remember. The closest I had was “tweeting Luke Skywalker” or “picking my ingrowing leg hairs”, and I knew these wouldn’t quite cut it.
I’d love to report that I came away that day and made some changes, but the pace of my life meant there was still no space for anything more. But shortly after, my husband came on board with my business, and then my daughter began to spend longer in school. I eased back on saying yes to every opportunity and, gradually, more space appeared. But what rushed in to ll that space was boredom. Not the calm, peaceful boredom of a sunny Sunday afternoon but a prickly, dgety feeling of irritability and malaise. I wanted to do something, but nothing appealed any more. Years of scheduling meant that free time came with baked-in preciousness, and nothing seemed good enough to ll it with.
I realised I needed to gure out what I actually found fun. My health issues still presented an obstacle; I was after something I could do sitting down, and I really didn’t want it to involve a screen. Eventually I stumbled across two things that tted; I’m learning to play the piano and embroidering gorgeous Japanese patterns when my daughter’s asleep.
What I’d forgotten, in those long, hobbyless years, was the discomfort of doing something entirely new. It’s like starting high school – all the hard work you put in before becomes meaningless. When we stick to the pastimes or skills that we’ve been perfecting for decades, we have the luxury of expertise and practice to make them easy. As a beginner, it’s full of friction – the discomfort of doing things wrong, the unease of treading unfamiliar territory. My rst embroidery attempts were a bit wonky and sad. And does something even exist if it isn’t good enough to share on Instagram?
But, of course, this discomfort is where all the good stu is. It’s how we grow, how we build empathy, how we learn to teach others, as a parent or auntie, teacher or friend. It’s where we practise patience and kindness to ourselves. It’s how we know that anything is possible, if we stick at it and put in the hours. It’s where our creativity gets to come out of the cage, and stretch its wings in a fresh patch of sun.
Not everyone has the luxury of free time, and how to ll it is a bit of a rst world problem. But that doesn’t mean that hobbies are unimportant. In fact, I think mine might be the most important thing I’ve done for myself all year.