Adult Hobbies

Replied to what a hobby feels like by Anne Helen Petersen (Culture Study)

Races like the Ragnar are often conceived of as “stuff (bourgeois) white people like”: paying for the privilege to exhaust yourself. And I don’t disagree. But I think the motivating factor is perhaps more the “bourgeois” more than the whiteness, and probably has even more to do with a certain type of work/lifestyle. People within this realm work so much — and, depending on age, have so many obligations towards their families — that they have to formalize and extremetize leisure in order to rationalize seeking it. It has to involve consumption in some way (buy this running Camelbak!), and planning / long-term commitment (you sign up months before), societal buy-in (knowledge that this is a cool thing that you are doing), and secondary optimization (exercise). Then you can give yourself permission to spend 48 hours doing something exclusively for yourself and your suffering-and-survival as enjoyment.

It didn’t feel like a choice, it just felt like a natural gravity.

To me, that’s what I think a real hobby feels like. Not something you feel like you’re choosing, or scheduling — not a hassle, or something you resent or feel bad about when you don’t do it.

The truth is, it’s really really hard to start a hobby as an adult — it feels unnatural, or forced, or performative…It’s also hard when the messages about what you should be doing with your leisure time are so incredibly contradictory.

But I grew up in a place, and a time, where hobbies — activities that had no place on your resume, no function in getting you into a better school — were still commonplace. Amongst the bourgeois American middle class, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Old Millennials were the last to experience this attitude towards activities and leisure…It’s weird to think of yourself as privileged to know what you like.

I can feel this. I have dabbled in hobbies over the years and have a hard time divorcing myself from a productivity mindset. Even if I enjoy an activity it’s hard to make myself do it.

This year I’ve played some with block printing. It’s easier to get myself to do something for other people (don’t want to get into *that* here though) and making art for other people gives me an excuse to actually make art. I’m all about tricking my brain if needed. I tried on puzzles for size but they seem to be something I only enjoy a few times a year.

Growing up, my parents had hobbies that they seemed to do pretty regularly. My dad is a woodworker and my mom is a sewer. I’m not a handy person but when I first got out of college pursued jewelry making (setting myself up with an obligatory Etsy shop). I did it a fair bit (and dumped a lot of money into supplies), enough to realize all the reasons I didn’t like it all that well. I used to play sax, but without a band to play in I’m not that into it. Writing has been a hobby that I’m also trying to treat less like a hobby and more like a profession.

I suppose blogging is the closest thing I have to an ongoing long-term hobby. Tied in with that are my dabbling efforts at joining the Indie Web. It’s actually helpful to think of it as a new hobby I’m getting into, an offshoot of blogging and hosting my own websites.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

4 replies on “Adult Hobbies”

As a kid I already hated the word ‘hobby’. Parents/adults always seemed to imply some put-down with that word. Also sentences like ‘why not pick a hobby’ seemed to me to flip means and goal, turning ‘having a hobby’ into a goal and having, finding, or worse coming up, with an interest into a means. I avoid the word hobby (like I avoid the notion of being ‘a fan’ of something for similar reasons). I have interests, some are more dormant currently, others lead to activity at the moment, and it shifts with time. I also found over the years that some of those interests will migrate from an activity in my own time towards paid work, and some to even being the center of work for an extended time. So I’ve come to see interests and activities as a pool from which future work may well spring. At the same time it does not need to be clear how that might happen, better not even, as having the interest is its own reward. Vice versa I am ok with treating any activity I care about as a professional activity (in terms of the tools and practices I bring to it), and that blurs the line between ‘private’ and ‘work’ even more than being self-employed already ensures. Basically it means that when I am not working it mostly looks the same as when I am working. There’s only no administrative follow-up like sending an invoice. It’s a bit like how Henriette and I worded it in a conversation a long time ago: I get up in the morning and go to sleep in the evening, and in between I do stuff.

“I’ve come to see interests and activities as a pool from which future work may well spring. At the same time it does not need to be clear how that might happen, better not even, as having the interest is its own reward.” I really like this way of thinking about activities and interests! I think there may be some societal pressure to define our activities as work or casual by whether we make money off them, but money isn’t a great gauge of how seriously we treat an activity, or our level of skill. That serial killer code was just cracked by “hobbyists” who’d been working on it for more than ten years IIRC. I started a big project last year that technically I got a business license for but I’m more interested in other outcomes from it than money.

I tend to think of my personal projects – fiction writing, that business, blogging, personal design projects – as “creative work” because I use the same skills as in my day job, but the projects are self assigned and chosen. From that perspective, when I think of hobbies outside of that, I think of activities that are less involved or one-offs – but as you point out, a lot of those could become larger ventures if given more energy and time. I like your flexibility in thinking about how activities can phase in and out of focus, level of effort, and whether or not they are compensated.

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