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The Vine: April 5, 2017

Submitted by on April 5, 2017 – 8:21 AM15 Comments

I have a question I'm hoping you or the readers can give me some fresh ideas on. I feel like I need a hobby.

And I'm paralyzed with indecision and maybe a little laziness.

The back story is that for 12 years I worked a demanding job — 80 hours a week, nights and weekends required, rotating schedule of days off. My life mainly consisted of sleeping, working, drinking and surviving a terrible marriage. I got divorced and quit my job two years ago, and am now happily working in the same profession but with a 40-hour work week and a more stable schedule.

The problem is that I feel like I don't DO anything. I love to read, do crossword puzzles, walk my best friend's dog with her, but I don't really have "a thing" I'm passionate about. I feel like I want to meet new people and be super-invested in something, but it's so overwhelming to think about. How do I try something new when I don't even know where to start? Or what to start with? Or have someone to start with me? Especially when I work most weekends and a lot of nights — most groups don't meet up during the weekdays when I am free to participate.

I feel silly asking this, because I know that what makes other people passionate isn't going to be the same for me — but what do I do when I feel like I am passionless? Am I just depressed? Maybe I'm just a boring person? People ask what your hobbies are when they meet you, and my response is lately, "I read a lot, and binge-watch Netflix."

Thanks!

J

Dear J,

No no no no, sensei. You're "working towards a black belt in the sedentary arts." [bows deeply] [remote clatters to the floor] Can't they make a gi with pockets, my God.

…Okay, "ha ha," but I feel like I JUST nodded at a tweet about this, like, yesterday. Hold, please. …Ah, here it is:

Let me try to clear the more distressing question here, which is whether you're depressed: no. I mean, maybe you are, but liking indoorsy pursuits is not an indicator of that, to me. And the "me" in question runs a TV website in the midst of a literal barrage of programming so thick that I can barely keep up with shows I adore, much less find new stuff to watch, and I run a true-crime review blog too, in the First Golden Age of true-crime podcasts, plus there is an entire wall of my bedroom where I store unread books. An entire wall! And I'm supposed to indulge in luxuries like sleeping and interacting with my spouse and friends, apparently?

Point is, I've found a way to make many of my interests and obsessions (DB Cooper; being a know-it-all) into my work — but there is a downside to that, and I don't just mean the "pay." It's that then, it's…work. My own tendencies in that regard have to do with my sense of self-worth and feeling like I "shouldn't" just relax and screw off, so I turn even watching an ER rerun into a task-based 45 minutes — but I also think there is a larger societal/cultural instinct that devalues down time for its own sake, and turns all sorts of hobbies and leisure activities into competitions (yearly challenges on Goodreads) or judgments (that every nesting mag has a set of cookie stencils at the holidays) and it's like, I just wanted to listen to Karina Longworth talk about the blacklist and bake some snickerdoodles, but there's no "just" anymore.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to make an art-directed snickerdoodle, or knit beautiful and functional scarves, of course. But just because your activities aren't Instagrammable doesn't make them a waste of time. If you want to take a class on Italian cooking because you think your marinara could be more delicious for you ("and me!" – your friend's dog.), go for it. If you want to join a hiking or birding Meet-Up because your #oldladywalk route is boring, do that. Doing new stuff and meeting new people now and then is good.

But it's not easy for everyone (hi, introverts), and it's not necessary for the world to sign off on your downtime contentment. We live in a performative world. Social media makes it seem like everyone has to have A Thing, a pitch. "My brand is analog chill!" It's okay to just like to read and bury yourself in Midsomer Murders. (I…hope.)

If you do want to branch out but you don't know where to start, find a meet-up group near you that's a book club in a genre you like. If a podcast you listen to is doing a live event near you, go on out to that, or to a free concert in a park near you. Support your local art galleries by stopping in. Loved that book about art forgeries? Maybe you'd like auditing an art-history class at a college nearby.

Maybe you'd hate that. Either way: you are fine. You don't need "fixing" because you don't have a 365 Leaves Of Chard blog. And if you want one, start it, and don't overthink it.

Got a Vine question of your own? Send it in! Etiquette, grammar, gift crowdsourcing, you name it and we'll ponder it. bunting at tomatonation dot com!

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15 Comments »

  • attica says:

    Maybe the question "What do you do?" shouldn't be seen as a demand, like a border soldier requesting your passport: Have a 'good' hobby or you can't come in! It's really just a conversational opener. So you read a lot! You've read interesting things, probably even this morning! Answer with that. You Netflix! Answer with your gimlet-eyed take on that bushy-haired guy from Iron Fist, or how excited you are that Kristen Ritter kills it as Jessica Jones, or how Tennant should maybe stick to playing villains.

    Culture these days seems to funnel all activity in that hyper-organized direction, right? You can't just enjoy running, you have to enter community Fun Runs with numbers and water stations and everything. Except you can. You can give yourself permission that the life you have now behind your eyes is as worthwhile as anything else. And if you get to a point where it bores you or doesn't quite fill you all the way up (maybe that's now, or maybe not) I bet the universe will send/reveal something that will pique your interest. Like that new marinara Sarah's cooking…

  • Maru says:

    I agree that you don't need a hobby to define yourself to others. But maybe what you're looking for is something to do with your free time or a way to meet people, and you're not sure what might strike a chord with you. I'm a quilter. Before I found that out, I just knew that I wanted something to do with my hands and my spare time. My city's recreation dept offers lots of classes for this very reason. I've taken pottery, weaving and stained glass classes. None of them clicked with me, but I had fun and met people. Once I found quilting, I started joining groups, taking trips to quilt shows, and making friends with the same interest.

    These are all very crafty things, and that might not be your bag. But there are walking clubs, language classes, dance and exercise, and cooking classes.

  • Katie says:

    Meetup.com can be really helpful, and if you're not sure what kind of group you want to join, do some browsing. It might also help to just make a list of things you like- really, ANYTHING you like, whether it's something you'd consider a "hobby" or not- and see what strikes a chord with you.

  • Cora says:

    In terms of choosing, what did you like to do as a kid? I've known several people who have rediscovered stuff like biking, painting, skating, singing, that they loved doing while in school, but stopped in adulthood. If you liked it then, you might still like it now. If you try it and don't like it, no biggie.

    You can also set a really big goal and work toward it, like "I'm going to live in Germany for a summer." Then you plan the steps to get there (language learning, saving money, finding a host program), which takes some time. Taking care of all the steps means you'll necessarily meet some new people doing different things; at the end, you reach your goal and feel accomplished.

    … or, you start taking the steps and realize that no, you don't actually want to do this. Well, at least you know that now. Just don't force yourself into anything. There's no real pressure here.

  • Jenn says:

    You can always look into volunteer opportunities in your community. You might pick up a new interest that way. Plus, you'll meet more people and give back at the same time.

  • pomme de terre says:

    I listened to an Elizabeth Gilbert podcast a while back and she said passion is overrated and fetishized (follow your passion!!) and curiosity is better. LW might not have (or currently be aware of) a passion, but it sounds like she has curiosity about books and TV. Curiosity may lead to a more well-defined passion but even if it doesn't, it results in a pretty interesting life! This Q&A even delves into the "Wait, is this depression?" aspect of it.

    http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/09/how-curiosity-leads-to-creativity.html

    I also like this essay/FB rant that EG wrote teasing out the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.

    https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/posts/948792035202912:0?__mref=message_bubble

    Eat Pray Love haters, COME AT ME.

  • Bopper says:

    This is what I do;
    Mondays: Tennis clinic in winter or golf league in summer plus Church Trustees committee
    Tuesdays: Film Series
    Wednesdays: off
    Thursdays: Church Bell Choir

    Also I am an alumni admissions ambassador for my alma mater and do some interviews and college fairs.

  • Rebecca U says:

    Author readings, sometimes skyped at the local library, look on your favorite author's facebook pages to see if they are coming to you

    Libraries here have a ton of free events

    Our Y has an indoor pool open at all kinds of hours, we meet up with friends

    Like Maru said, city rec centers offer all types of classes

    Sci-fi/comic convention? Last year ours offered several on different aspects of writing/publishing if that's of interest

  • Erin W says:

    I'm a 100% homebody introvert and I feel no guilt when people in the office are sharing about their weekend activities and I say, "I just hung out at home this weekend. Caught up on Feud. Made a casserole. It ruled."

    But here are my ideas:

    1. Get a dog. Really! Walks, baths, grooming, playing, cuddling. Great uses of one's time.

    2. Join Meetup. Find a group that does stuff you want to do (I'm in groups for movies, trivia, dog-walking, and tea drinking).

    3. Get a library book and teach yourself something: a foreign language. How to code. How to knit. How to make stews from scratch.

    4. Take the stuff you're already doing and blog about it. WordPress is easy and free. There are all sorts of weird communities that may want to read and comment on and share your opinions on whatever you're reading or watching on TV, or what you just cooked.

    5. Add structure to what you're already doing. This may seem counterproductive if you're trying to just chill, but when I need a boost with reading or movies, I add a challenge element. I've watched everything on the AFI's Best Movies list. I've read a book from every continent. You can bag it if it's no fun, but sometimes checking something off a list is an extra incentive for me to do something like watching a movie I've never seen as opposed to something I've seen eight jillion times.

    And don't beat yourself up if you never achieve fanaticism. My parents were enormously invested in a particular sport when I was growing up–practices 3-4 times a week, every weekend, traveling to matches, etc.–and they just always seemed tired and obligated to me. They probably weren't, or they weren't all the time, but it felt that way to me because I'm not built for that kind of slavish devotion, and I don't mind at all that I'm not. I'm not always busy, but I am never bored.

  • sam says:

    Oh LW, I so feel this. I have one of those super time consuming jobs (lawyer) that doesn't leave a lot of time for anything else.

    I really enjoy photography (check out my website at my name!). So I do stuff related to that. Mostly by myself, but I'll also check out random events around town (usually on Atlas Obscura or other similar sites), or just subscribe to Gothamist and other local blogs to see what's new and interesting in town that I can go visit. I've had a few people ask me why I don't do less lawyering and more photography, and I have to point out that the lawyering pays for the photography. And my mortgage. :) By the way – Atlas Obscura totally has events and walks during the week. I know this because they're always having stuff when I'm at work!

    When I have downtime, i pick up random things to do around town – sometimes those "things" involve going and sitting in the local coffeeshop and reading until I end up on a first name basis with the baristas and the other regulars. But other times its more productive. I got into cycling for a while, so I found a few different cycling groups – nothing too organized or intense – more of a "hey, we all talk about biking on twitter, let's meet up and ride to coney island" type of thing – and out of that thing I did eight years ago? I ended up with one actual permanent friend – I view that as a pretty good return on investment.

    And last but not least, watching TV and reading blogs (especially in this age of peak TV) is totally a THING THAT IS VALID. I also have a few political blogs that I comment regularly at, and periodically the commentariats there have meetups – I used to be shy about going, but the times that I've gone, I've ended up having a great time.

    Also. just for kicks – one of my best friends in the entire world is someone that I originally met via (yes) the Television Without Pity message boards. We've known each other IRL for over fifteen years. The internet may be a trashfire most of the time, but sometimes? It's magic.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Oh, I sympathize, LW, especially with the weird schedule thing. I work nights and weekends and my days off are in the middle of the week when everyone else is working.

    One thing my husband and I did is buy an exercise bike. I love it (he only rides off and on, lazy lump) but we've gotten up to 1500 miles on it! I like having it right there, in the house, so I can hop on and do a couple miles while watching Law and Order reruns and not have to worry about everybody staring at my sweaty butt. I can wash and change right away too. It also makes my apparent hobby of watching Law and Order reruns a bit more productive.

  • haras25 says:

    @Erin W – "5. Add structure to what you're already doing."

    This one rings very true with me. I loved watching movies in general, but it felt like a lame hobby to talk about. However, once I set a silly goal I could talk about how I just watched Apocalypse Now in my attempt to see every movie that was nominated for Best Picture in my lifetime. That gave me a quest and also a talking point that made it more fun.

    And yes, I am now up to date on all Best Picture Nominees since 1978. So it is a bit of trivia about me that I can share with others as well!

    I'm definitely sympathetic to the original poster's feeling of "what now?" Even when I was involved in several things at once, they were never official "hobby" type things, and the lack of a defined interest can be tough, when those around you like a particular craft or what have you. But eventually, you'll find it, or find that you don't need it. Either way, you'll find your rhythm!

  • Heather C. says:

    I remember getting out of grad school and getting a real job, and then realizing I actually had time to do stuff! Stuff that didn't involve writing papers! I actually picked up knitting because I wanted to do something WHILE watching tv, and I took a class through the local adult education program. You can find online catalogs to skim through, and sometimes the paper ones too, and see what sparks your interest and fits your schedule. After eight weeks of Chinese cookery, you may decide its not for you, but hopefully you enjoyed yourself while finding that out.

    I also found a cause I was interested in (MS) and started training for a fundraising walk. I'll be doing it for the eleventh time this fall, and have met some wonderful people through it.

    It'll come, but don't rush it. You may still be internally resting from many years of professional and personal stress.

  • Beth C. says:

    I fell you on the weird hours. So, first off, like Sars said, sometimes too much emphasis is put on formalizing a hobby. At the same time, it can be cool to branch out and try new tings and maybe meet some new, cool people.

    I would say still check meetup! You might be surprised, when I was working weekends I found one that was for people who wanted to hang out one Tuesday a month and take a hike, check out a pub, etc etc just because it was Tuesday and a day we all had off.

    Also, you mentioned walking the dog with your friend, if the walking and dog part are fun maybe see if your local animal shelter is in need of dog walkers during the workday? Chances are they have plenty of people playing with the dogs on the weekends, but they could probably use someone who could come by relatively consistently one day a week or so during "normal business hours." Or maybe a museum or something?

    As far as reading goes, I'm participating in the Cannonball Read (https://cannonballread.com/) which is sort of an online book club/book review site. I don't know if you can still officially join, but they do group reads you can participate in without joining the cannonball, just pop into the discussion. It's been a lot of fun for me and I've read a lot more and been a lot more interactive about my reading even though I can't/won't meet in person for something like this.

  • Amy Ruthanne says:

    So grateful to LW for this letter and for all the responses. For several years I was juggling full time work, full time school, and various medical procedures. But then I graduated school, my medical issues got resolved, and suddenly I only had to contend with work. What was I supposed to do with all this new free time?! Thanks to this thread, I can get started on living a new life!