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Hobby pressure

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NOVEMBER 09, 2022

Every semester, there’s the dreaded icebreaker: “What are your hobbies?” 

This has always been my least favorite icebreaker question. It is deceptively simple — we all have hobbies, right? I do things in my free time, sure, but nothing that could be conventionally considered a “hobby.” 

Watching Netflix, scrolling through social media and shopping are generally not considered hobbies. Telling people that your hobby is scrolling through TikTok tends to be looked down upon, despite the fact that everyone does that. When I’m asked about my hobbies, I usually give a lame answer like “reading” or “hanging out with my friends.”

Why aren’t the things I typically enjoy considered hobbies? While I’ve danced for most of my life, I would never consider that a hobby of mine, especially since I don’t dance anymore. I never played any sports or participated in any extracurricular activities that could be considered hobbies. 

Why are certain things considered hobbies, but not others? How come watching movies is a hobby, but watching TV is not? Why is playing video games a hobby, but not watching YouTube? Cooking is a hobby, but eating good food is not?

I’ve always felt that I’m a pretty interesting person; most icebreaker questions don’t stump me the way that the hobby question does. Lacking hobbies makes me feel like I’m not well rounded enough. It’s true, I do enjoy reading! But I’m an English major — do I just like reading because I’m required to do it for class? 

Furthermore, there are plenty of things that I enjoy that I wouldn’t consider a hobby. For example, I love making breakfast. Breakfast is pretty much the only thing that I can cook! But because I don’t enjoy cooking as a whole, making breakfast is not a hobby. Not having “hobbies” makes it feel like I don’t enjoy anything, but of course that isn’t the case. But why must we have hobbies, as well as things that we just casually enjoy?

The proliferation of hobbies throughout our lives is much easier when you’re a kid. When you’re barely a fully formed human, pretty much anything you find fun can be a hobby. If you asked 7-year-old Aviva about her hobbies, they might have included stuff like “swimming” and “jumping on the trampoline.” Now that I’m older, however, swimming can no longer be considered a hobby, because I’m not good at it. Sure, I love hanging out at the pool as much as 7-year-old me, but it’s no longer a hobby like it was when I was younger. As you get older, with your hobbies comes an expectation that you are good at them. 

Why must we succeed at the things that we enjoy?

I’ve always felt extremely mediocre at every extracurricular activity that I participated in as a child and teenager. Even though I danced for 16 years of my life, I never was amazing at it and I knew it wouldn’t be something to pursue as an adult, and certainly not for a career. So I never coined it as one of my hobbies, because I knew that by sharing this information, people would expect a certain level of talent. 

A level of talent that I didn’t have.

As I get older, the pressure to be talented at my “hobbies” only increases. Perhaps this is why social media and watching Netflix aren’t considered hobbies: You can’t be good at these things. But then, there are things that I am good at that also are unacceptable hobbies. Writing essays would be a terrible hobby, but it is something I’m good at. 

Where is the line between talent, things I enjoy and the elusive hobby? These three categories seem like a Venn diagram in my mind: There are things I enjoy and the things that I’m good at, and hobbies fall in that small overlap. 

But what if there is no overlap? What if I truly do have no hobbies at all?

Hobbies are such an important part of one’s personality, because we’re expected to work, and then we’re expected to “not” work. But it seems even the things we do when we’re not working, we’re expected to work at. Even worse, we’re often expected to be making money off of the things we do when we’re not working. Side hustle culture has taken the innocent hobby, and forced it to enter the workforce. Suddenly, not only must we be good at the things we enjoy, but we also must monetize them.

Hobbies seem to have all this extra pressure on them now. Personally, things I enjoy and the things I make money off of have little intersect. And the things I enjoy and the things I’m good at even less. Why must hobbies check all of these boxes? 

Frankly, if I enjoy shopping and buying clothes, then I’m going to start calling that my hobby. Just because I can’t be the best at shopping, or win at buying things, doesn’t mean it can’t be a hobby. I hope that we all start calling whatever we enjoy, a hobby. Because that should be enough. 

Aviva Binder writes the Thursday column on hidden insecurities. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

NOVEMBER 09, 2022