I have a lot of hobbies. I am easily interested in a broad range of topics and I really like to try new things. I get a lot of joy from learning new skills or learning about a new idea (#museumnerd). However, this attraction to novelty means I flit from one thing to another with the gracefulness of a basset hound. I am eager to add new projects and crafts and hobbies because it makes my life full and interesting. But the t-shirt quilt pieces get stuck into the bottom drawer of Alex’s dresser, the ukulele disappears into the board game shelf, the Chinese study books gather dust, the un-hemmed skirt hangs in the closet, and the unread books pile stacks up (yes, despite my books purge I still have one of these).
But this tendency to dabble is distracting at best and paralyzing at worst. Over time I’ve been trying to teach myself to let go of things (even if they are “good”) in order to create more space in my life. And recently I ran across a new concept that helped me think through this. It reminded me of an older concept that I have loved for a long time, and the relationship between the two concepts got me thinking...
The Recent Concept that Blew My Mind
The “any-benefit approach" perfectly describes me. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (which I highly recommend), describes the “any-benefit approach” in this way: you are justified in whatever you do “if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.” (186) Newport applies this approach to social media and networking sites. For example, in any given moment in the day, if I look at Facebook I may see something that entertains or interests me. If I don’t look I may miss out on that entertaining or interesting things. But just because a benefit exists for these things – should I still spend my time on them?
I was struck with how applicable this was to a lot of my own life – especially my hobbies. Yes, I can identify the benefits of making a T-shirt quilt, and I know that I’ll be missing out on the many benefits of music if I don’t practice my ukulele. Maybe. But maybe not. Having a positive benefit does not make something automatically worth my time. All benefits are not created equal. For example, I used to try to jog regularly because I thought it would make me feel good and make me strong and fast and whatnot. There are so many benefits to jogging! Also, I play ultimate Frisbee regularly so jogging will make me a better player! Except….jogging is boring. I don’t enjoy it so have a hard time keeping it up regularly. AND, jogging doesn’t even help me in ultimate Frisbee because I need bursts of sprinting speed, not long-distance jogging speed. So eventually I stopped trying to become a person who jogs. While the benefits of jogging are clear, they don’t match up with what I value.
This was an important point for me to learn. I am easily sidetracked by things that I should be spending time, money, or energy on because they have a benefit – both things that I start but don’t finish (like my T-shirt quilt) and things that I think I should care about because they are so beneficial (jogging, Twitter, or the show Cosmos). However, just because something is good (or awesome or fun or useful) doesn’t mean I have to spend time on them.
This is very freeing. It means that I don’t need to feel bad if I give up something “good” in my life in order to focus on something else that has “more good” at this time (or better or best).
The Classic Concept that Helps Me Not Buy Shoes
A related topic is blogger Miss Minimalist’s discussion of the “fantasy self.” She describes this as the person that you’ve always wanted to be, but just never get around to. Like, if you dream of giving a tea party in your old Victorian house wearing lace gloves, but in reality you buy all your furniture at IKEA and spend your time training for a triathlon. In this instance you should not buy that Victorian chandelier or those lace gloves – you would just be accumulating things that don’t fit in your real life. A fantasy self is not a dream that you would like to get to one day, but a version of yourself that is not realistic. For example, I have a fantasy self that wears high-heel shoes and snappy suits to a high-powered job. Except I don’t (and likely never will) have a high-powered job, suits are too expensive, and I can only stand to wear high-heels a couple hours at a time. Once I accepted these truths, I stopped trying on so many heels! So bye bye fantasy self!
I have also long held this belief that I am a seamstress and my fantasy is that I will make a lot of my own clothes. It’s such a good idea! I learned to sew in high school and I’ve kept this idea in the back of my mind for years. I accumulated tons of random fabric and patterns that I thought I “might use some day.” But, I felt guilty every time I walked past that pile of stuff because in my heart I knew that I wasn’t going to sew my own clothes. No matter how attractive this fantasy self was, the truth is that I don’t love sewing. Once I accepted this, I cleared out the unused fabric, got rid of the patterns I would never use, and gave myself permission to stop thinking about sewing. I still make curtains and tailor clothes, but it’s a much more utilitarian skill rather than a hobby. Just because sewing is a great way to spend time, doesn’t mean that it’s great for ME. (On the other hand, I DO love knitting...)
This may seem like a frivolous example for clearing out space in my life. But it speaks to a larger issue for me. I only have a finite amount of time to spend, and there are so many beneficial and good and fun things clamoring for my time. How do I say no? These two concepts have given me a way to more clearly articulate why I am willing to spend time and/or money on some things rather than other things. It helps to have some kind of metric to measure my choices against. Am I spending time/money/energy on this thing because it has a benefit or because it fits into my current values? Am I spending time/money/energy on this thing because it is integral to my life right now or because it adds to a fantasy version of myself (and will remain unused in a corner)?
I love these two concepts because they give me a new framework to challenge my perceptions of my daily life. In my current season of life, they are useful tools to help me intentionally examine the pieces of my life to decide what makes sense right now. Do these two concepts help you gain perspective on parts of your own life?
P.S. I recently helped a friend with a woodworking project (my first) and am happy to report that I am not interested in woodworking at all! It was such a relief to know that I don’t have another hobby to love! I also tried soldering and am a little more worried about that…