I have trouble self-identifying with any of my hobbies. Recently, someone asked if I was a writer. I responded with something like: “Errr, ummm, well, I don’t write fiction.” Which is neither a yes nor a no, and not really an answer at all. But I have this fear that if I claim to like doing something, people will immediately demand evidence that I’m good at it.
I enjoy writing. It helps me sort out my thoughts and feelings. But because I’ve never been published by a popular literary magazine, or even a website like the Huffington Post, I don’t feel I can identify as a writer. I love books, and I used to think of it as one of my defining characteristics. However, since I’ve read less than 20 books this year, I don’t feel I can identify as a reader.
I like to cook and bake. But I just burned the fish I made for dinner, and I’d probably be eliminated during round one of the Great British Baking Show. Over the summer I was very enthusiastic about a pottery class I was taking, which resulted in a series of very lopsided bowls. You can see where this is going.
In less than a decade of adulthood, I’ve explored many different interests and hobbies, and I believe at least a few of them are here to stay. The problem is I’m not outstandingly good at any of them.
Worse than not being an extraordinarily talented potter who grows rich and famous from crafting perfectly symmetrical bowls is my inability to define myself through any one key interest or hobby.
It’s Important to Embrace Diverse Interests
Not long ago, I went on a couple of dates with a guy I met on a dating app. Based on his profile, I thought he was my perfect match. A grad student studying British literature with an emphasis on Romanticism and women writers. I know what you’re thinking. . . a guy like that is either lying about his real interests or is just a d-bag in person. He actually wasn’t either of those things. He was cute, smart, and we could talk for hours about books and poetry. The problem? We didn’t have anything else to talk about besides books and poetry.
To be fair, getting a PhD is an extremely time-consuming process that doesn’t leave much time for extracurriculars. And yet, I desperately wanted him to show an interest in something else, even something he was bad at. Heck, it could’ve been river dancing or writing Stars Wars fanfiction, anything to show he was capable of diverse interests.
Society encourages us to self-market as one specific thing. Yoga instructor. Animal lover. Graphic designer. Foodie. It’s easier to build a persona around this one thing we are good at or knowledgeable about for our resumes, our dating profiles, and our social media accounts. Society wants us to stick a label on ourselves because identifying someone with their one specific thing is easier than getting to know the details of them as a person.
We Are More than Our Hobbies
But aren’t we all a lot more than that one hobby or interest we might be pursuing at a certain stage of our life? Every human being has their dreams, hopes, and ambitions, but also their regrets, failures, and embarrassing anecdotes. We are all these things and more.
When I look back on the last 10, or even 5, years of my life, I realize I’ve loved and been passionate about a lot of things that I no longer really care about. I could view all of those different phases as a waste of my time, particularly the one in high school where I plastered boy band posters all over my wall. Or, I could view them as necessary stepping stones that helped me become the multi-faceted person I am today, the Jonas Brothers notwithstanding.
Realizing how much my tastes have changed over the years is a little bit scary. It took me over four dates to figure out why I wasn’t attracted to Mr. British PhD. He was the perfect guy for a completely different phase of my life. The one where I defined myself by my English degree and only wanted to read classic novels.
As much as I still love Jane Austen, it’s OK if new people I meet don’t. Mostly, I want someone who will fan the smoke detector while I’m making dinner and encourage me to make more lopsided clay bowls. Someone who doesn’t mind if I sometimes watch the movie before I read the book.
Loving Something is Better than Being Good at It
Recognizing that my tastes and interests have changed is also recognizing that who I am as an individual will continue to change. Maybe the one great passion of my life is yet to be discovered. Or, maybe I’m just another person destined to be defined by my 9-to-5 job, my boring gym routine, my Netflix queue, and a list of hobbies I’m mediocre at. That’s OK if that’s how society wants to define me. I know I am more than that.
I used to think it was very important that I not become a boring person with the usual everyday habits. But I’m actually much happier now that I’m not pressuring myself to become one specific extraordinary thing. I don’t have to define myself as a writer. Instead, I write because I enjoy the experience of writing.
I cook, read, and create imperfect things, because as human beings that’s what we do. We continue doing and being and experiencing life for the joy of it, not because we are the best. Sometimes being in love with pursuing new things is more important than tying your entire self-image to that one thing you might, or might not, actually be good at.
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