3 Reasons Why We Give Up Our Hobbies & Passions — And 3 Ways We Can Take Them Back!
Creating time to pursue our hobbies and passions has been shown to improve workplace performance, mental well-being and physical health. So, why do so many of us give up on them?
Do you ever find yourself wondering what things would be like if you’d continued on with a hobby, but think that it’s ‘too late to start again’, or that ‘you’re too busy’?
If so, you’re not alone.
In this article, I’ll discuss three reasons why we give up on our hobbies and passions — after all, until we acknowledge the cause of something, we’re unlikely to change it. I’ll then share three perspectives that we can utilise to bring our hobbies and passions back into our lives.
To me, our hobbies and passions are a unique, creative expression of identity at any time in our life, that ideally evolve with us as we grow. They can take any kind of form, for example: sport, dance, photography, music, textiles, programming, literature, art, drama, poetry, gardening, volunteering — anything. Ultimately, participating in our hobbies and passions results in feelings of joy, presence, excitement, curiosity, positive challenge, peace or fulfilment…
…except, in most cases, we gave up on these activities a long time ago.
Let me clarify with three reasons that you may be able to relate to:
1. We live in a result-driven society where our worth is determined largely by how we compare to others — and to our past selves.
We become exposed to the idea of assigning worth to ourselves based on how we compare to others from a young age. Whether comparisons become apparent through competition (e.g. highest test scores, fastest in the playground, strongest arm wrestler) or observation (e.g. most beautiful eyes, biggest muscles, thinnest body); those who possess the traits that society deems to be of highest value will be rewarded with recognition, admiration, praise — and likely jealousy by those deemed ‘inferior’.
Don’t misinterpret me — I believe competitive, result-driven behaviour can yield positive outcomes. However, issues arise when we begin to interlink our self-worth with our relative performance. The consequences can include low self-confidence, social anxiety, self-imposed pressure to perform (amongst many others) — as well as a desire to pursue what we’re ‘good’ at whilst giving up/not attempting what we’re ‘not good’ at.
These negative consequences are amplified when we compare our current proficiency in our past hobbies and passions to that of our younger selves. For some reason, our ego is surprised that we’ve lost strength in the gym after a half-year bout of injury. It’s surprised when we pick up a guitar at our friend’s house for the first time in years and, to our chagrin, can’t play with the ease and fluency of when we were 13-years old, practising for 30 minutes every day. And it berates us mercilessly for our incompetence in comparison to the ghost of our past-self.
Of course, logically, with each passing year of not doing an activity, it makes perfect sense that we regress from the level we were once capable of. It’s naive to expect otherwise from ourselves. But since when was our ego mature and logical?
Therefore, despite the fact that *enter an old hobby or passion here* once brought us joy, our awareness that our performance now is inferior to that of others or our past-self makes us question whether we should be pursuing it at all.
We let the hobby go. And one day, we look back on it and wistfully express that it was a shame we didn’t continue with it…but remain too haunted by the ghost of our past self to pick it up again.
2. We are taught to fear the unknown (uncertainty) and value ‘the known’ (security).
In part, this is understandable. The generations we descended from went through times of economic struggle and poverty (whether as first-hand sufferers or observers). As such, their desire to avoid seeing their offspring suffer the same fate is etched into their subconscious mind, and is promptly passed down to us.
Unfortunately, this brainwashing is toxic. It gives us the impression that our only options are extremes; either we, “pursue our passions and succeed to the extent that we are financially supported by it”, or we, “stop wasting our time, give up our hobbies and pursue a ‘safe option’ or get ourselves an ‘ordinary job’ that pays the bills”.
Given that the former is very rare, many of us end up accepting the latter fate, largely because of point 1 — if we can’t commit to becoming ‘good’ at our passions, we might as well give up.
As a byproduct of this decision-making process, we develop a tendency to become overly anxious about the future, our minds constantly analysing our prospects for future security at the expense of our joy in the present situation.
3. We fear disapproval and rejection.
We grow up in a highly judgemental society where, especially during teenage years, not conforming to the norm is often frowned upon by our peers. Being very ego-driven at this age, we often suppress our passions (often because of point 1).
And then as we get older and other social norms begin to apply (for example, if you can’t achieve a ‘good result’, it’s a ‘waste of time’), we may feel even more uncomfortable trying to express ourselves through our hobbies.
Consider the number of young girls giving up sport or programming because it’s a ‘boys’ activity, or young boys bullying the kid who enjoys going to the theatre and wants to dance on Broadway one day. I don’t have figures to justify these examples — but I challenge any of you reading this to tell me they don’t exist. These events communicate to the victims that they must conform to the norm in order to be accepted by those around them, even if it means suppressing their personal expression.
So, how do we break free from these fears and limiting beliefs in order to own our hobbies and passions?
Here are 3 ways:
1. Detaching from the idea that ‘meaning’ can only be derived from external recognition.
Once we break this connection, it liberates us to continue our hobbies and passions without it needing to be validated. If anything, we can derive more joy from it in the process, as it’s no longer tied to how much we accomplish. And with this, we’re also liberated from the constraint of time; we can simply enjoy our hobby when we wish — we are not obliged to exercise it x times a week for y hours to reach z goal.
We shouldn’t create dis-empowering conditions that make our hobbies impossible to carry out, whether it’s in the form of needing recognition from others or expecting progress from ourselves. If we create a condition that we need an hour to commit to our hobby, we may rarely find the time for it. But if we say we’ll have fun with that same hobby for just twenty minutes, it’s far more likely that we’ll get started.
Make your hobbies and passions as easy to do as possible, and with as few conditions as possible.
2. Balancing future wants/needs with present joy.
We can live and enjoy the present moment whilst still honouring our future. As a simple example, whatever hobby you desire to express now has an underlying benefit for your future state, whether it’s to re-energise you for the tasks at hand, or simply to de-stress and disengage from the events of the day to enable you to be more pleasant and present around your friends, spouse or children.
Your hobbies aren’t meant to be an escape from your commitments. If they become so, your internal compass will let you know through feelings of guilt and anger directed towards yourself.
Done in the right quantity, you’ll avoid guilt and doubt. And by consciously drawing links between how engaging in an activity you enjoy in the present also benefits you in the (near or long-term) future, you can commit to the moment at hand with greater zeal!
Done correctly, participating in your hobbies and passions in a sustainable way will help you to honour your work, family and personal commitments better.
3. Identifying and reining in our ego-driven thoughts, limiting beliefs and perceptions.
When we perceive that others may be judging us in a certain fashion, and so decide not to act in a certain way, we need to be honest with ourselves. The ‘others’ in this equation, simply put, most likely don’t give a *insert 4-letter word that isn’t suitable for LinkedIn here*. They have their own problems to deal with, and they’re far too consumed by them to focus on us! They don’t have more than a second to spare for us as they go about their own business.
Let’s be honest with ourselves — this external judgement is just a projection that our ego has conjured. In truth, we’re sabotaging our own expression. It’s our ego that is judging us for not being ‘good’ at our hobby relative to others, it’s our ego berating us for being even worse than we used to be, and thus saying that we’re useless, worthless and ought to be ashamed and embarrassed for even entertaining the notion of pursuing this activity.
This is when we need to tell our ego to shut the *insert another 4-letter word that isn’t suitable for LinkedIn here* up, and act anyway.
What’s the worst that can happen?
People laugh at us? Make a derogatory comment? As well as speaking volumes about that individual’s own insecurities, why should we permit this to phase us? After all, we’re joyful, immersed in what we love doing, and not bringing harm to any others in expressing our passion. Their comment doesn’t have to stop us — and our ego’s fear of their commentary (anticipated or real) certainly doesn’t have to either!
I’ll conclude with this thought.
If there was no one in the world watching you express your passions and hobbies, would you still do it?
If you answered ‘yes’, then you owe it to yourself to pursue that hobby whenever you find the opportunity, at whatever level you feel comfortable with.
Progress should be determined solely by you. You’re not doing this activity to feed your ego, meet commitment obligations or fuel your desire for approval — you’re simply expressing what comes naturally to you, and immersing in the joy, satisfaction and fulfilment that comes with it, recharging responsibly to continue building the firm foundations for your work, family and personal life.
And there is no greater reward than that.
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011–15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of ‘The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success’. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he’s not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.