What's Tony Thinking

Another Thing I’ve Changed My Mind About


Someone was asking me recently about my painting. I said, “I find it’s something which I sort of lose myself in.” It’s true, I can paint for hours without much noticing the hours.

Recently, I read a piece about work and “hobbies,” that included this line. “A real hobby isn’t a way to adorn your personality, or perform to masquerade your class status. It’s just something you like to do, full stop.”

It was part of an Atlantic article titled, “How To Care Less About Work,” that kind of fits into the post-pandemic Great Resignation/ Great Reassessment of Work genre. That article by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen, suggested, “As we peer around the corner of the pandemic, let’s talk about what we want to do—and not do—with the rest of our lives.”

Work they argue is over-rated. Hobbies can help. I think they are right, but saying that signals a big change of mind on my part.

Honestly, I looked down on the word “hobby.” To me it meant things like “silly,” or “trivial.” Need I say, I had none. I would wonder how in the world any grown man could build a toy railroad in his basement and spend hours tinkering with it. Not to mention golf, stamp-collecting or building model airplanes.

And, of course, as a minister, work had an extra measure of sanctity. It wasn’t a job, it was a CALLING. If that wasn’t enough it was “God’s work.”

But I repent, if not as with Job “in dust and ashes,” then in paint smears and pratfalls. The latter because my other “hobby” is skiing.

Here are Warzel and Petersen,

“Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay. Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever manner, yours. What did you actually like to do? Not what your parents said you should do, not what you felt as if you should do to fit in, not what you knew would look good on your application for college or a job.

“The answer might be spectacularly simple: You liked riding your bike with no destination in mind, making wild experiments in the kitchen, playing around with eyeshadow, writing fan fiction, playing cards with your grandfather, lying on your bed and listening to music, trying on all your clothes and making ridiculous outfits, thrifting, playing Sims for hours, obsessively sorting baseball cards, playing pickup basketball, taking photos of your feet with black-and-white film, going on long drives, learning to sew, catching bugs, skiing, playing in a band, making forts, harmonizing with other people, putting on mini-plays—whatever it was, you did it because you wanted to. Not because it would look interesting if you posted it on social media, or because it somehow optimized your body, or because it would give you better things to talk about at drinks, but because you took pleasure in it.”

Their idea is two-fold: we’re way overcommitted to work. And by getting in touch with doing things because they bring us pleasure and delight, we are more likely to avoid burnout and cynicism about the work we do.

So now, with big apologies to all model railroad enthusiasts, I have hobbies. As I’ve noted previously, I took up skiing and painting in recent years, in “retirement.” I did so knowing full well that I would never be great or excellent at either, but believing I could and would improve a little over time. And I have improved, though believe me I remain safely distant from excellence in either pursuit. But they are fun. Absorbing. They bring me pleasure.

Back to Warzel and Petersen and the Great Re-Think of Work.

“The treadmill (of work) rarely provides the kind of value and meaning that we hope it will. People are growing more certain in the notion that the status quo of American working life is untenable. But the pandemic has created an opportunity to reconsider and reimagine the structure of our lives and, perhaps, remove the vestigial, extractive elements.”

I still think there’s something to be said for the idea of a “calling,” but I also agree with Warzel and Petersen that most of us have way too many of our eggs in the work basket. Meanwhile, the snow is falling in the mountains and soon I will be too.

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