What it is
Hobby of the Month is something I did in 2012 and 2013, and I find myself mentioning it whenever people ask about how I came across the variety of activities I’ve dabbled in. The concept is to choose one activity each month, and then devote about an hour every day to working on it.
By default, I’ve always had a number of activities, but I had trouble committing to anything long enough to make real improvement. A month was a good choice for length of commitment, being long enough to develop some competency but short enough to not be intimidating, and daily was the logical choice of frequency for developing a habit. Without a habit, it’s easy to forgo doing anything productive in favor of watching television or passively ingesting news.
Why I started
(Note – I had a lot of trouble writing this part, and I concluded that it’s all sort of related Marx’s theory of alienation. So if you remember the bit about alienation of the worker from himself, you could probably skip my reasoning.)
I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling busy, but it was only when I started working that I became aware of how time was passing (e.g. 60 hours a week at work) and how time scarcity prevented me from feeling fully myself.
Many people come to define their identities through work and relegate their other interests to the category of “cool things I loved to do when I was younger and had time.” As much as I believe jobs in finance and consulting can be exciting, educational, and meaningful, the demand for time can be absurd. (And I know, I wasn’t even a banker!) It frustrates me that society funnels so many intelligent graduates into careers that discourage personal development outside of the job, simply by not providing much time.
But this only happens because many people seem to accept that it’s okay to put other aspects of life “on hold” – hobbies, relationships, etc. – for devotion to a job that should lead to a lucrative career. Implicit in this is an assumption that there isn’t much societal value in encouraging individuals to maintain a diverse array of interests. After all, the simplified world of microeconomics recommends we seek comparative advantage and economies of scale.
Some people are fortunate (or have accomplished enough) that the work they do professionally is truly, purely what they want to do, i.e. they would do it without pay and have little desire to do anything else. For most of us, we aren’t fulfilled by our professional work alone, and shelving parts of ourselves to focus on singular goals can only yield temporary benefits. Long term, our lives and work benefit if we clearly see our motivations for living and we feel like our actions fit into being a whole person. For me, this required a sense that I was gaining competence in a variety of activities, which hobby of the month fulfilled.
Why I stopped
In 2013 I started playing piano as a hobby of the month, but I found near the end of the month that I wanted to keep working on this instead of choosing something new. I kept playing piano every day for a few more months, transitioned to photography in the summer, and then started learning to sing towards the end of the year. In 2014, I also started figure skating, which still occupies the majority of my activity bandwidth.
I didn’t realize this when I started, but hobby of the month became practice for how to manage and evaluate a long list of potentially interesting activities. Having this schedule trained me to be open to discovering new activities, and also helped me see the value of committing to daily practice, even briefly. Now that I have this awareness, it no longer feels necessary to have a monthly schedule – I’m fully capable of finding new activities, committing regular time to them to improve, and deciding when to put something aside in favor of something else.
Hobbies I Remember
Yoga – Aside from attending yoga classes, I also had Yoga Anatomy as a reference – this book doesn’t suggest yoga routines, but for every pose, it has a thorough description and diagrams detailing muscles involved.
Meditation – Honestly, I feel like this is so variable that I sometimes forget why anyone bothers to define it. It doesn’t really matter if your eyes are open or closed, if you want to sit or move around, if you want to pay attention to one thing or try to notice your thoughts drifting. Just be aware and something good might happen. Focusing isn’t the same as meditation, but it’s somewhat related and this book was interesting. Later on, DevBootcamp recommended Search Inside Yourself, which was also a light but useful read.
Guitar – William Leavitt’s book is a pretty good linear introduction. As a former violinist, it’s so much fun learning instruments where frets keep you from being grossly out of tune. What’s the word for this, where some instruments allow an infinite number of in-between notes and some have a limited number of notes because of frets, keys, etc. (I want to say “quantized” like atomic systems but that’s not used by other people)?
Photography – Tony Northrup’s Digital Photography book is the most popular on amazon, and for good reason. Great overview, and his passion for photography shines through – the guy set up his backyard specifically to photograph birds! I love that.
Writing “meaningful” things – there wasn’t a stylistic restriction on this, and I mostly wrote in a journal or wrote a lengthy email to a friend. By making myself write for a certain length of time, I realized that initially mundane observations would turn into valuable insights – hidden assumptions, unexpected connections, and unrealized meaning – and that’s when I would feel satisfied that I’d written something meaningful.
Getting rid of things – I was inspired to minimalize after reading part of Thoreau’s Walden. I kept a blog about this month of choosing one “thing” (often a group of similar things) to remove from my life every day; it was a refreshing and rewarding exercise that changed my attitude towards acquiring objects.
Programming in python – I don’t remember getting too far in this (particularly compared to the education I got at DBC), but working with Learn Python the Hard Way was a nice reminder that I liked programming. Looking at the table of contents now, it still seems like a decently thorough introduction from syntax to setting up a basic server.
Learning French – I remember seeing many web sites recommend Tell Me More as even better than Rosetta Stone, since Tell Me More takes advantage of adults’ knowledge of grammar rather than Rosetta Stone’s childlike attitude of starting from the very beginning. I thought it was a decent system, but this company was actually acquired by Rosetta Stone in late 2013! So I can’t tell whether the software I was using is still available. During this month I also used Duolingo, tried to read Harry Potter A L’Ecole des Sorciers and of course, Le Petit Prince.
Piano – I followed the lessons in Alfred’s Adult Piano book and also played from books like The Best Songs Ever (how could I not buy something this hyperbolic?), Les Miserables, and Wicked.