You Don’t Have to Be Good at Your Hobbies. Here’s Why
Think it’s too late to take up paddleboarding, or learn a new language, or turn your hand to fan fiction? Think again. Any time in life is a good time to throw yourself into a new hobby. And as a bonus, physical and mental stimulation may help ward off cognitive decline as we age.
Here’s the best part: You can do anything you want to do, whether you’re good at it or not.
Why It’s Good to Be ‘Bad’ at Things
It's common for people to want to take up a hobby like crocheting or bowling but feel discouraged that they're not making Etsy-worthy hats and mittens or scoring strikes right away.
“There is a considerable misconception about hobbies—that they need to be productive,” says GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor based in Nashville, Tennessee. “Hobbies do not actually have to be productive, produce results, or hold any quality in a person’s life besides enjoyment.”
This is because the point of a hobby should be enjoyment, Guarino explains. Anything else that comes from it is a bonus and shouldn’t be an expectation.
Bethany Raab, a licensed clinical social worker in Denver, agrees. “The expectation—spoken or implied—to monetize our hobbies, or to become recognized for them, leaves us all in a difficult place,” Raab says. She points to the examples of crafters who feel pressure to sell the items they make, or runners who feel they need to participate in organized races when they prefer to run solo. Those expectations can take the pleasure out of the pastimes we once enjoyed.
Being able to do something we want with no expectations other than our own is liberating, Raab says. “It flies in the face of our society's influence that we must be productive all of the time. It allows us to take back ownership of our time and our labor. It allows us to rest, recuperate, and grow on our own terms.”
Enjoyment for Enjoyment’s Sake
When Tanya Dredge, a 50-something from Yeppoon, Australia, started scuba diving a few years ago, she was far from good at it. “I’m definitely not naturally sporty, physically robust, or a strong swimmer,” she says. But she kept at it, and has gained confidence in her ability to try new things and persevere. “There is no age limit for scuba diving,” she says.
Practice Makes Practice
If you’re hesitating to pursue a particular hobby because you’re afraid you’ll be bad at it, Guarino recommends remembering two things. The first is that you will likely be bad at it at first, simply because you’ve never done it before. “Skills are grown and developed, not naturally given to you,” Guarino says.
Secondly, if you enjoy the activity, that’s really what matters. “Even if you’re bad at it, the point is to enjoy yourself, not impress others or meet other people’s expectations. Your hobby is for you,” Guarino says.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, 56, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, took up knitting when she turned 50 and still doesn’t believe she’s good at it. But she enjoys making simple scarves and dish towels and says she benefits from the meditative quality and social aspect of the activity. “My regular knitting group continued to meet online throughout the pandemic, which has also helped me stay calm, active, and connected, and given me something to look forward to,” she says.
Only Your Opinion Matters
Life is full of pressures—education, work, family responsibilities, finances—and personal interests simply shouldn't be stressful, Guarino says. It’s difficult to completely escape the cultural pressure to be good at everything you do, and to escape judgment when you’re not.
Guarino says it’s important to accept that other people may not understand why you continue with a hobby you’re not especially good at, and she suggests that you, instead, focus on what you want for yourself.
“You can’t change the attitudes or opinions of others, but when it comes to your hobby, keep reminding yourself that their judgment simply does not matter, because your hobby is your time and your own expectations,” Guarino says. “You set the standard when it comes to your personal interests and hobbies, so enjoy yourself!”
If you can do this, it will help remind you that your life is your own, and you have the right to decide when you dedicate time to others and when you reclaim your time for yourself—which can be an extremely liberating experience.
Ask Yourself Why
If you’re stopping yourself from taking up a new hobby because you’re worried you’ll be bad at it, it may help to explore why you feel this way. Raab asks her patients that wrestle with this type of personal pressure to consider the growth that could come from trying something new or continuing to do an activity they aren’t sure they’ll ever master.
“For a new hobby, I suggest giving it a try once and then seeing how it feels, knowing it isn't necessary to try again,” she says.
For existing hobbies, Raab encourages people to challenge themselves to reframe thoughts like “I really shouldn't keep wasting my time on this” and responding to them with questions like “Who says?” and “Who made that rule?” Raab says that “it typically leads to reflection on outside influences and examining the barriers we create for ourselves.”
Raab explains that often the desire to meet others’ expectations starts in childhood, and those early experiences with people-pleasing can have a lasting impact, particularly for women.
“The impact of such childhood expectations lasts longer than most expect,” Raab says. “And generally speaking, women spend so much time trying to please others and to justify their existence.”
Tanya says that, in the past, she felt she shouldn’t try certain physical activities because she’d been made to feel insignificant, self-conscious, and embarrassed about her body. “For someone who is not an athletic person, is uncoordinated, and is not strong, sporting activities can be daunting, and I often feel small, stupid, and inconsequential,” she admits.
This can be a difficult situation to navigate—and you may learn more about yourself than you expected—but the mental and emotional payoff can be sizable. “Doing a hobby without feeding into others' expectations is the perfect way to show yourself that you are worthy of your own time, and that the opinions of others are second to our own needs,” Raab says. “Liberating indeed!”
Tanya couldn’t agree more—and is proud of the transformation she’s made since starting the hobby she was once intimidated to try. “Scuba diving has expanded my life and helped me find myself,” she says. “I’m stronger and more confident and self-assured. I have a real sense of achievement, which gives me faith in myself.”
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