Hobbies are the thing that keep a lot of people sane, whether they play tennis, climb mountains, paint portraits or write stories. We all need something that isn’t work or the basic day-to-day struggle of staying alive to keep our brains happy and functioning.
And because we are all only human, we want to be good at the things that we do. Or maybe not – we don’t have to be the best piano player there ever was. We just have to enjoy what we do. You don’t have to be good at a thing for it to have value in your life. You’re allowed to spend time knitting wonky hats and scarves with holes, if that makes you happy, and you don’t ever have to explain yourself because of it.
But what if you do want to be better at the thing? What if you’d like to do embroidery that you can sell, or write articles for a website, or get a black belt in karate? Well, that’s great too! But I also think that is where the generational difference sneaks in – and for millennials in particular, it really doesn’t help us out.
The thing that a lot of people will tell you is that to be good at something, you have to do it a lot. A quick Google of ‘writing tips’ (my thing) tells me that the most important thing I can do is ‘write every day.’ Some people qualify it by adding that even a few lines in a journal count, as long as you are doing something. It is the same for drawing, and sewing, and other creative hobbies. Do it every day, and you will get better. And it is true, I have no doubt. I am absolutely certain that playing the guitar every single day will make you better. But there is also that little problem of the words ‘every day.’
‘Every day’ is hard when you work eight or nine hours, and commute two more. ‘Every day’ is hard when you don’t know if you have enough money to pay the phone bill. ‘Every day’ is hard when even getting out of bed is a monumental challenge. I know, before anyone starts, that these problems are not limited to millennials, and that everyone has it tough. What I am saying though is that these problems are very common to my generation, especially the financial ones.
Millennial Guilt is massive. The financial burdens we live with make that guilt even worse, because if we aren’t hustling, we aren’t doing enough to help ourselves. No matter that a lot of us have side gigs and work two jobs. It isn’t helping, and it isn’t enough. And that is where Millennial Guilt starts to leak over to the rest of our lives, including that hobby you want to excel in. Any free time spent not doing that hobby is wasted time. (And don’t even get me started on the millennial habit of monetising our hobbies – that is a whole other thing I can’t even go into now.) So we feel guilty because we aren’t doing the thing when we really want to, but we also feel guilty when we are doing the thing because that is wasted time too –we’re having fun and we don’t have time for fun.
You can see then why advice like ‘do it every day’ might start to cause a problem. It adds another layer of guilt to the guilt sandwich – ‘I will never be better at this (and justify the time I spend doing it) because I don’t practise every single day.’ For me, that is when I get paralysed and can’t do anything at all. Then, when I’ve wasted the time I could have spent writing, I feel guilty that I didn’t even try.
I am not the first person to write about how having creative energy is hard to manage when you don’t have much other energy to spare. But I do still see so many articles, and so many social media pages that perpetuate the view that you should practise your hobby every day, and any time you aren’t practising, you are wasting your chance and should feel bad about it. It is hard to get out of that mind set, once you are in it.
I am also not about to suggest that practising your craft isn’t important, because of course it is. We can’t pretend anything else. But I will suggest that doing that practice shouldn’t come at the expense of your mental health. Trust me when I say that I know forcing yourself to do something when you’ve had a really terrible day is absolutely the hardest thing to do. Sometimes you might get home, put on some PJs, eat some crisps and decide that actually maybe you could add a few more lines to the poem, or run through a piece on the violin, and that’s great. But sometimes you will do all that stuff and just want to crawl into bed with YouTube, and that is fine too. (If you struggle with your mental health, I hope you already know that giving yourself a break sometimes is okay.)
The goal of ‘every day’ seems like a small thing when you have the stability of a routine and the ability to reliably carve out half an hour of your time to do it. But that is exactly the issue – to practise your thing every single day, you have to have a routine that allows it. That might be easier if, for example, you drive to work and your drive takes pretty much the same amount of time each day. But if you commute because you can’t afford a car, you are at the mercy of the train company who might decide one day that you will be an hour later getting home, and that hour could have been the time you had carved out for painting. Or you work shifts that change every week and you are perpetually jetlagged from working nights. Or your second job calls and asks you to cover someone and you really need the money. When faced with these challenges, ‘every day’ seems a much larger commitment than we think.
To be kind to ourselves, we have to let go of the ‘every day’ mantra. We have to make the goals smaller, and more achievable, because first we have to bring the guilt under control. It has taken me personally years to realise this, and I am working really hard at it now that I have. My latest goal is to write 10,000 words a month. If I was to write every single day, that would only be around 300 words a day, but even that is impossible sometimes. However, with the pressure of writing every day off, I am happier than I have been for at least two years with how my writing is going. Once I do get going, on the days I can make time to write, I go way over 300. It is over halfway through February and I am already over the end of February target of 20,000 words. By having a small goal – 10,000 a month – I have shaken off the guilt that comes with ‘failing’ 15 days out of 30, and am getting a lot more done that I would have otherwise.
That’s how it works for writing, but it could be the same for any hobby that you don’t have enough time for. You could decide to do five drawings a month, or edit together three videos, or go to four dance classes. If you’ve been struggling to get anything done at all, you will know that these are huge achievements, and you will feel better for it.
So the next time that ‘every day’ comes up, take a step back and concentrate on you and your goals. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ deal. Whatever your reason for wanting to do the thing – getting published, or sharing your art on Instagram, or playing at an open mike, or just because you love it a lot – be kinder to yourself. The only thing we know for sure is that your reason for wanting to do your hobby isn’t to put more pressure on yourself in a world that is already doing quite enough of that.