Are you one of the 50 million plus people who have a Goodreads account to track your reading and your targets? Or are you a bit more old school like me, keeping a carefully curated journal about your reading and trying each year to read more than you did the year before?
It’s become a bit of a habit for a lot of us, this tracking of hobbies – not just reading. Bullet journals are massive, and people use them for all sorts of things, like colouring in those little squares every time they check another episode of a TV show off a list, or finishing a game. There’s apps to track how many words you write. Duolingo has become a meme because that little owl is so persistent in making sure that you stay on track with your language learning.
And all these things are fine, by the way. I’m not suggesting for a second that they aren’t. Bullet journals and productivity apps really help a lot of people to stay on track with things they want to do but never seem to find the time for. My book journal, started on 1st January 2014, is about to breach its third notebook; a detailed record of every single thing I’ve read in almost six years, and I love flipping back through it, especially when people ask me for recommendations.
But I’ve also made a decision that I’m going to stop keeping it at the end of this year. The notebooks I have filled will live on my shelf and I might go back to doing it one day, or I might not. The time has come for a break.
There’s a few reasons that I’m doing this. The first is that, quite simply, I don’t have time to read as much as I did in some of those years, and watching the numbers going down makes me feel a guilt that I have come to understand isn’t really necessary in my everyday life. I will never reach the dizzy heights I reached in 2014, when for eight months of that year I was an au pair with a lot of time on my hands during the day. Reading is supposed to be fun. Hobbies are supposed to be fun. What’s the point of putting pressure on myself to do more, to compete with myself when I’m not the same person that I was six years ago?
On that note, my second reason is that people change. I still love reading, and I always will. But in the last six months, I’ve also started to pick up a paintbrush again after the trauma of GCSE art, and you know what – I’m not bad at it at all. More importantly, I really, really enjoy it. I need time to dedicate now to that hobby as much as I need it for reading. But painting, because it is so tentative for me, has shown me something I’d forgotten – hobbies can just be things you do, for yourself. I’m never going to win any prizes, but it’s something for me. Part of the book journal appeal was so that I always had recommendations when people asked. But that means it was never fully just for me. It was also something I was doing for other people.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the last few years about millennial burnout, and how we are compelled to monetise our hobbies because every single second we aren’t working, we are wasting time. I am definitely trying to monetise my writing hobby, to the point it is now just my side gig. My brother has monetised his dancing into a side gig. I have friends who make jewellery, review albums and interview bands, run photography businesses. We all do it – 64% of us – and it’s fine, because for a lot of us the dream of a creative career seems quite out of reach, and we all need to stay sane somehow.
But I think with things like Goodreads and Duolingo, bullet journals and Inktober, we are also in real danger of making the hobbies we don’t monetise into something that looks suspiciously similar, at least to our own stressed out brains. Think about it; my book journal was never going to become a viable way to make money, so it was just something fun. But my millennial brain has eventually turned it into a competition with myself, something else I can beat myself up about because I’m wasting time. The memes about the Duolingo owl breaking into your house with a baseball bat are funny, but they also come from that place of guilt again, because you aren’t trying hard enough. People quit Inktober or NanoWriMo and apologise on Twitter, as though they have anything to be sorry for.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t do these things. If you want to keep a bullet journal, then great! I like watching videos of people showing off their pages. If you want to set targets on Goodreads, please do. I find a lot of recommendations on there when I browse. If you want that owl to break your kneecaps, you do you.
What I am saying is that when it stops being something you want to do, when you feel compelled rather than excited, when the idea of it makes you feel like you’ve let everyone down, it’s time to take a break. The stuff you can’t turn into a side hustle can torture you just as much as the stuff that you can. This is a hard lesson I’ve learned with my book journal this year, but the idea of letting it go filled me with so much relief I knew I had made the right decision. If I feel like it, maybe one day I’ll go back to doing it. Maybe I won’t.
The important thing for me – and for you – is that you want to do whatever you fill your precious spare time with. Goodness only knows that we don’t have enough of that as it is.
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