3 Reasons Why We Give Up Our Passions & Hobbies - And 3 Ways We Can Take Them Back!
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
How many activities that brought you joy have you given up over the course of your life?
Do you find yourself wondering what things would be like if you'd continued on with a hobby, but think that it's 'too late to start again', or that 'you're too busy'...before returning to a state of stress/apathy towards your current situation?
The truth is that pursuing our hobbies and passions can play a powerful role in improving our overall performance in various aspects of our lives - for example our workplace performance, our mental wellbeing and our physical health.
In fact, author and self-help guru, Dr Wayne W. Dyer, proposed that each individual on this planet has their own unique 'music' (the term I'll henceforth use for hobbies/ passions) residing within them. This music serves as a creative expression of identity at any certain time in our life, evolving with us as we grow. It can take any kind of form, be it sport, dance, music, photography, gardening, volunteering, literature, art, drama, poetry, textiles, programming – anything!
The quality that all our expressions of music share is that, when we’re participating in the activity, it brings us feelings of joy, presence, peace, fulfilment…
…except, in most cases, it doesn’t. Or we never let it reach that stage.
Unfortunately, the nature of the society we live in is that, all too often, we’re directed towards suppressing our music. Be it concerned parents, toxic teachers, judgemental peers (etc.), our external circumstances are highly influential in determining how we express (or don’t express) our music.
Let me clarify with three reasons that you may be able to relate to:
1. We live in a result-driven society where our worth is determined largely by how we compare to others.
We become exposed to the idea of assigning worth to ourselves based on how we compare to others from a young age. Whether comparisons become apparent through competition (e.g. highest test scores, fastest in the playground, strongest arm wrestler) or observation (e.g. most beautiful eyes, biggest muscles, thinnest body); those who possess the traits that society deems to be of highest value will be rewarded with recognition, admiration, praise - and likely jealousy by those deemed 'inferior'.
Don't misinterpret me - I believe competitive, result-driven behaviour can yield positive outcomes. However, issues arise when we begin to interlink our self-worth with our relative performance. The consequences can include low self-confidence, social anxiety, self-imposed pressure to perform (amongst many others) - as well as a desire to pursue what we're 'good' at whilst giving up/not attempting what we're 'not good' at.
These negative consequences are amplified when we compare our current proficiency in our past hobbies and passions to that of our younger selves. For some reason, our ego is surprised that we've lost strength in the gym after a half-year bout of injury. It's surprised when we pick up a guitar at our friend's house for the first time in years and, to our chagrin, can't play with the ease and fluency of when we were 13-years old, practising for 30 minutes every day. And it berates us mercilessly for our incompetence in comparison to the ghost of our past-self.
Of course, logically, with each passing year of not doing an activity, it makes perfect sense that we regress from the level we were once capable of. It's naive to expect otherwise from ourselves. But since when was our ego mature and logical?
Therefore, despite the fact that *enter an old hobby or passion here* once brought us joy, our awareness that our performance now is inferior to that of others or our past-self makes us question whether we should be pursuing it at all.
We let the hobby go. And one day, we look back on it and wistfully express that it was a shame we didn't continue with it…but remain too haunted by the ghost of our past self to pick it up again.
2. We are taught to fear the unknown and value ‘the known’ (security).
In part, this is understandable. The generations we descended from went through times of economic struggle and poverty (whether as first-hand sufferers or observers). As such, their desire to avoid seeing their offspring suffer the same fate is etched into their subconscious mind, and is promptly passed down to us.
Unfortunately, this brainwashing is toxic. It gives us the impression that our only options are extremes; either we, “pursue our passions and succeed to the extent that we are financially supported by it”, or we, “stop wasting our time, give up our hobbies and pursue a 'safe option' or get ourselves an ‘ordinary job’ that pays the bills”.
Given that the former is very rare, many of us end up accepting the latter fate, largely because of point 1 – if we can’t commit to becoming ‘good’ at our passions, we might as well give up.
As a byproduct of this decision-making process, we develop a tendency to become overly anxious about the future, our minds constantly analysing our prospects for future security at the expense of our joy in the present situation.
3. We fear disapproval and rejection.
We grow up in a highly judgemental society where, especially during teenage years, not conforming to the norm is often frowned upon by our peers. Being very ego-driven at this age, we often suppress our passions (often because of point 1).
And then as we get older and other social norms begin to apply (for example, if you can’t achieve a ‘good result’, it’s a ‘waste of time’), we may feel even more uncomfortable trying to express ourselves through our hobbies.
Consider the number of young girls giving up sport or programming because it’s a ‘boys’ activity, or young boys bullying the kid who enjoys going to the theatre and wants to dance on Broadway one day. I don’t have figures to justify these examples – but I challenge any of you reading this to tell me they don't exist. These events communicate to the victims that they must conform to the norm in order to be accepted by those around them, even if it means suppressing their personal expression.
So, how do you break free from these fears and limiting beliefs in order to own your music? Here are 3 ways:
1. Detaching from the idea that ‘meaning’ can only be derived from external recognition.
Once we break this connection, it liberates us to continue our hobbies and passions without it needing to be validated. If anything, we can derive more joy from it in the process, as it’s no longer tied to how much we accomplish. And with this, we're also liberated from the constraint of time; we can simply enjoy our hobby when we wish – we are not obliged to exercise it x times a week for y hours to reach z goal.
We shouldn't create dis-empowering conditions that make our hobbies impossible to carry out, whether it's in the form of needing recognition from others or expecting progress from ourselves. If we create a condition that we need an hour to commit to our hobby, we may rarely find the time for it. But if we say we'll have fun with that same hobby for just twenty minutes, it's far more likely that we'll get started.
Make your hobbies and passions as easy to do as possible, and with as few conditions as possible.
2. Balancing future wants/needs with present joy.
We can live and enjoy the present moment whilst still honouring our future. As a simple example, whatever hobby you desire to express now has an underlying benefit for your future state, whether it's to re-energise you for the tasks at hand, or simply to de-stress and disengage from the events of the day to enable you to be more pleasant and present around your friends, spouse or children.
Your hobbies aren't meant to be an escape from your commitments. If they become so, your internal compass will let you know through feelings of guilt and anger directed towards yourself.
Done in the right quantity, you'll avoid guilt and doubt. And by consciously drawing links between how engaging in an activity you enjoy in the present also benefits you in the (near or long-term) future, you can commit to the moment at hand with greater zeal!
Done correctly, participating in your hobbies and passions in a sustainable way will help you to honour your work, family and personal commitments better.
3. Identifying and reining in our ego-driven thoughts, limiting beliefs and perceptions.
When we perceive that others may be judging us in a certain fashion, and so decide not to act in a certain way, we need to be honest with ourselves. The ‘others’ in this equation, simply put, most likely don’t give a s**t. They have their own problems to deal with! They don’t really have more than a thought to spare for you as you go about your own business!
Be honest with yourself – this external judgement is just a projection that your ego has conjured. In truth, it is you that is sabotaging your expression, it is your ego that is judging you for not being ‘good’ at your musical expression, and thus saying that you ought to be ashamed and embarrassed for even entertaining the notion of pursuing this activity.
This is when you need to tell your ego to shut the f**k up, and act anyway.
What’s the worst that can happen? People laugh at you? Make a derogatory comment? As well as speaking volumes about that individual’s own insecurities, simply put, don’t let this phase you! You’re joyful, immersed in what you love doing, and not bringing harm to others in expressing your music! Their comment shouldn’t stop you - and your ego’s fear of their commentary (anticipated or real) certainly shouldn’t!
I'll conclude with this note.
If there was no one in the world watching you express your music, would you still do it?
If you answer yes, then you owe it to yourself to pursue your music whenever you find the opportunity, at whatever level you feel comfortable with. Progress should be determined solely by you. You’re not doing it to feed your ego, meet commitment obligations or fuel your desire for approval – you’re simply expressing what comes naturally to you, and immersing in the joy, satisfaction and fulfilment that comes with it, recharging responsibly to continue building the firm foundations for your work, family and personal life.
And there is no greater reward than that.
Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep shining!
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.