‘What are your hobbies?’ someone I had just met asked me the other day. I’m sure it was meant more as an icebreaker and less as a launching point to a longwinded existential crisis on my part, but that’s where I ended up. He was quick to list his: rock-climbing, watching movies and propagating succulents. I, on the other hand, could only mumble something about ‘reading’ and immediately changed the subject. The question echoed in my mind long after the conversation.
What were my hobbies? I remember being able to answer this question so confidently when I was 10. “My hobbies are,” I would list, “reading, writing, swimming, and roleplaying movies with my friends.” I also remember going through a phase of collecting stickers. And now, as an almost-30-year-old, I wasn’t too sure anymore.
Is bingeing 7 hours of Netflix in one sitting a hobby?
How about getting into heated discussions with my friends over red wine?
Can I even list reading as a hobby anymore since I’ve been studying literature and publishing all my adult life? Isn’t it more of a professional interest at this point?
Unable to find a satisfying answer, I turned to my fellow millennials from all ages and walks of life.
One friend confidently said ‘writing’, followed by explaining how she was using her lifestyle blog to generate passive income, using affiliate marketing and selling an online course.
Another friend, who loves to sing and write songs, has just started his own YouTube channel and will be recording his first EP later in the year.
Yet another one whose answer, just like mine, was reading is currently trying her hand at becoming a bookstagrammer (‘At the very least I might get some free books out of it,’ she said to justify her decision).
These conversations made me realise that none of the hobbies were purely for enjoyment. We were taking things the previous generations did for ‘pleasure’ and turning them into new business ventures. We didn’t have the time, energy, money or motivation for a hobby if it didn’t have a financial or professional reward at the end.
As millennials, we have been accused of killing many an industry (from department stores to door bells) and while most of this is unfounded or exaggerated, we certainly seem to have lost the art of – if not killed – hobbies.
We don’t have hobbies anymore, we have side hustles.
Ask any millennial and they will tell you that they have at least one side hustle (from teaching English online to podcasting), alongside their three other jobs.
Some start their side hustles in the hopes of one day turning them into their full-time jobs. This is not surprising considering millennials are more likely to want to work for themselves and tend to be more entrepreneurial compared to previous generations.
Many of us grew up with the saying ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. Now we rate job satisfaction as one of the most important things for our overall happiness and wellbeing. We are working multiple jobs or changing jobs more often in search for work that is fulfilling and engaging, in an area we feel passionate about.
For others, a side hustle is simply a necessity to generate much needed extra income. The changes in the current job market has meant that many millennials are stuck in the ‘gig’ economy. We rely on balancing multiple jobs and are more likely to work freelance, forgoing the traditional 9 to 5, either by choice or because of the realities of our chosen industries. This has led us to turn to our passions and hobbies to help us make some extra cash (if we have to work three jobs to pay rent, we might as well enjoy what we are doing). From gaming to travel (bleisure travel, anyone?) to crafts, we have perfected the art of monetising our spare time. And if you’re not sure how to get started, there are dozens of articles to teach you.
As Molly Conway writes, millennials tend to operate under the motto of “if we’re good at it and we love it, we should definitely sell it.”
Do you like op-shopping? Why don’t you flip your finds on eBay?
Enjoy amateur nature photography? You should consider selling them to magazines.
Starting pottery lessons? Open an Etsy store for all your creations.
Just want to play video games at home? Easy – start a YouTube channel and you too can become one of the most influential people in the world, making millions of dollars.
If passion or money aren’t motivation enough to start your next side hustle, there’s always the ever-present pressure of using your free time well. Many of us are stuck in the trap of constant productivity. Growing up in the digital era certainly hasn’t made it easy to escape the cult of busyness.
I have noticed during my pursuit to find myself a new hobby that I had been trying to justify how I spent my spare time. I am sure I am not the only one in my generation who feels terrible about ‘wasting’ any free time. Anytime I find myself with some unstructured block of time, I feel anxious to ‘make the most of it’. I potter around and force myself to do something useful, which almost always ends with me feeling neither relaxed nor productive.
Having a hobby is ultimately about learning to spend your time doing something you enjoy for the sake of enjoying it, without expecting any form of financial or professional gain. I know it’s a hard concept for us millennials to grasp but stay with me here. The pleasure you get out of the things you enjoy doing is enough on its own. If knitting brings you happiness, it doesn’t also have to bring you money. Besides, hobbies are proven to be beneficial for your overall quality of life. They help structure your time, create new social connections, increase your self-esteem and confidence, and improve your mental and emotional wellbeing.
So far, I have attempted baking (with mixed results), completed two jigsaw puzzles (surprisingly therapeutic), bullet journaled, started a virtual book club and even opened that calligraphy kit someone gave me five years ago on my birthday (not sure if I have the patience for it). Next on the list is working on my (very rusty) French.
To be perfectly honest, I am not sure how many of these I will successfully integrate into my life long-term. All I can say is that trying new things without any expectations other than pleasure has had wonderful effects on my mental health and freed my mind from the pressure of constant productivity.
So, you too should take advantage of our current situation that forced us all to slow down and pick up a new hobby. Start backyard birdwatching, learn how to cross-stitch, or make your own sourdough.
Trust me, you’ll feel so much better for it.
Bahar Kutluk is an editor in the making, currently completing her Masters in Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. She has a love-hate relationship with the Oxford comma.