I recently caught myself during a conversation I was having with one of my clients, who is a college student. She was telling me about a volunteer opportunity she has, and I shared my excitement, ending the statement with, “… and that will look great on a resume!”
While my statement is accurate – any type of volunteering will certainly look wonderful and make for a great interview topic when applying for jobs after graduation – I instantly became aware that I had inadvertently perpetuated the idea that things are only worth doing if they serve a secondary gain in terms of either professional growth or profit.
Professional growth and profit are important, can be incredibly empowering, and are key building blocks of self-esteem. That said, it can be easy to forget that some things are worth doing just because they make you happy.
Sometime around high school, I stopped doing things for enjoyment and started doing them to pad my college applications. While I enjoyed many of these activities, the primary motivator was certainly more about preparing for my future than on enjoying the present. That mindset only continued as I prepared to apply to graduate school and to get a job in the real world … so much of what I did became more about how it would look to potential admissions counselors or employers, rather than about whether I was enjoying the activity itself.
There are a few exceptions to this. When I was a senior in college, I decided I wanted to learn how to play piano – so I signed up for lessons at school, bought a keyboard for my dorm room, and annoyed my roommates by repeated and often butchered renditions of “Comin’ Round the Mountain.” After senior year, I never played the piano again and do not remember a single thing from that year of lessons. But I had fun, and it oddly became a fond memory from that time in my life.
This past year, I began taking improv classes. I was sure I would walk into the room that first night and be the oldest person there – that everyone else would be in or fresh out of college, and have years of experience having started this hobby during their time in high school. I was surprised to find that I was somewhere in the middle; the age range of my classmates spanned about 35 years, and most of us had absolutely no experience with improv! Turns out I wasn’t the only person looking to try something new just for fun. After eight weeks of classes, I learned a new skill, made new friends, and found a hobby I plan to continue.
It is so easy to get sucked into the ‘black and white’ or ‘all or nothing’ thinking pattern: If I’m not going to become a professional singer, why take voice lessons? I have no desire to work in a restaurant, so why take that cooking class? Sure that sounds like a great idea for a novel, but why write a manuscript if I’m never going to submit it for publication? I definitely had the thought “Maybe I will open my own improv studio someday!” before I had even attended my first class … so I had to keep this in check, and remind myself I was doing this just for fun.
(Side note: It is possible that in exploring your hobbies, you will end up finding that you do want to make a career out of something at which you never thought you’d be good! But if that doesn’t happen, that is totally fine too – the ‘point’ of doing it is that you’re enjoying it. That’s enough.)
For me, I know when I get stuck in this mindset, it is reflective of my type-A personality – if I have free time, I want to be productive, and it does not feel like doing something just because is productive. But when I actually sit back and think about this, this is completely contrary to everything I preach as a therapist. Pleasure is such an important part of our lives, and life is meant to be enjoyed. Relaxation and fun are good for mood regulation and quality of life. Building mastery* of a skill or hobby is good for building self-esteem. Therefore, if we find the hobbies that make us feel our best, we will most likely be more productive in other areas of our lives. This means that we may actually achieve more professional development and profit if we are carving some time out for the things we want to do, rather than if we are spending 100% of our time doing the things we think we should be doing.
I challenge you to reevaluate how you are spending your time, and be sure you have at least one thing that you regularly do just for fun. What have you been wanting to do, but have been putting off because it seemed ‘pointless’? Remember when you were a child and did things just for fun? Playing tag with the kids in your neighborhood likely wasn’t listed on your college resume, but it was fun for you, so you did it, and this is just as important – possibly sometimes even more important! – as adults.
*’Building mastery’ does not mean you have to become a ‘master’ at something. It simply means you are improving your skill over time.