Monday, March 14, 2005

Hobbies make the man

I really like 2blowhards, and this latest post illustrates why. Michael is talking about how a hobby, something you do just for the sake of it, is critical for spiritual health. He talks about this father, who
[suddenly] had himself a hobby. Flying small planes transformed him, as well as his experience of life. My dad was no longer a half-happy, half-frustrated, confused-about-the-meaning-of-it-all guy. He was happy, period. He knew that, however the workweek went (and however much family cares weighed him down), for a few hours every weekend he'd be doing something that he was guaranteed to find satisfying.

A peculiar aspect of all this was that Dad had no special gift for flying. I think we may tend to assume too easily that we would -- no question -- really enjoy doing what we're most gifted for doing, if only we had the right chance. But perhaps no such automatic relationship exists between "what we're good at" and "what we enjoy."
I think the observation "what we are good at" is not neccessarily "what we enjoy" is an accurate one. I don't think people enjoy things they are actively bad at, but I do think acknowledging your mediocrity frees you to just enjoy the thing and not worry about how you're doing compared to others. Another acute observation:
Many of the career-class people I've known seem less happy and more neurotic than the middle-class people I grew up with. For one thing, they're such self-entitled achievers that they seem incapable of doing anything for its own sweet sake. Everything they do seems meant to contribute to the larger project of showing the world what special people they are. Yet what a price they pay. When I went to the 25th reunion of the middle-class public school kids I grew up with, they were a cheery, welcoming group, looking forward to whatever adventures the rest of life has in store for us. When I attended the 25th reunion of the high-powered prep-school class I graduated with, most of my classmates looked rumpled, defeated, played-out. They may make ten times the income my public-school buds do; they may not be strangers to Gstaad and Cabo. But they looked like they'd peaked long ago -- in some Harvard seminar, probably. They looked like their lives had all been downhill ever since.
Maybe the causality is the other way around -- driven, competitive people get higher paying jobs, but being driven and competitive is not the way to happiness. It's worth bearing this in mind if a driven, competitive person moans about what a rat-race the world is--the problem is not the world, it's them.

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