Saturday, November 23, 2013

In Praise of Hobbies

It is only recently, in middle age, that I have developed any understanding for the ubiquitous blank on the personal information form:  “hobbies.” 

In my youth, I assumed a hobby – such an antiquated term - must be stamp-collecting, or flying radio controlled airplanes as part of a club, or some such endeavor.  What is more, and what is worse, it seemed like such a commitment.  “These are my hobbies.”  “I collect civil war books, and to the end of my days I will spend all my free time collecting, memorizing, and ruminating on only things pertaining to the civil war.”  “I will join a club with like-minded members.”  Etc.

But a hobby – an avocational pursuit or interest - is in actual fact the non-committal pursuit par excellence.  Whether sport, recreation, simple pleasure, or intense intellectual interest, an avocational pursuit has the virtue that it can be pursued for its own sake.  And like any whim, disregarded whenever time no longer permits, or when the fire of that passion abates; and, if desired, picked back up next month or next year.

The hobbyist need not make the fatal error of confusing vegetable gardening with agriculture.   The landscape gardening enthusiast need never run a nursery nor supervise a crew planting petunias at a strip mall. 

To try one’s hand at learning to cook well may be a simple joy.  How wonderful to not need, in that case, to find employment as a chef!

And in this modern world, one need not always look far to find information about one’s current whim.  An obscure book is always one Amazon click away.   And likely some discussion board exists that may point one to more questions, or occasionally a clear answer.  The “long tail” ( contains every niche interest and is available now to all at the speed of one’s broadband connection.

Vocationally speaking, we are all usually specialists, of one sort or another, in the end.   Ricardian comparative advantage demands it.  And, as the recipients of the resulting productivity and economic growth, we are all much the better for it.  Those of us who love our professions are doubly blessed.

But in a hobby, one need not change careers nor manage disagreeable people nor make payroll - nor collect stamps.  One is never too late to start.  One can always delay, restart, or quit.  This is the realm of the novice, the amateur, the polymath, the autodidact. 

I think I now, finally, understand that blank.    

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