Imagine you own a factory.
You come in every morning to meet with some of your managers. But your workers put the goods together and keep everything clean. So, after that, you duck out, hit the gym, grab a meal and head to a hair appointment.
It’s OK, though — even if you aren’t at the factory, your workers will take care of things. They know how all the machines operate and they spend all day, most days, at your factory. From maintaining the space, to making the goods, to packaging, selling and delivering — they do it all.
So now you have a problem.
See, you’ve got a pretty sweet deal going here: you own the space and you can afford to spend 20 to 25 hours of company time per week going to restaurants and personal appointments. And, you get to keep most of the profit. Your only challenge? Your workers aren’t stupid. They’re bound to figure out they’re getting the short end of the stick eventually. You need to make sure they stay OK with working harder for earning lesser. So what do you do?
You convince them they’re in that position because they aren’t working hard enough.
The hustle culture hoax
Dubbed a “hustle culture” by many, romanticizing burnout and overworking dominated the late 2010s.
According to a 2020 article published in Maize Magazine, within hustle culture, “Any chance of self-fulfillment depends on the grind and personal sacrifice…days are a long list of chores and choices all geared toward career advancement. Even leisure activities like meditation and yoga or travel have a professional dimension since they are meant to heighten physical stamina and attention spans.”
Even if you didn’t have a name for it until now, you’re most likely familiar with hustle culture: it’s the black and red Instagram graphics urging you to “rise and grind” and “take no days off”. It’s that nauseating pit you get in your stomach every time you take a sick day because, even if you are sick, part of you feels like you’re being lazy. And, it’s the YouTube business moguls who seem to have paradoxically built their wealth by selling you the secrets to how they built their wealth.
Hustle culture flourishes on the presumption of meritocracy — which is just a fancy way of saying its success depends on the idea that equal opportunities for advancement are available to everyone. So, it claims, if you do things right, you, too, can become that factory owner. And, more than that, meritocracy contends if you don’t become that factory owner — if you experience financial hardship or lack of inspiration in any capacity — it’s your fault. You just aren’t working hard enough.
At face value, that might sound true — after all, many of the world’s richest people maintain they got to where they are because they worked very hard. Yet, hustle culture and its champions ignore a fatal flaw: very few of those who work very hard are one of the world’s richest people.
The burnout epidemic
This idea — that hard work always leads to material wealth and any lack of material wealth is the individual’s fault — has led to cohorts of professionals becoming what writer Anne Helen Petersen calls “The Burnout Generation.”
In a 2019 article with the same title, Petersen describes how, from birth, young people are raised to valorize their ability to be efficient workers with the promise of guaranteed material prosperity. Yet, she highlights, changes in the Western economy mean young people now have to work far harder to achieve the same — or, often, less — financial success as previous generations. She posits the result of this inconsistency is a generation of exhausted young people, too tired to accomplish even routine errands, yet conditioned to believe their exhaustion is their own fault:
“[Burnout is] not a temporary affliction…It’s our lives.”
This chronic, generational burned-out-ness has led to what some have called the “death of the dream job.” Some young people are divesting from work as much as possible, claiming they (sarcastically, sincerely or both) “do not dream of labour.” And, idyllic, leisure-centric esthetics like cottagecore have recently surged in popularity, implicitly corroborating this sentiment.
However, save for the select few who — through a combination of luck, privilege and, yes, hard work — will lug their way to luxury, work is unavoidable. We need to work to get by.
And so presents a paradox: the chronic fatigue-induced desire to invest primarily or only in pleasure versus necessary labour.
So, what does this have to do with hobbies?
To clarify and recap everything so far, here’s a non-exhaustive list of things this article is not saying:
- Working towards your dreams is bad.
- Caring about your work is silly.
- You’ll never succeed no matter what you do, so there’s no point in trying.
- All work is bad.
Here’s what it is saying:
- There are systems in place that try to trick you into turning every aspect of your life into a means of becoming more productive, largely for someone else’s benefit.
- You deserve a life that’s about more than work.
In a 2020 article for Wear Your Voice magazine, writer Kendriana Washington states, “Shortsighted perceptions of play consider it immature, selfish, and rooted in distraction or avoidance, but pleasure is therapeutic; it heals stress, anxiety, and supports mental wellbeing.”
While not a solution to the systems that necessitate our unrelenting commitment to self-optimization for the workplace, hobbies can help you defend your entitlement to a life about more than clocking hours. Hobbies are activities you invest time and energy into, not because they’ll improve your attention span or boost your productivity, but just for you. To explore your creative potential. To commit to activities that bring you joy because they just do.
Speaking specifically about and to fellow Black people, Washington writes:
“Our liberation is affirmed not only through dismantling the constructs that oppress us but also by brazenly stepping into the experiences that we’ve been denied, living most authentically, and discovering that our basic state of being has more than enough purpose.”
OK, great, so: hobbies are important because they allow you to decenter work from your life. But what if you have to balance multiple jobs to keep food on the table? What if you work full-time hours and then need to come home, do laundry, cook your family dinner, help your siblings with their homework and work on your own?
Investing in hobbies can help you reclaim autonomy and your right to pleasure. But, although it shouldn’t be this way, having time to do so (in our current sociopolitical circumstances) is a form of class privilege — not everyone can afford to spend an hour a day painting, biking or playing video games.
And, the divide between those who can pursue hobbies and those who can’t has only widened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the height of self-isolation mandates, one subset of — largely white, able-bodied, cisgender and heterosexual — people had plenty of time to explore new hobbies. Baking sourdough. Watching movies. Making art. Another subset of people did not. People called them “essential workers.”
For this reason, investing in each other is an essential aspect of investing in hobbies. If you are in a position that allows you to spend time on joy for joy’s sake, practices like mutual aid are vital.
In other words, here’s one more thing this article is saying:
- Everyone deserves a life that’s about more than work.
Now that you know why hobbies are important, find out which one is right for you!