The Productive Hobby Trap
That nagging thought was back. What should I be doing? I had a spare few minutes while my son was napping, I should maximize my productivity. Shouldn’t I?
As a little girl, I watched my mother through the picture window working outside in her legendary flower garden. She was a prolific gardener and painter. There was even an article about her award-winning garden in the newspaper. I don’t have a single memory of her putting her feet up and reading a book. Or enjoying a cup of coffee outside. Even just sitting down and doing nothing for a minute. She was a powerhouse of productivity.
That’s how I thought life was supposed to be lived. I strove for industriousness. My favorite compliment soon became, “You’re so productive.” My grandfather nicknamed me, “The Energizer Bunny.” I didn’t have an off switch.
In high school, I joined as many extracurricular clubs as I could. I signed up for college classes. Danced competitively. Even took on a part time job. Multitasking became a way of life for me.
In college this continued in a new way. A few months after starting college I fell into a serious relationship. We were engaged shortly after Christmas.
All the while, I took on the maximum amount of course credits allowed and worked two jobs. I also did all the dishes in my fiancé’s apartment in exchange for free rent (I was still paying rent on the apartment I had vacated because of a rock-solid lease agreement). I even attended a few meetings for various extracurricular clubs, Model UN, the university literary magazine, an environmental group. Oh, and I wrote a book that November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
This set the tone for the rest of my life. I never stopped. My wedding was two weeks after I graduated from college. No one asked me to prove anything, yet I couldn’t stop myself. To do lists were addictive. I made lists of lists, unable to stop the thirst for productivity.
I cooked and baked obsessively. At least once a week on one of my “days off” from substitute teaching, I would spend at least 12 hours straight in my kitchen preparing homemade meals. I took up extreme couponing to save money; my husband was still in college and working part-time at a local restaurant. I had started making crafts as presents for friends in college. This is something I continued after college and even tried to turn into a business.
That first year was a taste of the mania to come. I became famous within my family for unpacking after a move within 48 hours. At one point I was working 5 jobs, running a blog with multiple weekly posts and cooking every meal for my husband and myself.
Surprisingly, it was a couple years after that before I hit my breaking point and realized what was going on. After I had my son, things shifted. I still felt the pressing urgency of what I should be doing. The thing was, I didn’t care as much anymore. My priorities had changed. I started to loathe any activity that took time away from my son.
Within months of having my son, I stopped blogging. I had already stopped working my full-time job before he was born.
Nearly a year after my son was born, my family took a vacation. It was our first vacation as a family. The first vacation my husband and I had taken since we’d moved away from our home four years before.
On that vacation, I had my moment of quiet understanding. It was in a cabin in the middle of the woods. All I could hear were crickets chirping, frogs croaking and the giggles of my son in the next room with my husband. There was no cell service, no internet. Sitting alone on a weather-beaten patio chair in that Indiana wilderness, I saw what I’d become.
I was a productivity monster. Even my hobbies were productive. Over the years I had taken up knitting, sewing, candle-making, baking, and gardening. Always looking to expand my knowledge of practical skills and using any “down-time” to produce something whether it was a scone or sock.
A couple weeks prior, my husband and I started an elimination diet. It was a nutrition reset to see what was causing his digestive issues. We had suspicions of celiac disease; it runs in his family. Both of us were skeptical and didn’t have high hopes of any radical life changes.
In that cabin in the woods, the fog lifted, and I felt clarity unlike ever before. I could view my life as a spectator and it was depressing. Where was the fun? Where was the enjoyment?
From that moment on, I started a journey to cut out all these “productive hobbies.” For the first time in my life I vowed to be true to myself and my needs. I gave away all my craft supplies, and miscellany accrued from a life spent occupied. Some days, I would just play with my son and read. Other days I would cook with my husband, never for 12 hours straight though.
A couple of months later, I’m still battling my inner demons of productivity. In a culture that idolizes productivity and busyness, slowing down isn’t easy. That won’t stop me from trying and taking pleasure in throwing out unfinished lists.
Soldano, G. (2019). The Productive Hobby Trap. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-productive-hobby-trap/