If there’s one thing I’ve learned about work-life balance, it’s the importance of having hobbies that fulfill you in ways work does not. I won’t go into the importance of having people outside of your work life… but that’s important too.
So many people – faculty and students – tell me they don’t have hobbies because they don’t have time. I mean, it doesn’t grow on trees. I get it. We’ve all got responsibilities to our families, to work, to friends. But you’re important too, and you too need joy. If Netflix is what gives you that, then start there. Then ask yourself: what else nurtures you? What else lets you create? What else gives you something that work doesn’t?
Each one of us has a lot of sides that need nurturing. I bet you can find a few minutes in your day to nurture those other sides.
Let me just say, I immensely enjoy teaching, faculty development, curriculum and materials design, and everything that’s included in what I define as ‘work’. I’m lucky to like my job so much. Planning an activity, a lesson, or a class for my students that goes well helps others, and it’s rewarding to watch other people grow from that effort and energy. Same goes for doing successful faculty development work – offering a workshop to a group of faculty and having it be effective and useful is wonderful. As much satisfaction as I get from work, there are a few things that a job, a career, a vocation just can’t give me.
Even if you enjoy your work a lot, it’s not wrong to want outlets beyond that. In fact, it’s probably healthier that way. One of my core beliefs is that one thing (or one person) cannot give us everything we need, or let us shine in all the ways we could. For that reason we need to seek other opportunities for creative expression and satisfaction.
I’ll share with you how that looks for me. Not that everyone has to follow my lead or have lots of hobbies. Do it your way. All I’m saying here is that we’re all creative in some way and need an outlet for that creative energy. Whether it’s writing fan fiction, doing something musical, designing fancy ways to cut your lawn or arrange your living room, or making tasty treats for your people, it doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy it. Heck, you don’t even have to be good at it. Being new at something can be kind of fun, too.
For me, one of those really important things is singing with a local choir. Singing lets me join with others to make harmony. Music lets me play with and within a different set of rules. It lets me create a beautiful sound that exists for a fleeting moment, not something that will be around for semesters or years to come. There’s something inexplicably addictive about the experience of making a sound for others that gave them joy for a short time. Singing also calms me down and energizes me at the same time. Making music has been an important part of my life since I was in second grade, and it probably always will be.
Many people who know me in real life also know that I almost always have a knitting project in my bag (in the car, at home, and whenever I suspect I might have to wait for more than 10 minutes). Knitting fulfills another need of mine – it serves as a way to see the work I’ve just created, unlike writing, which involves lots of tweaking and revising and rearranging. Not so in knitting – once you’ve made a stitch, it’s there (unless it falls out, or you take it out on purpose, or you mess up…). It’s meditative, it’s repetitive, and it doesn’t require much concentration (unless you’re doing genius-level knitting!). Listen to a podcast while you work or just get lost in your thoughts. But when you’re finished, you’ll have proof in front of you of what you’ve been doing for the last hour. You’ll have something beautiful and soft to touch, a piece of fabric with thousands of little loops connecting to each other – instant tactile gratification.
Baking and cooking serve important purposes in my life too. I recently watched an episode of Netflix’s series Chef’s Table that helped me articulate one of the reasons I find it so fulfilling to cook for others. (I know the title of this post is basically “you need more than TV in your life”, but I’ll make an exception for this super stunning show.) The episode was about Jeong Kwan, a Zen Buddhist nun in South Korea that cooks for her community at Baekyangsa Temple, about 170 miles south of Seoul. In the first few minutes of the episode, she talks about cooking for others as a meditative practice, and as a means of communicating emotions and creating community. She says that when you make food for and consume the food of others, you engage in that sharing. Cooking and baking for others is, to me, an almost spiritual way of connecting with my partner, with my students, with my friends and family. It’s so basic and simple and necessary. Through the chemistry of transforming ingredients into something delicious, community and communication happen.
So, these are my things. Yours might look different. Like many people, I too struggle with not having enough time in the day. But depending on which of these things I need, I try to make time for at least one of them. They keep me from crashing and burning, they serve as meditative and reflective spaces, and they let me share with others in ways that I otherwise couldn’t.
To have things outside of work that gratify me is really about not letting the entirety of my identity rest on just one thing. I can’t be solely defined by work, even if that’s the only way some people know me. And since work is the place I spend the majority of my time, especially during the academic year, I also need to remind myself that that’s not the entirety of me, too. What if work falls through? What if you get laid off, what if you decide you want to try out a new field and find a new job? When your identity rests in just one area, it’s too easily destroyed.
What are these things for you? What gives you life and inspiration and makes room for creative expression outside of work?