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Hobby, not hustle

It’s June. I am knee-deep in gardening season, and I love it. I love the physical work of digging, planting, weeding (Ok, I don’t love weeding), picking. I love growing my own food, and I love learning about plants, each species with its individual preferences and set of needs.

In fact, I love this hobby to the point where it becomes almost like another job for me. It’s easy for me to set my expectations way too high. Just like at work, where I am personally responsible for what I produce and am held accountable for meeting a specific set of standards, I’ve been known to set those same expectations for my hobbies at home.

Why? Because to me, my hobbies, like my work, reflect my values. They’re a direct manifestation of how I strive to live my life, and what I produce is what I have to show for the work I put in.

So if I hit setbacks – like last summer, when my tomato plants mysteriously withered and my pepper plants weren’t very productive – I’m quick to chalk it all up as a complete failure. If I don’t have an abundant harvest to show for all of my hard work, what’s the point of pretending to care about sustainability in the first place?

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to the things I care about, in case you didn’t catch on.

But hobbies like gardening aren’t supposed to be about product or profit, are they? 

Hobbies are meant to counter our mindset to achieve, achieve, achieve. Produce, produce, produce – a mindset in which we already spend enough time during the work day.

I was recently reminded to take a step back and be a little easier on myself when my editor Cathy Hirko shared this article with me. The author longingly talks about doing enjoyable activities that are just simply for fun and not for making money, forgetting that the concept has long existed, and that it’s called “having a hobby.”

The term “side-hustle” has become such a staple in our young professional vocabulary that I’m almost sick of hearing it. Of course, there are the realities of being a millennial in today’s economy. Despite strong employment numbers, wages aren’t growing like they have historically, and we have less confidence in our financial stability.

So a “side-hustle” – an independent money-making activity that is also, presumably, fun, like selling crafts on Etsy or driving for Uber – is an attractive temptation, and one that can make sense and be financially viable for many.

But what about not measuring the activities we do for leisure, like gardening, in my case, in what we earn from them? What about just doing them because they’re enriching, mentally stimulating, or just plain old fun?

I spend most of my days in my office in front of my computer. My garden – or other hobbies, like cooking – is my respite, the perfect counter-balance. It’s easy to lose sight of that when I get caught up trying to measure time spent in my garden by the number of tomatoes or peppers harvested. 

So this summer, I’m going to be a little more gentle with myself. I’m doing my best with the time and resources I have available for gardening, and I know I’m working hard at it. No matter what ends up growing, I always leave my garden at night feeling calm and content.

Becca Oken-Tatum
Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at [email protected].

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