The Serial Hobbyist and the Pursuit of Knowledge
I’ve always had an obsessive personality. Thankfully there isn’t a lot of compulsions in my particular flavor of OCD, just the racing circular thoughts rattling around in my head. One of my earliest attempts to deal with my brain’s particularly messed-up wiring was to adopt different hobbies. And by “adopt” I mean race forcefully down the rabbit-hole of whatever pastime I was picking up. For many years this was a subconscious move. A desperate attempt to distract myself from my own thought-spirals. With age I’ve become more aware of what I’m doing but no less able to predict or control the various Hobbies. My interest in them comes on quick and burns bright, and then there is an inevitable cooling off that suddenly becomes disinterest. This shift has frustrated me for years as I’ve looked inward to try and decode how one day I can spend hours involved with an activity only to seemingly lose all desire to continue the next day. I often wonder how common this serial-hobbyist mentality is in my peers, though I have found very little discussion of similar tendencies on the internet.
Just over the past decade I’ve seen varying levels of obsession with: “euro-style” boardgames, Apple Computers, Guitar, digital photography, blogging, hiking, cigars, video games, cars, target shooting, running, and beer. And that is just off the top of my head.
Jules pokes fun, but she has long since stopped trying to figure out the whys and hows of my obsessions. And she is always super supportive while managing to be a voice of reason when it looks like I’m about to make some extra-crazy purchase or attempt something foolhardily. Recently though we’ve been digging a little deeper into why I’ve chosen to tackle the various and seemingly unrelated activities.
We made a list of all the obsessive interests I’ve had since moving to Los Angeles and what about each activity I enjoyed. Collecting obviously played a large role, as it does in any hobby worth doing. The other most common aspects of these hobbies were a focus on skill building and the joy that I found in learning as much esoteric knowledge as I could about that activity. Often times the learning and discovery was MORE enjoyable for me than the actual activity was. I’m calling this feature “the pursuit of lore”, and I think that it holds the key to why my brain will latch-on to a new endeavor, only to detach and grow disinterested over time.
As an exercise in working out how I can apply what I am most passionate about to my professional life I plan to delve deeper into some of my past hobbies and explore what hooked me about each of them. In the meantime, how common do you think this serial hobbyist mentality is? The easy access to information, materials, and community via the internet has made it easier than ever before to discover and adopt new interests. Has this decentralized and anonymized environment also decreased the sticking power of these new interests?
I go hot-and-cold with my hobbies. I don’t drop something forever but I lose interest and leave it for a few weeks or months. I think it’s the appeal of a new project that gets me!
Yeah, I have a similar tendency which I think of as cyclical, but mostly oscillates between wargaming and roleplaying, with occasional forays into other stuff in my cloud of interests. I get the same thing in my research, often bouncing between interesting topics.
This is me exactly. I never thought of it as being an obsessive personality, but I do feel like I don’t have a lot of control over it. I’d be interested to see you write more about it.
Thanks for the comment. I’ve actually been meaning to write more for many months, but I have been busy with the new website (www.beeroftomorrow.com). Recently I ran across an old article from WIRED by one of my favorite authors, William Gibson, about his obsession with watch collecting. It is uncanny many of my thoughts and feeling on serial hobbits are mirrored in that piece. You can read it here: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.01/ebay.html
I agree me too, as soon as I master something I become disinterested with it almost immediately.
My husband and I are both serial hobbyists, which works out well. I agree that it’s the excitement of learning a new skill, having new tools and the possibility of each hobby that’s the biggest draw. Thanks for your post and knowing that we’re not alone. Enjoy your next hobby!
Thanks for your comment! I’ve been spending so much time on my new endeavor I’ve managed to go a full year without picking up a new hobby (for the most part). I think that bordom with the status quo is another big driver towards serial hobbies…
It’s a rather odd phenomenon, but one that I experience quite often. One day I’ll be hooked on surfing or getting fit and the next day, it’s football or photography. Good to know that I’m not the only serial hobbyist out there.
Really digging up an old post but WOW, this hits the nail on the head, even the same interests…shucks I’m totally a serial hobbyist still in the unconscious phase of what you described, I guess slowly becoming more aware….
[…] friends”, and I was really struck by that sentiment. As someone with the reputation of picking up and dropping hobbies with frightening regularity, the idea made me realize how much I’ve neglected that particular hobby […]