Why You Should Keep Free Time Free

My friend makes amazing costumes for a small theater troupe in Chicago.  It's a non-profit, church-based group, and she donates her time and skills.  She's incredibly talented, and finds the most exquisite fabrics and trims at clearance prices.  I've seen photos of the finished creations, and having worn many costumes for plays and operas, I can see that the ones she makes are of better-than-average quality.

I once suggested that she should have an Etsy shop geared toward cosplayers.  My son and daughter both enjoy cosplay, and usually make their own costumes, which are good but not as detailed and professional as what my friend produces.  My friend could definitely make some money with her work.

She's justifiably proud of her creations, and loves doing the work, but when I suggested an Etsy shop, all the light went out of her expression.  She apologized and said, "Yeah, everyone keeps telling me I should do that, but it would mean a lot more time, and I don't think I could make it work."  I recognized the look of a woman burdened by people's expectations of her.

"You don't have to," I assured her.  "It's wonderful to do something you love, just because you love it."


You don't have to monetize your joy.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."  I remember encouraging my kids to view any of their interests or talents as a possible career.  That's not bad advice, but now I wonder if I inadvertently sent the message that we should evaluate everything in terms of its money-making possibilities.

We live in an era where everyone's encouraged to have a side hustle.  I've even told my son-in-law that he could make good money with his increasing skills as a baker (even though his profession as a clinical laboratory scientist engrosses him, is valuable work, and pays extremely well).

But I've had to reconsider my comments, because I realized that every time we feel required to capitalize on something we love, we validate the idea that financial gain is the ultimate pursuit.  If we're good at it, we should sell it.  If we're good at it and we love it, we should definitely sell it.

The reality is that for most people who turn their hobbies into a hustle and manage to live on the proceeds, several things happen:

  • They become their own boss and may even create jobs for other people (pretty cool).
  • They work constantly at their craft because now their livelihood (and perhaps the livelihood of others) depends on it (might still be a good thing).
  • They rarely if ever have true leisure time any more (not so great).
  • They have no boundaries between work life and private time, because that's what it takes to create and run a business (uh oh).
  • The joy of creation is eclipsed by the need to meet the demands of their customers and to tailor their creations to the tastes and requirements of others (so maybe the joy dies).
  • They ultimately spend more time managing and expanding the business than crafting their product (so now it's just another job).

Monetary success might come at a pretty high price.

Life should be about more than money.

I hope you agree that it's okay to love a hobby for its ability to enrich your life without trying to make money from it.  It's okay to devote time and attention to something just because it makes you happy, because it enables you to recharge, and because it satisfies your urge to create. 

But if you agree, you need to be careful of what you say and choose. 

It's no surprise we feel pressure to monetize our spare time.  Busyness is one of the most toxic aspects of our culture.  Searching for ways to get ever more done in ever less time has become the norm.  And turning every activity into a hustle is considered smart.  But if we choose to capitalize on all of our time and talent, if we use every resource we have to make money, when do we have time for ourselves or anyone else?  And what does that say about our life's focus?

We may have more possessions and luxuries than any people who have ever lived on this planet, but we also have more stress and less satisfaction.

Unstructured time is an increasingly rare commodity.  We always feel an obligation to make good use of it.  We might even feel that at least we should be cleaning or decluttering.

Even a vacation can become a to-do list.  I've been on "vacations" like that, where every minute is planned, and you must constantly hurry through something you're enjoying so you won't miss some other "must see" attraction.  Where every day is just as crammed as a non-vacation day because you have to make your time "count."  Where there's no space between activities, no opportunity to savor or reflect on anything you're doing or seeing before it's "on to the next!"

And you return home as stressed and exhausted as if you never had a vacation.

Joy is purpose enough.

Don't let your free time be so full of things you have to do that there's no room for things you get to do.  And don't fill your kids' summer break so full of planned activities that they have no unstructured time to think, dream, explore, imagine, or play.

I'm sorry that I could look at my friend's lovely costumes, or my son-in-law's delectable bread, and somehow make them feel inadequate because they made those things for love and joy rather than money.  Shame on me.  Hobbies don't have to fulfill any purpose beyond our own enjoyment of them.

Updated August 2022


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