I tried to take electric bass lessons. It didn’t last long.
I know so many people who attempt to start playing an instrument once they have an established career, kids, some sense of security, and it never takes. You don’t see many rock (or even jazz) stars only start to breakthrough in their mid-forties (and, if you do, it is a rarity). Music is an amazing hobby. Learning how to play an instrument is an incredible way to keep your mind and muscles sharp. This wasn’t me. My story is a little different. I have been playing instruments since I was a very young child. I started off on mandolin (don’t judge me), even twanged on a banjo for a short while and then – somewhere in my early teens – started playing the electric bass. I loved it so much. I studied it full-time in my post-secondary education and was – seriously – considering it as my professional vocation. If you’re reading this, you know it didn’t take. Still, about a year ago, I thought it would be fun to pick it up again as a hobby. I got some of my older equipment out of storage, had it cleaned, tuned and upgraded. I even added a brand new bass into the mix. I found my old music books, and quickly realized that I could still (albeit very slowly) read and understand music. It was enlightening. I knew the language of music and had never realized it. That’s like waking up and realizing that you understand Cantonese, or something. I took a handful of lessons with different teachers, but it all stopped. Part of the reason was due to some very major and personal events that took place in my life between January and March and – with that – Twist Image was acquired by WPP. So, yes, a lot of my plate.
Still, there was something else happening.
During that time, I was also reading books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Upon reflection, it seems like I was looking to unlock different types of new and creative ways to express myself. I read through a lot of this content. I contemplated taking some drawing lessons (as a child, I used to love drawing comics and more). Maybe I would try my hand at magic again (also something I was passionate about as a young person). Then, it hit me. As I explored these new arenas of creativity, I was spending less time writing. I was spending less time thinking about writing. I was spending less time thinking about media, marketing, communications, technology and advertising. I felt like I was losing touch with that side of my life. I was writing my daily blog posts, my contributed articles and thinking about my third business book, but not with the focus, passion and tenacity I had in the past.
When Twist Image got acquired by WPP last month, many people asked if I was going to "slow down" now? Had I been speeding? I don’t feel the need to slow down. I don’t feel the need to stop working on client’s challenges. I don’t feel the need to blog less. I don’t feel the need to podcast less. I don’t feel the need to contribute less to other publications. I don’t feel the need to speak at fewer events. In fact, I quickly realized – upon some deep reflection – that I’m not a workaholic, and that I’m also not in need of finding something else to be creative with. This. This is my hobby. This is what gives me joy, satisfaction and creative completeness.
It’s not work. It’s a hobby.
As I sat through an electric bass lesson last November, I remember thinking to myself: "it’s going to take a lot of work for me to get my playing competency up to the level it was back when I was studying it in school. It will take a lot of work… and I’m not all that passionate about arriving at that end state." I would get into my car to head home after that lesson and find myself getting totally inspired about client ideas, blog posts, another book and more. See, work was more like a hobby for me. Now, whether that is by design or I simply lucked into it is not all that relevant. The fact remains, that this is how I process my work, and doing this type of stuff (like writing this very blog post) is how I like to pass my time. I was confused. I was looking for other creative outlets outside of work, because it seemed strange that my work was also my creative outlet. This was my mistake. I realized it. I have corrected course.
When your work can’t be your hobby.
I’m not Pollyanna. I realize that I fall into a very small minority of the Earth’s population (and I don’t take that for granted… not for one second). With that, it got me thinking about what others can do to change their professional mindset from one of simple acceptance (it is what it is… and this is the only way for me to make a living and support my loved ones) to finding a happy medium (where work can be more like your hobby). Part of the reason why my work is really my hobby, is because I see it as a continuous learning experience. I wake up with an open mind. I wake up thinking that it would be nice to learn something new today. It would be great to solve a challenge. It would be wonderful to pull some pieces of a puzzle together for a client. As the day progresses, and as more content and perspective enters into my personal zeitgeist, questions begin accumulating. Some of these questions I write down (they may provide good chum for future content purposes) and some of the questions simply roll around between my earholes. Regardless of the content I tweet, write or share, I go to bed with a lot of questions and try to relax by thinking about their answers. Yes, I romanticize the whole experience.
Shouldn’t we all?
If you need a ton of hobbies outside of your work to find happiness, that’s fine (it’s hard for many to be this passionate about their work). If you’re looking to turn your work into a hobby, you’re lucky as well. Maybe it’s a little metaphysical, but how we pass our time is directly related to our health and happiness. It seems to me, that focusing on the things that intrigue us, while embracing a spirit of continuous learning may be the perfect prescription to avoid burnout, to twist your work into a hobby, and to truly be in a persistent state of learning with true interest.
A life well lived? What do you think?