Week 11: Side-projects, Hobbies, and Obsession

Welcome to 2019, everyone! If we all close our eyes and wish really really really hard, this year might be less of a dumpster fire than the last one.

The astute reader will ask why I haven’t posted anything for more than two weeks. One part of the answer, dear reader, is that I just didn’t feel like it. I’m on vacation. I want to spend this time wrapped up in a blanket, sipping on something warm, reading or listening to music or playing a game.

The other part of the answer is that I wanted to break a dangerous pattern I’ve noticed in my own behavior. It goes something like this:

Step 1: I take up a new activity. It could be music lessons, a new workout routine, writing reviews for all the music I listen to, or writing these weeknotes.

Step 2: In the beginning, the activity is fun because of the novelty. Eventually, though, the magic of the honeymoon period wears off. This is when you really need to start putting your back into the work, and also when most people quit.

Step 3: Even if I’m not as totally in love with the activity as I was in the beginning, I still keep showing up every day. At a logical level I understand that you don’t get good at anything without putting in the work, and it’s no fun doing anything unless you’re at least slightly good at it. So I show up each day, no matter what happens. Gotta keep that Seinfeld calendar going.

Step 4: Eventually I miss a day. It could be because I’m tired from work, or sick, or traveling, or because someone is visiting me. It could be a number of totally legitimate reasons, or it could be simply because I don’t feel like being productive that day.

Step 5: There was a time when, if I missed a day, my internal voice would start berating me. “You’re such a loser Ankur,” it would say. “You can’t even show up to the gym for three weeks without missing a day. You’re useless, you’re trash.” Over the years I’ve managed to reign in this voice, but missing a day still feels like I’ve committed a grave and unforgivable sin. As if I’ve done something morally reprehensible that I need to be punished for.

Step 6: The activity — whether it’s exercising, music practice, writing, or whatever else — starts to feel like a chore. I do it not because I’m interested and committed, but because I’m afraid. I don’t want to feel the guilt and shame that comes from skipping one day.

Step 7: I start associating the activity with negative feelings. Sometimes I stop doing it altogether. It’s easier to not do something than to do it semi-regularly and feel guilty all the time.

Step 8: Pick a new activity and go back to to step 1.

This year I’m trying to break the pattern. In order to enjoy my hobbies and side projects, I need to prevent them from becoming obsessions. I need to know when to take breaks and go easy on myself – and also when to push myself to my limits. It’s important for me to keep reminding myself that hobbies are supposed to bring you joy, not to suck our your life force.

And so, when I didn’t feel like I was up to the task of writing a weeknote, I didn’t push myself. More than once I felt a twinge of guilt. I even started to write something one Wednesday, but then I reigned myself in and played a few more hours of Breath of the Wild.

I’m doing a few other things this year to improve my relationship with my work, and to make sure I don’t burn out like I’ve done in the years past. I’ll talk about them in my next weeknote.

For now, I wish you a happy 2019! Eat your vegetables, keep your sneakers clean, and be kind to yourselves.


Reading: Creative Quest by Questlove, and Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai

Listening to: a bunch of old Parliament/Funkadelic records, a random assortment of Kanye’s old hits, Kids See Ghosts by Kids See Ghosts, and Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten.

Playing: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Trying really hard to keep myself from dropping $85 on Super Smash Bros.

Published by Ankur Sethi

Hip-hop nerd, independent frontend developer.