Mar 162012

It is almost the weekend, so thoughts are turning to non-work related activities. This weekend, I am planning on getting back into the shop and making some sawdust. In anticipating the smell of wood and the thrill of making something, I started thinking about discipline and hobbies.

There are a lot of hobbies out there. I couldn’t even begin to name all of them. I hear of new ones all the time. The dictionary defines a hobby as an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation. That covers a lot of territory. This blog even counts as a hobby. My Irish whistle is another, as is reading, model ship building and Scrabble. I count many things as hobbies. However, I have more discipline around some activities than others.

Hobbies take some amount of time. To get better at a hobby requires additional time. To get really good takes even more. One struggle I have is trying to determine at what level I want to pursue a hobby. I obviously can’t take each hobby to an expert level without spending more time than is available. Some hobbies, just as Scrabble, I enjoy with my wife, but I am not going to study and memorize all the 4 letter words with a Z in them or the words containing a Q, but no U. I am happy to go off the words in my head at this point. This hobby is at a low level of discipline. I just do it when it is my turn.

Other hobbies, like the Irish whistle, I have been pursuing for a few years, but with not a lot of effort. I pick it up every now and then and tootle around for a few minutes. However, the time I spend on it is increasing. I was asked to play it with the church choir at Christmas. Suddenly the time involved peaked! I practiced every day. I was surprised how much better I became in a short few weeks. I had to buy an additional whistle in another key for this particular song. While browsing the web, I stumbled on a whistle lesson website. After mulling it in my mind for a few weeks, I signed up for lessons this week. I have decided to put a little more discipline into this hobby for the next few weeks at least. I will have to practice regularly and attend my online lesson weekly. The added motivation? I have to pay a little money each month to the site for the rights to the lessons. When money is involved in an activity, more attention is paid to it.

Then there is my big hobby, or my obsession. I have more woodworking tools than I can use at this point. I love making things and it seems every project requires a new tool. My wife has been wonderfully patient in this area. Some times I have to admit I am more of a tool collector than a tool user. About once or twice a year, I get the mood going and go out to the shop and actually make something. It takes me a long time, though, because I lack the discipline to get out there regularly. I have too many other distractions/interests/responsibilities. As a result, it has taken me a year to make a couple simple dressers or garden bench. I find the most difficult part is to actually walk to the shop. Once I am there, the next hour or so fly by.

I think the key to discipline in hobbies is to spend a little time deciding the level of expertise one desires in a hobby and then match the time commitment to the desire. Some can get obsessed and overdo the time commitment, to the detriment of other aspects of life. Keeping balance, even in hobbies, is important. When I was finishing my degree a few years ago, while working full time and trying to be a good father and husband at the same time, my boss took me aside one day. He said he was concerned about the time I was spending on school. He asked how important a 4.0 GPA was to me. When I answered it wasn’t all that critical, he asked why I was putting so much time in on the schooling. The class counted the same toward the degree, regardless of whether I got an A or a B. I saw his point and relaxed my internal standards a little, put less time into that endeavor and found precious time for the other important things in life.

Hobbies can teach many important lessons, including dedication, time management and decision making. Keep everything in balance, including hobbies. Don’t let an opportunity to learn a little discipline pass by.