Graphic by Madison Grosvenor/Daily.

Now and then, I stumble upon a new hobby. I have a track record of dropping commitments soon after I decide I want to pursue them, which usually makes me doubt the next will stick for long. Growing up, I was a ballerina, a tap dancer and a cheerleader. I quit all of them adamant that there were other things that needed my time. These “hobbies” are just distractions, I would tell myself. I was partially right, though. I never truly looked forward to doing these things and I never regretted quitting. This was all until I began writing and playing the ukulele. This time around, I think these hobbies will stick.

I started writing again a few years ago after I finally rebuilt my shattered confidence. All throughout my childhood, adults in my life told me to focus on something other than writing — something I was better at. I willingly listened and searched for a new passion, but in the process, I unwillingly let go of my youthful love for storytelling. In March 2020, I picked up the pen out of boredom and wrote out everything that had been pressing on my mind. I then began writing poems, personal stories, and whatever else came to my mind. Once I fell back into the practice, I couldn’t believe how I had ever stopped. Writing brought me peace of mind at a time in my life when I didn’t know that it was possible to find peace and it continues to provide this for me.

Over the summer, I wrote just for myself. One day, I felt satisfied with what I had written, and when I glanced at the time I realized there was still so much of the day left to fill. I grabbed my phone and did a quick Google search on the easiest instrument to learn. A list of instruments popped up and the first instrument listed was a ukulele. Without a second thought, I opened up Amazon on a new tab and looked up ukuleles. The screen was filled with varieties of the small, four-string instrument. Each one was covered in mahogany wood and had thin white strings that glowed against the wood. I endlessly scrolled, filled with excitement at the possibility of being able to play an instrument. Eventually one in particular caught my eye. The engraved body was meant to honor Hawaiian body ornamentation. Throughout the summer, I taught myself to play with the help of videos on the internet. Once I was confident in my ability to play, I started to sing along with the music I was making. Day would fade into night as I sat in my room learning strumming patterns and chords for new songs. 

I reflect back on what I’ve been doing over the past year and I wonder whether or not I’m wasting my time with these hobbies. I think to myself, you’re just writing incomplete thoughts in a Notes app and calling them poems. There’s no one explicitly telling me I’m wasting my time, but a voice in the back of my head tells me that I could be doing something more productive with my time. I could be volunteering, or working or doing homework, but instead, I let my entire day slip away as my pinky reaches for the first string of the ukulele to play an E chord. 

I can’t help but wonder if my hobbies would be more productive if I were making money off of them. But I shut this idea down as quickly as it comes to my head. I predict what it would be like to turn a hobby into a side hustle. My incomplete-thought-filled notes app might need more polishing before public approval. My fingers might need to switch chords faster so my mistakes aren’t audible. My mumble-singing might need to sound more powerful and confident.

Once I start to think about making my hobbies more “useful,” I find myself more fearful and apprehensive to pursue them. We live in an era of productivity. Our society tells us from an early age that perfection is something that we should strive for, and if we can’t reach it, we should choose something more attainable. I’m slowly coming to realize that it’s okay to shift away from this cut-throat mentality. In the midst of modern-day hustle, it’s more than okay to change pace by doing something you enjoy just because you enjoy it. It’s easy to slip into the idea that hobbies aren’t productive if you’re not getting assessed on how well you’re doing; but if you’re doing something that makes you happy, it will always be worth doing, regardless of whether or not it meets societal hustle standards.

MiC Columnist Meghan Dodaballapur can be reached at mdodab@umich.edu.