Enjoyment has been sucked out of my hobbies. Learning languages is my favorite hobby. I used to find such joy in it, as learning a new language can open oneself up to new cultures, people and perspectives. However, language learning hasn’t felt the same lately, and I think I know why. I have now made it a chore. Because I know a language is a great asset for career development, I’ve put this pressure on myself to learn as many languages as I can to be the most marketable I can be in this competitive job market. Languages are now not something fun to engage with, but rather a stepping stone for my career.
This is a problem. Late capitalism, which has a myriad of definitions but is most often a blanket term to describe the inequalities and absurd nature of the contemporary economy, has promoted an ideology that all free time should be constructed as venture labor. Free time is deteriorating, leading mental health into a dire situation. Every interest or hobby a person has does not— and indeed must not — need to be done with the intention of helping one’s career prospects down the line.
Venture labor is a term that derives its meaning from the adjacent term venture capital. Venture capital is when lenders provide incipiant businesses with very early funding or resources. This is under the assumption that these businesses will hopefully have substantial long run returns. It generally comes from wealthy investors or investment banks and comes with a high degree of risk; however, the payoff from such investments could be huge. Venture labor is a form of labor that comes with a high degree of risk and the hope that their labor now will lead to benefits in the long run. Examples of this include unpaid internships and, crucial for my argument, many hobbies and social media activities that work to build an audience, brand and name recognition. The worry here is that hobbies and social media activity are being conflated with working and career advancement. This drains the enjoyment out of hobbies, making them more of a chore.
The degradation of leisure is causing a degradation in mental health. Seeing leisure as wasteful and unproductive rather than as a valid way to spend one’s time has been illustrated to lead to less happiness and elevates levels of stress and depression. Being overworked has negative effects such as lack of exercise, neglect of relationships and increased risk for substance abuse. No one can dedicate all of their time to their career. The sort of grind culture that we, college students, can become engulfed in, is toxic. Millennials and Gen Z have been fed an idea of hustling in the workplace to get where they want to be in life. ten-hour workdays and seven-day workweeks are not sustainable. They tip the scales of work-life balance in the wrong direction.
Less free time leaves people less time to delve into things that they actually enjoy. Seeing one’s hobbies and social media activity as only for one’s career is not healthy. People need to have a clear line between what is work and what is play. The fact that venture labor has infiltrated our generation is dangerous. It’s eating away at the enjoyment of our hobbies, social media and work-life balance. Venture labor in our generation needs to be better understood and its effects curbed if a mental health crisis is to be avoided.
There are three shifts in our collective mindsets that can be made to stave off further mental anguish. If one truly believes that they must be productive every waking minute of their life, they need to realize that hobbies can be productive. Hobbies can challenge your brain in ways it’s not used to, opening yourself up to a myriad of people, communities and ideas that can expand your perspective and imagination. Hobbies let you develop a set of skills with a dash of fun.
Learning a new language, picking up blacksmithing or trying out fencing can allow you to hone a skill that is just for your own betterment and not for the purpose of a future career. Indulging in one’s free time is also about promoting wellness, not laziness. Spending one’s free time relaxing forces one to prioritize themselves at that moment and take part in self-care. No one can run at full capacity 24/7 without burnout manifesting. Keeping your free time free is beneficial to your mind, body and soul.
Finally, realize that life is more than attaining a career that will pay handsomely. We’re college students. It’s difficult not to think about our future careers. However, whatever job title you will come to hold does not define your entire life, and it shouldn’t. Life is not about dollar signs. Life is about experiencing the world in its many facets. It’s about attaining fulfillment, happiness and security. And yes, many of those ideals may come from working toward professional goals. But they also come from all of the things that are “unproductive.” Engaging in creative endeavors and tapping into interests for the fun of it is necessary for a more full, enriching life. Venture labor propelled by the hustle culture phenomenon that is everywhere on social media makes it seem that all can come from one’s career, so all time should be devoted to it. But, this is just false. Our free time must be protected for the sake of our peace of mind.
Making time for oneself separate from career ambitions is vital to a happier life. No one should work all the time. This is not to say that one cannot be passionate about their professional ambitions and do whatever it takes to reach them. This is about not feeling the pressure to have to further your career all the time. Indulge in hobbies! Tap into your creativity! Do something that is not tied down to income. Having our minds always preoccupied with our careers isn’t doing our mental health any good. Resist the urge to always be productive and relax. You deserve it.
Ben Davis is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com