As a child, I felt paralyzed by pressure. I wanted to do so many things. I loved to dance, to swim, and to sing. I enjoyed writing and music. However, something held me back—the idea of competition. The idea that these hobbies had to mean something "more." Whether it was directly spoken or not, I began to internalize the idea that my hobbies had to change my life...that I had to excel, and that I had to become something great.
Throughout lockdown, I saw a lot of this feeling echoed on social media. People began to talk about monetizing their hobbies or capitalizing on the "free time off." However, for most people, this was not free time off. We were enduring a pandemic, and many of us lost our jobs...myself included.
Maybe it is the capitalist ideals.
But I decided...I wasn't going to change. I wasn't going to learn to bake bread. I wasn't going to work out every single day. I wasn't going to force lockdown into another version of my childhood...a specific time frame where I had to achieve something great, or I would be a failure.
I ate the same meals at home. I kept my same hobbies. I looked for jobs, but I also let myself have permission to...not blame myself. This was a pandemic. How was beating myself up over things I couldn't control help me? It wouldn't.
We do not have to turn everything we enjoy into money. Why do we feel as though we do?
Where does this come from? Why the sudden rush to monetize our pandemic, at the expense of feeling genuine human emotion for loss of life?
1. Expectations as a child.
Our culture worships child prodigies. We love hearing stories about young people who become famous artists. However, the flip side of this is that sometimes we assume people are "too old" to achieve certain things. We start to believe that once we reach certain ages, it is "too late." And so, as a child, we may feel a lot of pressure to use this short period of our lives to do something great.
But there are reasons why not every child is a prodigy, and why being a child prodigy might not be that great. For one, we are not fully developed mentally, and so we cannot make the best decisions for ourselves, necessarily.
Also, the idea that we cannot learn or change as adults is constantly being challenged. Our brains are actually far more elastic that we previously gave them credit for.
Don't become a child prodigy? That's just fine! We can achieve our dreams as fully-formed, rational, malleable adults. We do not have to do something before 20, 30, 40, 70...
2. Economic difficulty, and the idea that hard work will "overcome" all.
This is a great, inspirational message. Work hard, and you can achieve anything.
It's also...not quite true. It's a movie theme. And movies usually blow through the hard work with a montage. I will forever blame The Matrix for convincing a generation that martial arts can just be uploaded into your brain.
There seems to be an idea that when something is extremely difficult, hard work will overcome it. And this just isn't true a lot of the time or...it's not "movie true." Movie true means you become rich due to all your hard work.
But most of the time, reality is more simple than that. Sure, you can have a small shop and do okay...maybe. But it will take a lot of work, all the time. It might be better to have a job you enjoy than to try to embark on your own.
And also...it's okay if entreprenuership is not one's cup of tea.
The American society is one that assumes the story arc applies to our lives. We worship being excessively busy, as though that is the best one can be. We just need to montage through this difficult section and then, on the other side, our lives will begin.
But most of the time, the montage difficult section is our whole life, and instead of enjoying it, we are taught that success and happiness are on the other side of it.
3. If you do not overcome, it is your own moral failing.
I had a relative who constantly bragged that her mother never received any government help, even though she qualified for it. She ended up losing her legs to diabetes, and then died...but she kept working, and refused government help.
My relative spoke about this as a source of pride, but to me, it was a warning. If you work hard but still need help, it's not a moral failing. It's okay to ask for help, and to receive help offered.
Our American society values independence to a fault. One actually can be too independent...to the point of self-harm.
It's also okay to try one's best and realize something just is not going to work out. It's also okay to reorganize and redirect one's strategy. It's okay to be realistic, and figure out a way to be happy given the circumstances.
If everyone's life were a movie, everyone would win, all the time. And that doesn't make any sense.
The most useful skill is not to succeed all the time, it's to remain resiliant and adaptable when you're not.
4. An unwillingness to accept circumstances as they are, or appreciate practical progress.
Have you ever dated someone who thought of your fantasy ending...but you were just not seeing it?
This same anxiety translates into real life when I feel like I "have to" wildly succeed. I would love to succeed as a writer, sure, but I know the world doesn't owe it to me. I continue to write, every day, and hope that good things will happen to me. I can seize opportunities whenever I can.
However, I've stopped feeling like certain things "have to" pan out. I apply and try everything I want, and see what happens.
Sometimes I receive. Sometimes I do not.
When anxiety and the need to monetize get in the way, we can begin to feel like our expectations are not being met, and then those expectations sap the fun out of our hobbies.
It has taken me two years to have 3,000 followers to my blog. It has not been a rocket ship of progress.
For a long time, this bothered me. When would I go viral? Why didn't each story absolutely explode? When was I going to be able to relax and just generate oodles of money with writing?
This feeling was agitating for me. And then I realized...it wasn't motivation. It was not helping me. It was holding me back. I could not be creative if I was worried about achieving a crazy goal. I could not wonder about my existing metrics if I just thought about how low and pathetic they were. I could not take baby steps toward progress if I became frustrated that I was not mega-successful.
It's okay to just exist.
So often, we forget that it is okay to just exist. To have a hobby for fun, without monetizing it. To do things we are bad at, just to learn something new.
And to focus on mental health, grief, and acceptance during a pandemic...without feeling guilt or shame for not being "productive enough."