The Thrill and Stress of Too Many Hobbies

Today, 4PM. Jacob and Oliver excitedly peer at the box in our kitchen – a really big box, taller than them. Inside is is the first model airplane I’d ever purchased. The three of us hunkered down on the kitchen floor, opened the box, unpacked the parts, examined the controller, and found the manual with cryptic assembly directions. Oliver turned some screws while Jacob checked out the levers on the controllers. Then they both left for a bit to play with their toy buses.

A little while later, the three of us went outside. It was too windy to fly. I had never flied an RC plane before — only RC quadcopters (much easier to fly), and some practice time on an RC simulator. But the excitement was too much. So out we went, and the plane took off perfectly, climbed, flew over the trees, and circled above our heads at my command. I even managed a good landing in the wind, despite about 5 aborted attempts due to coming in too high, wrong angle, too fast, or last-minute gusts of wind throwing everything off. I am not sure how I pulled that all off on my first flight, but somehow I did! It was thrilling!

I’ve had a lot of hobbies in my life. Computers have run through many of them; I learned Pascal (a programming language) at about the same time I learned cursive handwriting and started with C at around age 10. It was all fun. I’ve been a Debian developer for some 18 years now, and have written a lot of code, and even books about code, over the years.

Photography, music, literature, history, philosophy, and theology have been interests for quite some time as well. In the last few years, I’ve picked up amateur radio, model aircraft, etc. And last month, Laura led me into Ada’s Technical Books during our visit to Seattle, resulting in me getting interested in Arduino. (The boys and I have already built a light-activated crossing gate for their HO-gauge model trains, and Jacob can now say he’s edited a few characters of C!)

Sometimes I find ways to merge hobbies; I’ve set up all sorts of amateur radio systems on Linux, take aerial photographs, and set up systems to stream music in my house.

But I also have a lot less time for hobbies overall than I once did; other things in life, such as my children, are more important. Some of the code I once worked on actively I no longer use or maintain, and I feel guilty about that when people send bug reports that I have no interest in fixing anymore.

Sometimes I feel a need to cut down, and perhaps have; and then, I get an interest in RC aircraft and find an airplane that is great for a beginner and fairly inexpensive.

Perhaps it is the curse of being a curious person living in an interesting world. Do any of the rest of you have a large number of hobbies? How do you feel about that?

5 thoughts on “The Thrill and Stress of Too Many Hobbies

  1. Mark says:

    Hi John!

    I like doing a lot of things too. I really try to avoid spreading myself too thinly. I’ll share one really simple trick that helps me.

    I just optimise for the hobbies that instead of cost me money, bring in some money. Not because I’m so money driven (I’m not). I set up a tiny open hardware business in a different EU country. I get to learn a totally different language and culture, play with new technology, build up a set of machinery (currently building a laser cutter!), and more.

    I could imagine you optimising for other external parameters, like getting closer to your religious community.

    I’m not blind to the potential dangers of choosing to optimise for money right now. I certainly don’t plan to do that forever, but right now, it helps me focus. And in the future, the spoils might buy me some time to focus on hobbies instead of work…


  2. SerialHobbyist says:

    Oh yes, I too have many hobbies. I’m starting a lot of projects but rarely finish anything. I’m a sort of serial hobbyist. I never do two things in parallel because I get entirely absorbed by that one thing. My latest example it a quadcopter I build from scratch, I learned so much about the parts and physics involved. Now it is in a state that it can fly and it is just sitting in a corner collecting dust. Although it turned out an awesome machine, I have no interest in flying, it is daft. Once I made a proof of concept it no longer interest me. I stopped feeling bad about it once I realized my hobby is not is _that_particular_ project but it is rather creating, inventing and learning.

  3. Kyle says:

    Yes! I, too, am a ham (KDØGTK), developer, musician, linguist, academic, small-business owner and many other things.

    I think the trick is to enjoy the thing you’re doing right now. If you do this, then you’ll depth first search your hobbies through life…. Maybe there’s a way to improve the search algorithm?

  4. Ofra says:

    I actually found this post by searching google for “too many hobbies”. I’m starting to worry that I’m pursuing an excessive amount of hobbies, and whether it means something else is missing that is not being satisfied (like eating a lot of non-nurishing food and still staying hungry). I’ve given myself a year off, and quit my job as a software engineer to pursue my hobbies (and develop some more). I’m currently doing: singing, tap dancing, lindy hop, learning to play the piano, drawing, and thinking about taking up sewing and maybe getting back to knitting. This sentence resonated with me, and eased my mind a bit: “Perhaps it is the curse of being a curious person living in an interesting world.”

  5. JJ says:

    Oh yeah. I also found this through a search for “How many hobbies is to many.” I tried Mark’s idea of optimizing for money, and ran a small business from my house based on that hobby. When I was fired from my day job I tried to find the hobby that would/could sustain my family. Didn’t work. Luckily I was hired back to a former job that uses my creativity, but now I’m trying to sell off the business — time consuming work!! As part of that purging, I finally listed out all the things I had been interested in, and narrowed it down to the things that made me feel wonderful with the largest sense of accomplishment. That wound up to be singing, creative design, and playing family board games. Everything else turns out to be just… stuff.

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