Redefining Roles: Career vs. Hobby

Note: today’s post is more about ideas than finished outfits…bear with me as I ramble.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about since moving to Boston this summer is the whole concept of the “career,” since this is the first time in my life that I’ve had one full-time job instead of a half dozen part-time gigs. I’ve had a bit of a hard time making the physiological adjustment from “jack of all trades” to specializing in one professional area. I had always pictured myself as a professional opera singer with a “singing career,” but instead I’m a professional pianist with an “accompanist career.” While that might not seem like a big change to the non-musician – it’s still music after all! – it has been surprising to me, and it has been hard not to feel like I failed at pursuing my “singing career.”

But I still love to sing, so what does that mean? Do I sing as a hobby? For some reason I find myself uncomfortable with that word. We associate “hobby” with “dilettante” – someone who’s not good enough to be a professional, someone less skilled or talented than “the real thing.” But is that really how we have to view our non-professional endeavors?

As I’ve been getting back into sewing, I’ve started to rethink my definition of “the hobby.” Sewing is something I love, something I strive to improve, and most of all, something that brings me joy. It is something I take very seriously, not just something I dabble at. But I’m not a “professional seamstress” – I don’t have professional training, and no one pays me to do it. Does that really matter, though? Perhaps I am defining my own roles too narrowly by putting things in the “career” vs. “hobby” box.

Over Christmas break this year, I found out that my high school voice teacher had passed away from cancer. I was devastated – she was the first person to truly believe in me as a singer. I felt that I had let her down by not turning into a professional singer, by going a different route than I has originally planned. But then as I thought back to my lessons with her so long ago, I remembered the most important thing she taught me – what it felt like to love singing. She taught me joy. Those memories helped me rediscover joy in my singing – an element that higher education and the pressure of a career had taken away from me.

So do we need to be “professionals” in order to be serious about something we love? Obviously not – yet when we think more about our current psychology of the amateur vs. the professional, there does seem to be this fundamental rift – we have to be a professional to be taken seriously. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. In fact, the word “amateur” comes from the Latin root “to love.” So to be an amateur singer, or seamstress, simply means to love that thing; it doesn’t imply a lack of skill or talent.

In fact, I think we all need hobbies – those passions that we pursue simply for the joy of doing it. Of course, you can also love your professional career – I don’t mean to imply that you can’t! – but I’m starting to wonder if some of the things we love and cherish the most should actually be our amateur endeavors. While I find my job as a ballet accompanist deeply satisfying, it’s still a job, with all the pressures and frustrations that come with that. But my singing and my sewing are mine. I can love them the way I want to love them, and use those skills and talents however I want.

So I will proudly call myself an “amateur” singer and seamstress. There is no reason to be ashamed that these are hobbies for the moment. And who knows – perhaps at some point one or both of those will become professional pursuits as well? But for now, I can be satisfied knowing that, professionally or non-professionally, I am doing the things I love most.

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2 thoughts on “Redefining Roles: Career vs. Hobby

  1. A very thoughtful post. These issues are precisely why I prefer to use the term ‘vocation’ rather than career or even hobby. It conveys more accurately an occupation (no connotation of monetary compensation) to which one is *called,* i.e. gifted for, suited to, passionate about. Along with relationships, it is these vocations that give our lives meaning.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Creativity and an Ode to Clothing | Dressing the Role

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