My hobbyhorse: when your work is also your hobby

Doing what you love for a living is a joy, so finding it hard to separate ‘life’ and ‘work’ is no bad thing at all

The worst thing about my job being my hobby is that I don’t have a hobby” – thus spake a friend recently, putting a common designer problem into shapely words. Resisting the initial urge to turn this soundbite into a poster just for fun, I took a moment to think about my own situation. Do I have any hobbies? Some that are completely separate from my job? Do I have an off switch?

Great big no. Having spent years kneading bits of my life into an enjoyable career-shaped lump, it’s now a case of all design, all the time. I don’t stop absorbing, sketching, fretting.

I spend my spare time plucking ideas from my head and putting them on the back burner, rejigging personal projects or pinning found loveliness onto boards, things that will one day fit. I read design, I write design, I shop design. I’m an incredibly dull dinner party guest.

It’s not that I haven’t tried venturing outside of the realms of my job, it’s just that my attention is too erratic and distractible to settle on any one pastime. I’ve tried my hand at a thousand little non-design things: drumming, running, badminton, trampolining, fencing, keeping a plant alive. None of them hold my interest for very long.

(York has a whole dressing-up-as-a-Viking scene that looks pretty tempting. I think I’d quite fancy that. I like the whole axes, beards and craft beer thing they’ve got going on, like a nation of rampaging Brooklynites. And I’ve read plenty of Hägar the Horrible, so I’m sure I could get the hang of Vikinging pretty quickly.

But I’d probably end up working at the Jorvik Viking Centre, and then I’ll be working my hobby all over again. Right back to square one. Maybe I’ll hold off on putting a deposit down on that longboat for the time being.)

I’ll keep on hunting – maybe trying out hobbies is a hobby itself? – but I’m in no rush. Working my hobby, hobbying my work, it isn’t really a problem. Not a problem problem. I don’t take my cosy little life for granted, and I realise that being able to do what I love for a living is hardly a hardship – few will weep over 12 Years a Designer. It may be exhausting and frustrating at times, but being able to devote your life to a creative vocation is pretty fantastic.

Of course, it does invite the patronising question that haunts the 21st century workplace: how is your work/life balance? And oh what a stupid question that is.

Working on my own in my little cave, I do my best to hide from ‘comfort zones’ and ‘personality types’ and other inanities from The Big Book of Human Resource Time-wasting Snake Oil Rhetoric. They just rub me up the wrong way. It’s bad enough that I have to tackle ‘look and feel’ on a day-to-day basis.

Every now and then, some of these buzzwords manage to find me and creep in through the barricade (often bringing with them that horrible little “webinar” character). Defending the sanctity of my temper, I shoo them away with impatient disdain and passive aggressive tweets, but still they linger and irk.

None irk quite as much as ‘work/life balance’. I kind of sort of understand the sentiment of the phrase, it’s the cynical use of language that grates: this base assumption that work and life are somehow distinct entities at opposite ends of a big existential seesaw.

Whether you enjoy it or not, your work is part of your life, not its antithesis. Pitching one against the other in a nonsensical conflict – this way of thinking only fosters widespread contempt for gainful employment; what good is this unhelpful idea that when you’re at work, you aren’t alive? If your employer considers you to be undead when you’re at your desk, you’ve got bigger issues than balance my friend.

So I may be short of a hobby or two, but at least I don’t think of myself as being one of the working dead. Being a designer is enjoyable and challenging, and so what if it clutters up other bits of my life? There’s nothing wrong with a bit of clutter – that’s just elements on a page, waiting for order.

If the worst thing about my job being my hobby is that I don’t have a hobby, then that’s fine by me.

(I still want to be a Viking though.)

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. See danielgray.com and @gray

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