I am beginning to believe that our avocations can save us, personally in terms of enriching our lives, and publicly in terms of contributing to the greater community.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines an avocation as “a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment.” That’s a good start, but I want to add a few other qualities that separate avocation from a pure hobby, such as a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the broader community.
In 2008 I wrote about professional storm chasers who lead groups of weather enthusiasts around America’s heartland in search of tornadoes and other severe storms. Tour guests are the beneficiaries of this shared expertise, exploring places and experiencing vistas that would be hard to discover on their own.
Recently I wrote about two long-time friends who have nurtured their creative passions for writing and music. Their work not only provides personal artistic rewards, but also enriches those who are enjoying the fruits of their labors.
For many years I have taken a weekly singing class at a local adult education center. The instructor is a Juilliard-trained vocalist who created the class for adult students who wanted to learn how to sing better, regardless of previous music experience. Her “day job” is working in a university library.
Civic activism is a very satisfying way to contribute to the well being of our communities. The causes fueling that activism are often grounded in personal experience. For example, many of the folks who are advocating for legal protections against workplace bullying found this cause after personally dealing with abusive treatment on the job.
More than a hobby…
Hobbies are great. They allow us to engage in an enjoyable pastime that captures our attention.
But avocations can be even better. Like hobbies, they are satisfying and engaging, but often they also provide a deeper sense of accomplishment and contribution.
After all, there’s a difference between writing poetry solely for one’s personal journals and, say, sharing that work by publishing it and participating in readings. The latter gives us a chance to interact with others and enrich the culture of our communities.
Compared to work…
In the best of worlds, our jobs would provide us with the best qualities of our avocations, topped off with a livable income. Indeed, one of the goals of this blog is to explore how we can create better work and workplaces that move us closer toward that ideal.
But transforming the experience of work is a long, hard slog. For many, work is largely a means to an end. Especially in the midst of this recession, higher aspirations for work may have to go on the shelf, at least temporarily.
Likewise, the work of raising a family or caring for loved ones is demanding and sometimes thankless in the short term, even if the underlying devotions are the stuff of strong bonds a long-term meaning. In the meantime, many other forms of personal expression may be sacrificed to the demands of caregiving.
Avocations, however, free us from some of those inherent limitations and obligations. They can be remarkably liberating, a chance to pursue dreams and passions even within the inevitable confines of everyday life.
Let’s stoke this idea…
So why don’t avocations get more attention in our society? Why aren’t we thinking more creatively about that third place between work and leisure?
No answers here. For example, I went to the Amazon website and did a search for “avocation.” I was surprised by how the topic has been so neglected by observers of the human condition.
Nevertheless, we don’t need scholarly studies to teach us how avocations can make a difference in our lives and those of others. In seeking to discover and create meaning in our lives, we can take it upon ourselves to put the idea of avocation high on our lists.