All too often, we think of work-life balance as (1) work and (2) everything else. That “everything else” includes family and friends, perhaps some socializing or watching television, and attending to necessary chores. (I hasten to add that for many stay-at-home parents, work and everything else may be one in the same!)
Let me add a third pillar to our model, that of avocations and hobbies, which can be sources of considerable satisfaction, especially when work and home bring more stress than balance.
Two summers ago, I wrote in praise of avocations:
I am beginning to believe that our avocations will 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.
Let me add similar sentiments for a good hobby, which the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.”
A hobby may not result in a tangible something along the lines of many avocations (books, music, art, etc.), and it typically does not break even in terms of monies spent. Nevertheless, it can be a tremendous source of personal satisfaction and a way to build community.
What Google tells us
If my Google searches are any indication (using “work-life balance,” “hobby,” and “avocation”), we link hobbies with the concept of work-life balance much more than we do avocations.
The commentary on work-life balance regards hobbies as healthy release valves for the stressors of work and life. I agree; they allow us to lose ourselves in an enjoyable pastime.
Release valve vs. flow
University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (1997) (pp. 28-29), urges us to seek states of flow in our lives, those experiences when “heart, will, and mind are on the same page.” In these moments, “what we feel, what we wish, and what we think are in harmony.”
This is where many avocations enter the picture. They allow people to pursue a meaningful activity resulting in that elusive state of flow — one that may elude them in their working lives. Avocations typically are more than release valves from life’s pressures; rather, they offer our lives a different dimension.
On this blog, I know that I talk a lot about improving work and creating better workplaces. But the reality is that for many, work remains an means to an end, rather than an end in itself. For those who harbor unrealized passions, the avocational route may provide deep satisfaction.
Why this stuff is important
I believe these third places in our lives are going to become ever more significant. They will provide us with outlets for pent-up creativity, some of which we can share with others. They will allow to do, collect, sort, feature, and make things that bring us satisfaction. In sum, they will help to give our lives meaning.
Will our avocations save us? (2010)