Our avocations and hobbies: The third pillar of work-life balance?

Maybe art is your thing? (Museum of Fine Arts, photo by DY)

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.

Hobbies, too

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 us to do, perform, collect, sort, watch, feature, and make things that bring us satisfaction.  In sum, they will help to give our lives meaning.


Related posts

How’s this for an epitaph? “She lived a balance life” (2011)

Will our avocations save us? (2010)

When “heart, will, and mind are on the same page” (2010)

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010)

8 responses

  1. David
    This could not be more true, what i would like to add is that exactly what you are discussing here is one of the things that gets way out of balance when one gets into a situation at work where there is severe bullying. In my case for example as i was foreced to work 50-70 hours a week with no additional compensation and stalked and severely bullied, tortured, constantly screamed at, and imprisoned in many ways. This took me away from my family for 10 years and i was not given a choice by the employer, i was told i had to work whenever they said so and that was that. Balance of any sort was not possible. Important, yes without a doubt. I can tell everyone from personal experience do not let your employer take you away from your family to a point that it causes a loss of things that you cannot ever replace, your children will never understand, and when you become sick from the bullying and torture you will become less available emotionally for some time. My advice is absolutely find a way to keep some balance for yourself, your family and your peace of mind!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mel,

      It’s unfortunate that we each learn these things independently. Who thinks about bullying before experiencing it?

      It would be so much better if people could learn about bullying from us BEFORE experiencing the progression of confusion, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, anger, family stress, unemployment, PTSD, etc.

      There is so much we could teach others just by sharing our experiences. Take PTSD, for example. While I was mentally freaked, I kept mistakenly telling people I was having symptoms of “PSTD.” Guess that dyslexic acronym works though because I was “pissed, stressed, tired, and depressed.” Think that diagnosis could be included in the DSM?

  2. Very good points about the third pillar. I find that when I have some creative “project” or other in the works, I feel like the even the most stressful parts of my life can be managed.

    Right now my…I’m not sure if it’s a hobby, avocation, or sign of delusion, but my “other thing” is belly dancing. The more I get out of my own way and make time for it, practicing technique, learning how to fold it into my dance, the better I am. And you SO cannot be lugging around mental baggage when you’re trying to perfect a shimmy over a traveling step with a chest slide on top 🙂

    • What, no zills? Just kidding — really enjoy belly dancing as well, when I can pry myself off the sofa and attend class.

      • HAAAAAAAAAAAA! 🙂 A little out of practice with the zils (those are finger cymbals for the uninitiated), but I’ll get back there.

      • Lisa, I can’t play them. One time I asked my husband how I was doing. He said my dancing was great, but it sounded like I was playing the zills to a different song.

  3. I think the most painful part of having lost my job is that I experienced “flow” in the work itself. That’s why I loved the job and why I tolerated so much abuse and tried so desperately to find a way to stay. There are other activities that I can engage in that I can experience the same effect, but none that I have discovered so far that also provide an income.

    It was wonderful while it lasted.

  4. As for me I’m looking at avocations, hobbies, etc. because I’m not allowed to work, being one of the “idle poor” or disabled. Every time I try something like substitute teaching or tutoring which is contract work I wind up losing more money than I bring in. I have a college degree and have tried to find a job of any kind numerous times, but discrimination is alive and well–plus a spotty work history is non-negotiable nowadays.

    Even writing and publishing books will be held against me–unless I give them away for free on Wattpad.com, Fictionpress, or one of the other sites. Since sharing them with the world is the whole point however, I probably should consider one of those avenues. I also could publish one on Amazon and Smashwords for $0.00.

    Another possible avocation is transcribing braille for the visually disabled. I’m taking a free course in that from the Library of Congress.

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