The importance of keeping your hobby a hobby

There comes a time in every hobbyist’s career where hobby (in general) has reached a point beyond what we thought possible. It’s not a case of being burnt-out or lacking inspiration. Indeed, these themes are reoccurring for many people every few months. What I’m leading towards though is the point where building and painting miniatures becomes part of your day-to-day life, and is no longer just a hobby; more of a constant usual activity of our lifestyles.

I’m a hobbyist with 14 years involved in the usual hobbies; Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Lord of the Rings SBG/Hobbit SBG as well as Malifaux, Infinity and Dystopian Wars. For the past 6 years, the hobby has been my life – playing games every week, involving myself in online communities and building and painting a myriad of armies in short spans of time. Most recently, I have taken an extended hiatus from all hobbies.

Most people take a break from the hobby every now and then, and I’ve had breaks before myself. However, this time around is something bigger than previously experienced. My hobby was taking over my life, and sadly got to the stage where it impaired my relationships with not only my family, but lead to a break up with my girlfriend, who for years had put up with my addiction.

My hobby was at the point where I would wake up check Facebook for updates on the many pages devoted to hobby that I follow, even before I’d gotten out of bed. I would put time aside each night to paint or work on my next challenge. I would work out and plan army lists for tournaments and competitions months in advance. My desk, my bed and my bookcase would be crammed full of hobby items ranging from dice to paints, to figure cases and spare bitz. For most hobbyist’s, there is nothing wrong with what I am describing. Here in lies the problem.

Those mornings I rolled over, grabbed my phone and checked Facebook; I would be not talking to my girlfriend or family. Those nights I put aside for painting, were not used for seeing friends, studying for exams or maintaining my previously high level of fitness. My plans for months in advance did not account for the here and now. Stockpiling the appropriate resources for these plans cost me money that otherwise could have been spent enjoying myself and making memories. My over flamboyant collection of hobby memorabilia left my desk an area not for studying or work, and represented the cluttered mind I was developing.

My intention here is not to go on a mini rant about hobby being bad, or the mistakes we make in our lives. I want to convey a sense that my hobby was no longer just a hobby. I couldn’t function without it. It was part of me.

From here, I started putting preference into my hobby activities over other more important obligations. My girlfriend would ask me over some nights, and I would rebuke her, saying “I have to get this army done” or “sorry bub, I’m almost finished, I’ll be over tomorrow night”. For the most part she accepted that I had things to do, but it became increasingly common for me not seeing her as much as I should.

The day of my brother’s and sister’s 21st, I went to a large two-day tournament. I was expected to arrive on time to the celebrations, give a speech, help set up and run the night, as well as party out the night. Sounds fairly easy to accomplish, right? Sadly, it all went horribly wrong.

I arrived late, had left my speech behind at the tournament. I did manage to help with food and pulled off a good ‘off the cuff’ speech. By the time the night was over, it was 2am. I wanted to go to sleep; after all, I had the second day of the tournament to prepare for. My siblings had a fight then and there, one that led to me trying to solve things peacefully. My sister was mildly intoxicated, and despite my girlfriend and my own intentions to help, became more and more hysterical. I cracked it; I wanted to just go home.

This was one of the final straws for my then girlfriend. After getting home she told me how she was disgusted that I was more concerned with games than my own sister’s happiness on her birthday. We had a fight. The next morning I got up to go to the tournament and my girlfriend was agitated that I didn’t want to talk about what happened right at that moment. She told me she wanted space.

It’s here where I made even more bad decisions. I should have stayed and talked things through with her. Instead I left and went to the tournament. That night she told me she wanted to break up. I was devastated.

Now, enough of my little sob story. A few days after this I came to the realisation that my hobby was partially responsible. And so I decided to take a hobby break; going cold turkey and longer than ever before. I removed myself from those war gaming pages on Facebook. I sold off stuff for projects I was most likely never going to get started on. I packed up my desk and shelves, putting stuff away and recycling a whole trees worth of paper. Once this was all done, the horrible reality of what my life had become was revealed.

I had spare time, more time than I knew what to do with. Even including university study and work, I found I had almost 20-30 hours per week where I wasn’t doing anything. Hobby had taken up so much of my daily life that I didn’t know what to do with myself now it was gone. The realisation of what I had been doing for at least the past 6 years of my life was gut-wrenching.

Hobbies are a great thing to have. But you cannot let it run your life. It’s important to know your limitations and to know how much and how often is enough. Don’t let it take up all your time, regardless of your own circumstances. Family life is important, especially spending the right amount of time with those you love. Seeing friends outside of games and competitions is also important. I’m slowly getting back into hobby again, but I’m setting a night aside to do it on, and making sure those hobby plans I liked to make included time for those around me.

Your life should not be defined by your hobby, but defined by what your hobby has done for you. It has enriched my life, given me friends and challenged myself. And it will continue to do this, but it will be doing this alongside other aspects of my life from now on.