What to Do When Goals and Hobbies Become Stressful

When I first began playing guitar in college, no one had to nag me to practice. I played every chance I got, picking up tips from more-skilled players and romantic partners along the way.

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Me, carving out 10 minutes on a sunny day, to play guitar.

Within a few months, I was hooked. It helped, of course, that when I started playing guitar I was dating an insanely skilled player — a guy who patiently walked me through the basics (transitioning from E-minor to G) and the complex stuff (the Circle of Fifths) — but he didn’t need to convince me to practice. I just did, perhaps to the detriment of other areas of my life.

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Fast forward to 2019, and “play guitar” has frequently found itself on my “to do” list — something to accomplish, something to check off. Sure, I play for fun too — I have a new band, Trashing Violet, and we practice for two hours a week — but most days, I try to hit a minimum of 10  minutes. Some days it’s a struggle.

So what gives? I didn’t even know what a “to do” list was when I was a teenager with her first Yamaha Acoustic (12 Gauge) 6-String. 

In a word, motherhood. 

My days are busy and — between making breakfast and lunch, snuggle time, laundry, working as a freelance writer, teaching guitar, working out to stay healthy, cooking, folding laundry, and finally, hanging out with my husband — the amount of time devoted to personal recreation has dwindled. And often times, I’m too exhausted to want to do anything at the end of the day besides watch The Bachelorette (don’t judge, people) or scroll through Instagram. In this way, I’m definitely not alone. 

But it isn’t just motherhood that’s changed me, and given a new urgency to goals like running a half marathon in 1:50”. It’s also the onset of “to do” culture and #goals.

Hobbies are no longer ways to pass the time. They’re #sidegigs and essential passion projects. Like many millennials, I grew up with the mindset that I should follow my dreams only to land a mediocre job after college. I grew up being told that having ambitions didn’t just mean getting a job — it meant aiming for the stars. And never quitting. Winners never quit. 

Of course, being a professional, paid freelance writer — one who’s written for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and other esteemed outlets — is fantastic. Getting paid to teach guitar is fantastic. Playing guitar and singing with a band is fantastic. But I also harbor secret dreams that one day, I’ll get paid to tour the world with whatever band I’m in while writing a New York Times best-selling novel. 

The problem is that having goals — or being totally driven by passion projects — can distract us from the here and now. 

The truth is that I can only do so much to be a better writer, guitar player, singer and person. I no longer have the lazy days of college to practice my skills, or lie in my bed thinking of nothing until a poem comes into my head. Being a great mom is the most important thing I do. And that takes time. It also takes time away from personal development or passion projects.

In order to keep my life and recreational endeavors in balance, here are a few rules I follow: 

  1. Keep goals reasonable. If I were to practice guitar 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, I wouldn’t have time for anything else — exercise, parenthood, income-earning ventures, etc. So maybe that means Nita Strauss, a professional guitarist with no kids, will always be a better guitar player than me. But by practicing maybe two to three hours a week, I can still be better than the average hack. 
  1. Set the bar low. My weekly goals are as follows: 3 hard workouts (45 minutes or more) per week; 1 to 2 hours of singing/guitar practice per week (on at least 3 separate days); 1 hour of personal, non-income-generating writing time. That’s it. When I try to raise the bar, I get stressed out because I end up dropping things I need (like meditation). Keeping the bar low-ish leaves me time for self-reflection.
  1. Practice gratitude. Cheesy as it sounds, when I am grateful for the little things — a body that can run half marathons, a spouse who supports my ambitions, two beautiful children, a nice and relaxing home, my parents — I don’t feel deprived or resentful that I’m not as famous as Gwen Stefani. 

As my wise mom friend Emily once told me (I think, quoting Michelle Obama), women can have it all — just not all as once. 

Hobbies and goals should motivate and excite us. If they’re stressing you out, it’s time to rethink why you engaged in them in the first place. And it may be time for a new hobby. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

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