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Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (August 23, 2014)

“So what do you like doing in your spare time?”

“Spending time with friends mostly.”

“What about when you’re on your own? What are your hobbies?”

*pauses to think*

“I really don’t know.”

This was a conversation I had with a friend of mine. As someone in her late twenties, she was going through a process of rediscovery about herself and our conversation was part of her journey. Now you have to understand that this friend of mine is extremely talented and successful. She went to the best schools in Hong Kong, both local and international and then went to a top college in America before working for a multinational cooperation. She plays the piano amazingly, won awards in speech festivals, was in the school sports teams and was an all-round student.

What struck me about our conversation was how in light of all the things she was amazingly gifted at, there wasn’t one thing she could identify as something she enjoyed and had as a hobby. Knowing she was a star on the swim team, I then asked her whether she enjoyed swimming. She replied saying this:

“I’m not sure whether I like it. I was forced it to do it by my parents and by the school and it was something I did well in but I never had a chance to think about whether it was something I enjoyed.”

What she said reminded me of a friend I have who is an amazing diver, won many awards but after she completed her mission in winning a certain accolade, she vowed she would never step into water again. And the many people I know who have completed their grade 8 piano exams only to say that they would never touch a piano again.

As a friend and onlooker, hearing these stories saddens me. To think that these amazing individuals have put so much time and energy into an activity, accomplished so much and then later find that they don’t enjoy the activity at all and don’t want to continue it as a hobby.

The common thread that I picked up from all these individuals are a couple of things: 1) they were made to take up an activity by others around them, perhaps because they showed a talent in it; 2) they weren’t given the opportunity to explore whether they liked that particular activity or other activities; 3) they may have enjoyed the success that their activity brought them but not enjoyment of the activity itself.

One of the joys in life is to be able to do things that one enjoys. For example, I love doing arts and crafts. For my dad, it’s playing golf; for my husband it’s going scuba diving. In engaging in activities that one loves, it gives a sense of joy and achievement. I find that engaging in my hobby helps me to relax, become more creative and confident in my abilities, find a sense of joy and satisfaction and if I use my hobby to help others (in my case making cards for my loved ones), then it also helps to make others happy!

But to be able to have a hobby, one must first discover it. I personally have nothing against children learning a lot of things because it gives them exposure to different activities. There’s a lot of talk against parents who enroll their children in a plethora of activities. I agree that for some children, learning too many things actually stunts them from learning anything at all but for others, it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore and discover what they truly enjoy.

However, it is my belief that it’s not WHAT they child is learning but HOW the child is learning that makes a difference. Playing chess can be a fun and educational learning experience but can also be a stressful, competitive activity that’s just about winning. Swimming can be a sport that gives liberation and enjoyment but can also be a sport that is mundane and all about getting a medal. Building Lego towers can be a form of creativity and expression but can also be made into an engineering feat about building the most complex structure.

Allow your child space to discover his hobby. As long as the hobby chosen isn’t destructive to him or others, give him opportunities to explore what he likes and enjoys. It’s likely that what he enjoys, he’ll also excel in.


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