I have too many interests and I'm losing it
February 18, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I have always had multiple interests, and the list has grown as I've gotten older. I can't decide how to pursue them without losing my sanity.

I've always been a very artistic, expressive person, and as I get older, I find that my multiple interests are more a source of frustration than anything. I want to read books regularly, meditate, learn a local language, draw, hip hop dance, write fiction, take up photography, keep a blog, bake, surf, take singing lessons, become fashion savvy, play guitar, learn to code, adopt a workout routine, and run my freelance writing business all at the same time. I've read a book called The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine, and she suggests making a sort of sample platter of your interests by doing four of them at a time, and perhaps swapping a couple out later for new ones if you feel like it. However, I get paralyzed when trying to choose which ones to pursue. This multiple choice overwhelm has had me in its grip for years now, and I dread looking back on my life and seeing that I spent most of it being indecisive this way. I feel equally excited/passionate about pursuing all of them. Any advice on how to go about breaking free of this rut?
posted by Cybria to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Just do what interests you in the moment. Just because a book tells you to do something, it doesn't mean that's the right thing for you.

Make your decisions in the moment. Once you've finished your workout, perhaps you feel like baking something nice for a meal. After that, you do your work (because lots of interests need lots of money) and then pick up the thing that seems the most interesting at that time.

After awhile you'll find that some things just don't make the cut, and that's okay. You can put them away for awhile, and then revive them when the mood strikes.

Learn to be in tune with yourself, if you find that you gravitate towards certain activities more than others, those are the ones you spend your time with.

Move some of the stuff that you think you "should" do to the back burner. Learning a language, coding, a boring book, if it's not making you happy, don't do it just because it fits your internal ideas of your interests. (Why YES, I'm reading Voltaire untranslated, aren't I a marvel?)

As you get older, you do what makes you happy, and ditch the rest. There aren't enough hours in the day.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yes. Take a couple and start working hard on them -- set yourself a goal that involves hours of work each day for a few months.

My guess is that you will quickly find how many of these you don't like that much. I suspect you like the idea of doing them, and of being so multi-talented. When you put pedal to metal, you'll see what they're really like.

The fact that you're so paralyzed about which ones to pick suggests to me in fact that you may not be interested in any of them. It's likely a way of staving off the feeling of failure; no way to fail if you never make a choice.

So another possibility: admit you actually have no interests and be comfortable with it. Because that's what your behavior objectively shows.
posted by shivohum at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

You listed 16 things. I happen to be doing and/or attempting to do half of those things, and I think the answer may be, it's impossible. However, I'd say one thing. You're giving all these interests equal weight, as if they require the same amount of time, and I don't think that's the case. For example, some of them might be "vacation things." You can be a person who surfs, meditates, and takes photos, but only for 2 weeks out of the year. Some of them also (reading lots of books, baking, coding) could be, like, "once every two months weekend things." I think you have to determine what is a daily necessity (your business, I assume) and what is a regular need/want (maybe working out, and taking one class.) Then sort of downgrade the other things, which is not the same as abandoning them.

I would also, based on my own experience, have to disagree w/ Ruthless Bunny and say do not make your decisions in the moment. I do that now, and I basically do nothing but work, and when I'm too tired to work any more I stare at the internet. (How I came to be answering this question!) I think some planning, and probably realistically a whole lot of planning, is required if you want to keep this much variety in your daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly activities.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:59 AM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Agree with Ruthless Bunny - you can do a lot of these casually, as you're moved to do (go to a hip hop night at a club on a weekend; buy a sketch pad and keep it around for ad-hoc doodling, same for guitar and singing; bake just one clafoutis, one time, and enjoy eating it; take pics for interest with the phone on your camera; book an intro to surfing class and see how you like it). They don't all have to be serious pursuits around which you organize your self-concept. They can just be little fun activities that add texture and pleasure to life. Maybe one of them will grow into something else, maybe not; either way, you'll be glad for the clafoutis.

Writing is on your list three times in different forms, though. Maybe start with that one, and take a class to kick you into gear and keep you honest via deadlines (any writing class that sounds like fun and is taking enrollments right now).

Sometimes the idea of cracking the spine of a massive book is daunting. Get an e-reader and read only as much of what you want, as you want.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:00 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You sound just like me 2 years ago.

I was sewing, canning, crocheting, spinning, knitting, learning millinery, building a very large garden, keeping chickens, composting, learning to weld, learning to do woodworking, and baking. I also wanted to learn to screenprint, weave, and quilt and go back to school for a master's and blog regularly and have a regular yoga practice and figure out how to get my cottage license so I could sell my jams and jellies and make hats for an etsy shop.

It was exhausting! And super-expensive.

I finally had to decide what was important to me. Really important. Worth my time and what really fulfilled me. I had to come to terms with the fact that it's ok that I'll never learn screenprinting. Also, while I've made some beautiful hats, I am not going to be the next Philip Treacy.

I love spending time in my garden. I love my chickens. I love canning, but I don't need to sell it, I can continue to just give it as gifts (and eat it myself). I still crochet and knit, but not as often as I used to - so I got rid of a huge stash of yarn and I have more room for other things. I love sewing so I'm not giving that up and I am completely obsessed with learning how to do complex woodworking, but welding, while I've done a little, is just not going to be in the cards.

It's important, for me, to pick a few things that I love, otherwise I start feeling like I'm not getting anything done. Today I get the satisfaction of a well made skirt or a giant pot of peas from the garden without feeling like I'm not doing a million other things.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:04 PM on February 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I feel equally excited/passionate about pursuing all of them.

Some of those things are new habits (exercise, meditate, fashion savvy, blog, sit down to write fiction), some are things you could schedule a class or session once a week, and some are things you could do in bigger chunks (week long surfing workshop), and some are nonnegotiable (keep your paycheck coming in with your business).

First, your job. It's good you are as excited about that as your hobbies. That is now at the top of your list of activities. It's not a multiple choice -- it must be one of your choices.

Sort the remaining things into categories -- weekly habit, daily habit, weekend workshop, etc. Roll dice and pick a new weekly habit and daily habit for yourself to do for the next month. If you have a weekend or vacation free to pursue something, roll dice to pick or you can decide on some other criteria.

If money is an issue, order the weekly/dailies with the cheapest first and start there.

take up photography

If you have a camera with you most of the time on your cell phone and have yet to take up photography, you might not actually be all that interested in it. Sometimes the idea of being an x can be more compelling than actually xing. Consider if some of your hobbies are of that nature.
posted by yohko at 12:16 PM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Take a good look at your interests and find a way to create clusters that make sense for you.
Looking at your list some groupings could be Spiritual, Creativity, Movement, Communication.
Once the topics are defined you may find that tackling one aspect will lay the groundwork for the next.

Focusing on an interest by season can be helpful. I do less outdoors in the winter so I concentrate more on my indoor interests such as baking and needle crafts. Warm weather brings on canning and hiking.

It's like the difference between a buffet and a defined tasting menu. At the end of the buffet it's hard to remember what you ate since there were so many small bites of unrelated goodies. After a good tasting menu you remember specific dishes since there was a flow and you were able to focus on one dish at a time.
posted by cat_link at 12:29 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

The advice to "follow your passion" and dive deeply into an area of interest is very common, but it's not the only way to live life. It sounds like it's not working for you. I would say, embrace the fact that you want to dabble. There's nothing actually wrong with being a dilettante.

I bet you could find ways to approach a lot of these interests in a sort of 5-minutes-per-day way, or a two-birds-with-one-stone way. For example, mobile phone photography, audiobooks while you work out, 5 minutes with a language app, "lessons" via YouTube videos, etc. You might not feel that you are making much progress on any one thing, but if what you truly love is maintaining your involvement in all these things, just embrace the fact that you can continue to dip your toes into each of these areas very briefly on a regular basis. That way, you won't feel like you are frozen and doing nothing. And whenever you want to take a deeper dive into one area, you can do that (it's just that the other areas will have to take a back seat for a little while).
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:53 PM on February 18, 2014

I've learned to accept that there is simply not enough time or energy for everything I'd like to do. I cultivate peace of mind, within this limitation, and strive to be happy with what I can do. I advise you to do the same.
posted by thelonius at 12:58 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like novelty seeking disguised as passion.

I had exactly the same problem (still do). Finally, one day I realized I was addicted to the thrill of starting new things. My life was strewn with unfinished projects and goals. Eventually I accepted that it's simply impossible to do everything because time is finite.

Break it down, develop a curriculum based on your interests. Make a list and build a skill tree (like in video games). Try to figure out which hobbies will give you the most benefit and pleasure, then connect those "keystone" activity with other hobbies. I've found that the skills I acquire in one focused area spill over into others, which I can build upon when I start a new hobby.

For me, my hobbies fall into three categories: art, fitness, and education. I try to stick with one thing at a time in each category.

Figure out which hobby will give you the best return on your investment and go from there.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 1:08 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

There are some other questions I think you'd be interested in, I'll try to remember to look them up later.

Barbara Shaw has a book called - I think - refuse to choose. It had some helpful ideas, including:

* embrace your ability to be interested in lots of things
* be wise - don't over promise or over invest
* keep a book for documenting your project ideas. Sometimes half the fun is in writing it all down, and capturing the idea allows you to let go, because you can come back to it later.
posted by bunderful at 1:35 PM on February 18, 2014

The techniques in The First 20 Hours might help you get up to speed on your hobbies and interests more efficiently.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:39 PM on February 18, 2014

I can totally relate to this! What helps me is to make a web diagram, especially if a lot of the interests overlap. So for off-shoots of Writing for example you could have Blog, Fiction & Career. For Workout you could have Hip Hop Dance & Surf. For music you could have Singing, Guitar & Hip Hop. And then for off shoots of those you can lay out ways to learn and enjoy those things...and so on.

As many people have mentioned, your list has a lot of different things in it...so I don't think it's possible that you could possibly give your energy to all of them at once (unfortunately). I would suggest picking a few to start and trying them out. Take a look at the list or the diagram and see what jumps out at you. What has the most off-shoots? If you find something truly for you, you'll naturally spend your free time and energy on it. If not, give yourself permission to move on to the next thing. (If you are going to pick 4 things, I would suggest "meditation" as one of them to help clear your mind to focus on the other 3)

(I also think that picking one of those things to blog about would be a great way to keep yourself on track and allow you to use other things from your list including writing and photography...would be an asset to your freelance writing business).

Have fun!
posted by Shadow Boxer at 2:23 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of sorting activities into different categories.

Work is in its own category since it's a necessity (along with cooking, grocery shopping, and so on).

After that, there are regular daily maintenance activities. In this category I include working out, meditating, reading books, etc (to take some examples from your list).

Then there are "learned skill" activities: things that you either need to take a class to do or at the very least need to put in effort on your own to learn. This includes learning a language, learning the guitar, singing lessons, surfing, and learning to code.

In the last category, I would include things that are more general hobbies, but that don't require a concerted effort to learn: writing fiction, photography, blogging, baking, etc.

One way to approach this might be to pick one thing from each category and commit to trying them out for a certain period of time. For example, deciding to meditate for 10 minutes each day, sign up for weekly guitar lessons, and start a blog that you update daily. Then, you can add in/alternate with other things in the category as time allows.

Also, I think you may be putting pressure on yourself to commit to doing things when really, with a lot of this stuff, you just need to start somewhere. If I were you, I would also spend some time considering whether you are in fact equally interested in all of these things. I definitely have a wide variety of interests, but there's clearly a hierarchy, even if that hierarchy is subject to change over time.

Or, if all else fails, and you are truly equally interested in all of these things, then write each activity on a separate piece of paper, throw them in a hat, and randomly pick one the next time you have some time to spare.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the same issue, and have been following this thread and thinking about it off and on all morning.

I wonder if some of the issue here isn't generational (I'm about your age - a few years older). Like me, you likely got a lot of the "You can do anything!" feel-good '80s thing, and with the internet and good population density and global economy... we actually have access to almost everything. The culture right now is hugely geared toward self-actualization. Compared to most of humanity through most of time, we are pretty damn unrestricted. All those things you mention are things you really could potentially do. Maybe it's overwhelming because it IS overwhelming.*

The thing is, as so many people have pointed out, "You can do anything but not everything". Choice, especially when that choice "marks" you to a subculture or identifies you somehow, is scary (overwhelming). Here is an article about choice, with several good links.

I like the idea of making a list of all those things I want to do and WHY. And then focus on the why. If my goal is to become more flexible and I decide to quit yoga and take ballet instead, I'm not flaking - I'm still working toward my original goal but just differently. If your goal is to be more active, you could do a month of yoga, a few surfing lessons, etc. and still be acheiving your goal and trying new things without feeling like you're failing at becoming an expert. You could do a thing-a-month and blog about it. You (I? ha) might also list limitations you have in relation to these things that actually DO make them unrealistic - you can then happily strike them from your list and whittle it down to the more accessible things - things you are more likely and can more reasonably do AND fewer things to choose from. (ie. Surfing - for me? I don't have the money, the time, I'm always cold, and I hate getting water up my nose. But I agree that it sounds cool and I can imagine myself... blah blah blah. But no.)

I'm pregnant, and it's been interesting to feel so crappy all the time - it's forced me to accept and forgive myself (? really? Did I just type that??) for the fact that my hobbies for the time being include reading YA Fiction, watching TV, and sleeping 12 hours a night. That's it. And it's ok - it has to be ok because it - very literally - is ALL I can manage. It's kinda a relief.

I'm working through this line of thought as I type... Hmm...
(*I think one of the things I loved most about living overseas where I didn't really speak the language was that choice was limited and it reduced life to a sort of level 1 or 2 survival issue. I bought potatoes today = wizard status! There's ONE English language book in stock? Yay, I'lll read THAT. I expect so much more of myself now that I'm home.)
posted by jrobin276 at 6:54 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you can't decide, use chance to focus you.

Write down all the things you want to do on slips of paper. Make sure all the slips name things that you are ready to plunge into today, not do eventually, not when you save up for it, not when the weather is better. Things you can go crazy on starting right now.

Make sure you add something measurable to the goal. Not just "guitar" but "play the guitar on [these songs] just like [songwriter] plays them." Not just "blog" but "keep a daily blog about x that I am happy with and that has about x readers a day." Not just "surf" but "[do certain maneuvers] nine times out of ten without falling off." Not just "code" but "Write a fully functioning [language] application that [does something]."

Put all the slips into an actual hat (so you can tell people that this is how you do things) and then pick just one thing out of the hat.

Pin that slip up in a place of prominence for all to see. That's your goal. You aren't hiding it. You aren't forgetting it. That's the thing everyone has to understand is what you actually want to do right now. That's the thing everyone gets to ask you about. "So... how are you doing with that [goal] thing? Can you hold a basic conversation in Sumerian yet?"

Do only that one thing until you can unashamedly tell (and show) friends and strangers that you are now pretty good at it. "I'm a pretty good [surfer, baker, guitarist, speaker of some language, singer, whatever] considering how much experience I've had. I can [do the stuff described on the slip]. Not bad, eh?"

And then you can draw another slip out of the hat. You can keep doing the previous stuff (stay in practice, stay happy, etc.) now that you're pretty good at it and have done that thing described on the old slips, but you need to focus on the new goal from the new slip.

(If you can't focus that much, make it two slips to start with, but otherwise hold yourself to the same rules.)
posted by pracowity at 3:55 AM on February 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

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