I Spent a Year Indulging My Hobbies–and This is What I Learned

I had no hobbies—until I decided I had time for them. Here’s what 365 days dedicated to trying new things taught me, plus the hobbies that stuck.

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Photo: courtesy

My last years living in Manhattan felt like a rollercoaster I couldn't get off.

All I did was work. My hobbies consisted of answering emails and doing laundry. Sure, I got promoted every year, but my heart was screaming, run. So I did. I left the city for Raleigh, North Carolina and decided to do something novel with the next year of my life.

I wanted to do all those things I never had time for—bake, play piano, plant a garden, and the list went on. As my New Year's resolution, I vowed to do a hobby a day, and I'd post a photo of it on Instagram to track my journey. What could go wrong?

On January 1, I pulled out a new cookbook and off I went. For the first time, I baked rosemary focaccia and crusty French bread. Turns out, yeast doesn't take a PhD. All it takes is time to bubble, then hours to rise. Once I decided I had time, the possibilities poured in. I made scones and fettuccine. I even learned how to ride a OneWheel and tried sound mediation—all in the name of hobbying.

By April, I had a new mantra: There is something fun to do today, and I'm going to find it, even if it was just taking a walk. And somewhere along the way, something magical started to happen: the more something I did, the more something happened. I discovered a local theater and signed up for an acting class. Neighbors thanked me for biscotti with flower bulbs to plant. It felt like the more time I carved out for me, the more hours I got back to fill.

Then something the opposite of magical started to happen. My hobbies didn't always feel joyful. Sometimes the dough didn't rise, or the bread burned. The end product wasn't always suitable for social media. My hobbies became wins and losses in my mind, until it began to feel like I was failing at something bigger. So I pushed my hobby limits even further. I tried harder, with soft pretzels and sourdough. I even dedicated an entire day to picking sunflowers—surely this would give me joy!—but it didn't help. As the year stretched on, with the usual onslaught of bad news in the world and my own personal issues, I asked my husband if crying was a hobby. He said no.

One fall afternoon, I admitted to a friend that I felt lost. I was sad. I was struggling. Then she said this: "Well, you couldn't tell from your Instagram feed."

It was a knife through my heart. My intentions were good, I wanted to scream. But looking back at my pictures, I realized that my hobbies had become performative–all for the Insta photos. I'd chosen to hide my real emotions behind a phone and write a caption for other people instead.

That day in September, I felt like a fraud. I wanted to quit, but I decided to pay closer attention to my hobbies instead. I learned the difference between ones I loved and ones that only photographed well—and chose to stop doing the latter. I also learned many things I love to do are too precious to caption, like memorizing lines in a play or practicing piano during lunch. On those days, people got a picture of my dog. (Which they probably preferred anyway.) And you know what? The magic came back.

What I learned from my year of hobbies is that prioritizing your joy no matter who's watching will open doors you didn't know were closed. What's more, there will be new things to love behind them. Yes, it takes courage to walk through, but simply doing something for yourself can make any day worth a photo—whether you post it on Instagram or not.

Looking for a New Hobby to Try?

Since my year-long hobby adventure, I always get the same question: Which ones stuck? Here are five (very simple) hobbies I still do week after week, plus tricks I found that made them easier to adopt. They might work for you, too.

01 of 05

Baking

baking with stand mixer
liz lashway

Before my year of hobbies, the only dessert I was "famous" for making was a dozen sugar cookies that ended up so hard that they were inedible. Needless to say, I was not a baker. My secret to becoming one? A stand mixer for Christmas and this book: The Mixer Bible: Maximizing Your Stand Mixer and Attachments. Everything (no, really, everything) I baked for the first six months of the year came out of that book, which offers step-by-step instructions on how to make scones, biscotti, baguettes, pasta, and more. I now know dozens of these recipes by heart, and turn to them nearly every weekend. I've also gifted the book to multiple friends who want to learn how to bake but have no idea where to start.

RELATED: 8 Essential Tips for Making Homemade Bread, According to a Master Baker

02 of 05

Walking

sunny walking path
liz lashway

I learned that a day that started with a walk was destined to be a good day. Period. It not only ensured I got time for myself no matter what came after, but more times than not, I'd think of something or meet someone on my walk that would inspire another hobby to try. Setting my alarm 30 minutes earlier to get out of the house for a stroll before work was all it took, and this hobby, more than any other, has become an infinite loop of inspiration for new things to try.

03 of 05

Stamping

homemade cards
liz lashway

We all can't be Martha Stewart. But if you have the urge to be crafty, you're capable of pushing a stamp into ink, then pushing it again on a piece of paper. Just one adorable stamp on the front of a blank notecard can turn it into a handmade greeting card that will be cherished by its recipient. Why? Because you made it. Stock up on sets of fun stamps, buy some blank cards, and carve out time once a month to create the holiday or birthday cards you'd normally buy.

RELATED: These Online Art Classes Make It Easy for Anyone to Create a Masterpiece

04 of 05

Taking pictures

tulip bulbs
liz lashway

Snapping photos may have started out as a way to track my adventures, but it became a full-fledged hobby by the end of the year. I fell in love with documenting photo-worthy moments, whether it was a cloud, dirt-covered tulip bulbs, or vegetables on a cutting board. While some photos made it to Instagram, many others are now framed in my home. All this new hobby took was training myself to pay attention: When something made me smile, I took an extra second to take a picture. Before I knew it, I had albums full of personal photography.

05 of 05

Dating (Myself)

posters at a flea market
liz lashway

This one may sound silly, but when I was at a loss of something fun to do for the day, I chose to take myself on a "date" somewhere. It could have been to the grocery store to buy a new magazine or browsing a flea market. Or it could simply have been to the kitchen to look through a cookbook. My dates don't mean spending money, just spending time doing something purely for fun.

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