You Need a Friggin' Hobby. Here’s How to Get Started.

SELF | 12 mins

I’ll break it down for you:

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Winston Churchill painted.
Michael Jordan golfed.
Jesus liked to go hiking.1

I had a hobby once too.

When I was 5, it was building towers with blocks.
When I was 7, it was learning about airplanes.2
When I was 11, it was building with legos.
When I was 15, it was drawing.
When I was 22, it was lifting weights (both the heavy kind and 12oz curls of Natty Light).
When I was 32, it was…missing.

And I was stressed out of my mind. That’s not a coincidence. We3 had three kids in three years. Every day was a battle for sleep and some semblance of sanity.

But between the second and third kid, my wife Sara, started running. Like for fun.4 At first, it was for physical health, but I noticed something interesting. More than a physical benefit, running gave an incredible mental, emotional, relational, and even spiritual benefit to her. She was happier. She had more margin to engage in friendships. She brought fresh clarity to navigating the daily challenges of our hectic life. At first, when she went for a run, I was bitter. Her gone meant more work for me. But over time, as I saw the incredible benefits, I started to push her out the door. I championed buying running gear and joining running clubs. I happily took over the first half of Saturdays with the kids while she went on long runs of 4 hours and more.

Running was a healthy diversion from the rest of her week that demanded constant productivity. It was a hobby. To be honest, before she started running, I thought hobbies were only for people on the bookends of life: either kids with endless time on their hands or super old people who needed something better to do than watch Judge Judy reruns.5 But in watching my wife and observing other people who I admired, I made a shocking discovery:

Your hobby level is directly related to your stress level and your impact level.
A high hobby level lowers stress and increases impact.
A low hobby level increases stress and lowers impact.
Want lower stress? Get a hobby.
Want to enjoy your life more? Get a hobby.
Want to make a bigger impact at work? At home? Get a hobby.

You may be thinking: Dude, relax, I’ve got a hobby. It’s called Netflix, and I don’t want to brag, but I’m like the GOAT at it. Cool. The issue is when you sit and watch TV, your brain completely shuts off. No energy is going out of you, which is nice, but no energy is going in either—there’s no recharging happening. This is a big problem because it turns out you’re just like your phone. When your phone battery is getting low, you can turn off your phone and set it aside to save energy. But when you turn the phone back on, the battery won’t be miraculously more charged than when you powered it off. In fact, while it won’t be as low as it would have been had you left it on, it will likely have lost a bit of power even in the off position. In order for your phone battery to recharge, it must be connected to a power source that resupplies it. The same is true of you. To be recharged, you must connect to something that recharges you.

Off isn’t enough.

A hobby is a power-recharging activity. And just like each phone has a power supply specific to its model—the activity that resupplies you will be unique to you. Where I work, everyone loooooves motorcycles. Based on the glowing reviews, you’d think motorcycles were magical creatures who fly you to outer space, make you more attractive and fart $100 bills on command. Do you know how many times I’ve been trying to run a meeting and overheard two coworkers excitingly whispering about how they just totally upgraded their turbo-cupulators to the sick new Dynotech 4000s and are stoked for the weekend to see how they handle the terrain?6 Too freaking many times. If I could figure out how to insert the eye roll emoji, I would. And I’d follow it up with the yawn emoji too.

Motorcycles aren’t my deal. At least not right now. And that’s OK. What resupplies your buddies at work may not resupply you. The key is finding what does.

After I saw the benefits of running to my wife I, I went on a search for a hobby that recharges me. It wasn’t a straight path, and I couldn’t find any good advice about how to find one. But I kept noticing this pattern—that nearly every successful person I admired had a hobby—and was driven to figure out mine.

The hardest part about starting the search was getting off the couch. My kids were super young and super needy (they still are by the way), and nearly every night after they were in bed, my body would walk itself to the couch and more or less refuse to get up. Look, man, it’s cool that you want to do a hobby or whatever. That’s very go-getter of you—but you know what I want to do? Nothing. Zero. Sit here and stare at the TV until I don’t feel like a loser for going to bed so early. I probably talked about finding a hobby for 3-4 months before I actually did anything about it. The idea felt like a gamble: is this thing that’s not sitting on the couch in the off position actually going to give me more energy than it takes? But one night, I placed the bet. My wife wanted a shelf for our bathroom, so I decided I’d go to the basement, dig out my tools, and try to build one.

Why did I start with that? Simple: it’s what I wanted to do. It kinda seemed like it might be fun. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved building and making stuff: legos, Lincoln logs, drawing, painting—no matter what I’m building or making, I get so fully absorbed in it that I completely lose track of time. It’s glorious. After that first shelf, I kept going. I built more shelves (which turned out better than the first set because I had learned some stuff), then a dresser, then a bed—and after about six months, I looked up from sanding a tabletop in my basement late one night and realized I had a hobby. It was called woodworking,7 and that same feeling I had as a kid—of completely losing myself in the process of building and making—was back. Now, I’m constantly building furniture and just about anything else I can think of. And, not coincidentally, my stress levels are lower than most people I meet, and I have fresh energy and ideas and far more impact at work and at home than ever.

If you’re stressed out, burned down, and feeling like your energy tank is constantly lower than you’d like it to be—you need a hobby.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”8 A paraphrase translation of this verse from The Message says it this way, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I don’t believe God wants you to go through life with a high stress level. That phrase: “Walk with me”—it means let’s go on a hike. Finding the hobby that recharges you—is not only OK, it is essential to living “freely and lightly.”

Here are some tips on how to get started:

1. Your hobby will likely be an evolution of something you liked to do as a kid.

As a kid, I loved to draw. And build stuff. And while an adult playing with legos and Lincoln logs would be a little odd, an adult playing with table saws and chisels is totally fine. Think about what you loved to do as a kid. What’s the adult version of that? Give it a shot.

2. Start small.

If you think your thing might be hiking, for instance, don’t feel like you need to book a trip to the Grand Canyon to get started. Start small. Find a park within 30 minutes of where you live and head out for a couple hours. If you think it might be woodworking, you don’t need to run out and buy $10,000 worth of tools. Look around your house for something you need that you might be able to build, borrow a few simple tools and give it a few hours one evening. If you think it’s running, throw on your old gym shoes and go out for a mile or two—don’t wait until you can afford the latest gear. Sometimes, the hobby can seem so big and unattainable that you never get started. When I started woodworking, I only owned a few basic tools, got a $50 Kreg pocket hole jig as a gift, and built a single shelf.

3. Invest in it over time.

Like everything of value, your hobby will be worth investing in. Once you start small and get a feel for whether this thing is your thing, don’t be afraid to spend some money on it. After I built the shelf, I started searching for tools on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. I didn’t have a ton of money, but some digging and researching over time netted me a bunch of great tools at ridiculously low prices. Plus, the digging and researching about your hobby is part of the fun and gives some of the same restorative benefits.

4. Check out YouTube

YouTube may be my favorite invention of all time.9 You can learn how to do just about anything from YouTube. There are loads of experts on nearly every hobby cranking out high quality, completely free content on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. Watching YouTube is different than shutting your brain off with standard TV because you’re engaging your learning muscles. Seriously, stop reading this article, open up YouTube, and watch and learn some stuff.

A life-giving, energy-restoring hobby is not only possible—it’s essential.

Why not start tonight?

Here’s a video of me talking about this more.


1Seriously. There are loads of scenes where His buddies can’t find Him and it turns out Jesus had hiked out of town for a bit of R&R when no one was looking.
2My favorite was the SR-71 Blackbird—it looked like a hawk had a baby with a Transformer. And then that baby learned to fly at Mach 3.
3Just a note to my wife Sara, in case you’re reading this article: Hey! Wow, you look so beautiful! You know, when I used the word “we” a second ago, what I meant was, well…you. But also, I was there. Remember, I was the guy holding one of your legs? I get if you were distracted. Don’t feel bad.
4Runners are an incredibly strange tribe who are, as far as I can tell, united by their shared love of horribly long and boring pain. I hate running. On my Official List of Bad Ideas running ranks 24,385th. Just ahead of getting a Discount Vasectomy.
5Would Judge Judy have had the same career if her name was “Karen”? I mean the answer has to be no, right? The alliteration is key.
6Or something like that. Also, I work in freaking Ohio: relax, everybody. The Huffy I had in fifth grade could handle the terrain here.
7I know. I picked an old man hobby because I’m so forward thinking. Runners are going to be 60 years old with knees made of peanut brittle having to find a new hobby. Not me. I’m going to be an old man still making crap out of wood: birdhouses, spoons, ironic signs. Winning.
8Matthew 11:28-29 NIV translation
9Okay, second favorite after steak. Thanks, whoever invented steak.

Written by Kyle Ranson on Oct 3, 2019
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Discussion Questions

  1. What strikes you most about Kyle’s story? Why?

  2. What did you love to do as a kid? Try to think of at least three, and then brainstorm the adult versions of those.

  3. Text your most fun friend, and tell them your ideas. Ask them what they think, and give them permission to follow up with you in a week to see if you’ve started yet.

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