Tim Wu does an engaging essay
on how the pursuit of excellence has infiltrated and corrupted the world of leisure.
I’m a little surprised by how many people tell me they have no hobbies...we seem to have forgotten the importance of doing things solely because we enjoy them...Yes, I know: We are all so very busy...But there’s a deeper reason...Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.
If you’re a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you’re training for the next marathon. If you’re a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following.
Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it...alien values like “the pursuit of excellence” have crept into and corrupted what was once the realm of leisure, leaving little room for the true amateur...There are depths of experience that come with mastery. But there is also a real and pure joy, a sweet, childlike delight, that comes from just learning and trying to get better. Looking back, you will find that the best years of, say, scuba-diving or doing carpentry were those you spent on the learning curve, when there was exaltation in the mere act of doing.
...the demands of excellence are at war with what we call freedom. For to permit yourself to do only that which you are good at is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment. Especially when it comes to physical pursuits, but also with many other endeavors, most of us will be truly excellent only at whatever we started doing in our teens...What if you decide in your 60s that you want to learn to speak Italian? The expectation of excellence can be stultifying.
The promise of our civilization, the point of all our labor and technological progress, is to free us from the struggle for survival and to make room for higher pursuits. But demanding excellence in all that we do can undermine that; it can threaten and even destroy freedom. It steals from us one of life’s greatest rewards — the simple pleasure of doing something you merely, but truly, enjoy.
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