STEM Hobbies Are Great, In Moderation

STEM: “Science, Technology, Engineering, Math”, the first entry in Google for the word “stem”, making trees the world over cry in despair. This acronym is used to describe the modern educational movement that encourages students to learn stuff that makes their brains hurt. It’s pretty cool and junk. However, even as a person who does programming, system design, and reading of text books as his primary hobby, I have to say that much like any other aspect of life, one can definitely have too much of a good thing when it comes to STEM related hobbies.

Personally, I find the problem with my STEM related hobbies is simply that they require me to think, a lot. And for me to think, I need to concentrate. And for me to concentrate, I need a distraction free environment. And have I mentioned that I have three kids? Distractions aside though, there are plenty of times where my mind just does not feel like thinking about anything at all, as though there is a mental and emotional drag chute attached to its back as it tries to run against the desert wind. And you know what? That’s OK.

It’s OK to set aside your hobby projects and kick back doing whatever, for however long it takes for you feel inspired about your projects again. It’s a hobby, not something you’re obligated to do, so… don’t feel obligated to do it.

That doesn’t mean one should quit when things get hard or that one should flit from one project to the next, never finishing anything they start. I’m just saying that there’s a balance in life that is probably beneficial for most people to achieve. It’s like treading water for several hours waiting to be rescued, sure it seems kind of passive and ineffective, but it sure beats drowning because you gave up or drowning because you swam too hard and wore yourself out.

When it comes to our limited personal time, our “hobby time”, we need to be open to allowing ourselves to benefit from a variety of experiences, including taking a mental break and using that time to do stuff that does not need to reflect your personal potential. Play a game, read a novel, take a nap. Whatever floats your boat – float a boat! It’s OK, relaxing and unwinding doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you a person.

When I look at myself, for years I just played games made by other people, I installed and tweaked operating systems made by other people, and I occasionally made some music on the computer using software made by other people. That kept me happy for decades and I still do those things for fun today. However, about ten years ago I realized that “making stuff” was a large part of what I enjoyed when I played games and that realization caused my focus to turn from playing games to making games and game mods. Absolutely, I very much enjoy “making stuff” and the research and education that comes along with it, but there are plenty of times when I just don’t feel like doing it. Plenty of times where I just roam the world of Guild Wars 2 “Hulk SMASHING” everything in my path and picking flowers, because it’s cathartic and we all need that in our lives. Definitely, building stuff with electronics and hardware and programming on the computer and other STEM type activities are also cathartic, but… too much of a good thing is… a bad thing.

One could say, “Well, you just haven’t found your passion then, Rob!” and I suppose that can be true in some contexts, but I’m inclined to reply, “You can’t eat pizza every day for every meal. For one, it’s not healthy, but I think the bigger picture is, think of all the other great food and experiences you’re missing out on by only eating pizza”. Passion and determination are great, I one hundred percent agree, but when it comes to one’s “hobby time”, the results one should be focused upon achieving are personal growth and happiness, not some arbitrary deadline or level of perfection. We need to save that kind of stress for “the real world”, because there is plenty of it to go around and it’s probably never going to go away.

“Do or do not. Pick one, it’s your free time!” – Yo Duh