Hobbies are great. Ultra hobbies are much better.
My line of work is in a traditional and guild-like industry. Lots of training. Lots of sacrifices.
There are some unique features of the American healthcare industry which make it extra intolerable (especially if you are a working mother) - I relate to someone in a tough situation with tough constraints, like many working women.
Somewhere along the way, either while ramping up or while leveling out, I realized how hard it was. The burnout epidemic in my field is real, both in research and also as common industry talk. Most people are trapped in a cycle of complaining. Some leave the profession.
I gravitated towards other in-between solutions. The concept of a side-gig was appealing, because it would be a way to offset the enormous stress. I looked into different things other people with similar backgrounds were doing.
I tried to apply some of these things I had read or heard about. I tried to utilize my current skills to do lateral work in scientific writing. I tried some virtual gigs. I seriously mulled over positions in the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries.
I was able to experiment with medical writing for some time. It was working. The career, the side-gig, the family.
The gig was checking all of my boxes:
But then why wasn't I able to move the needle on feeling blah?
I saw other people with side gigs making money and feeling excited about their blended career and life. For me personally, I did not find fulfillment with that route.
I realized that the side-gig in its traditional sense was not really something I was passionate about. It was a logical extension of my current knowledge and skills.
My personal mistake: thinking was too linear and too boring
After a lot of self-negotiation, it was time to stop thinking so logically. I couldn't do a traditional side-gig for money. It would be pointless. Inevitably, the side-gig would turn into a real job and come with all of the expected baggage (e.g. I need this job to support my lifestyle, I need this job in order to not do this other job).
Millennial culture has transformed passion into a human right. I have always viewed it as an entitlement. It is hard for me to pursue anything without thinking about the consequences it could have to my family, finances, and overall ability to function.
Could I simply pursue my interests?
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” -Ferdinand Foch
This is where we come to another irony within productivity and fulfillment.
Once I started to pursue more non-linear thinking and my interests without regard for productivity or consequences, I was finally free.
I steered my efforts towards an ultra-hobby.
Spending time with a hobby in order to minimize career burnout is something I am familiar with. I have dabbled in crafts, making things for people on the holidays. But I never took crafting to the next level. I never did it consistently and didn't have any innovative drive in it.
An ultra hobby is when you take a hobby pretty seriously. As seriously as you would take your career or family time into consideration.
Another feature is to be engaged deeply into the work. It requires focus.
According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang's Rest, the act of deep play is when you experience something intensely enough to offset workplace burnout. These activities, like painting or chess, are deeply engaging and challenging in a relatively low-stakes environment.
If you think you have no passions, you are wrong.
Let's try to define so we can clarify. Much like Angela Duckworth's concept in Grit of grit being born of both passion and perseverance, similarly there is a precursor to passion. It involves locating an interest where you put effort into skill acquisition. Over time, this is what entrepreneur Tom Bilyeu believes will be your passion.
You interests are largely idiosyncratic. That's why it's good to explore a lot of different things and see where there is a slightly natural tug. You are not going to be passionate about it until you start building skills in the area. Because you have a growth mindset, you will develop the passion. And you'll then get closer to your human soul on fire.