In Today's Burnout Culture, Useless Hobbies Matter
Only after I began to knit did I force myself to stop hating knitwear. The activity itself is arguably useless. I don’t sell my knitting, nor do I really give it to anyone. There is little to no return-on-investment on knitting; in fact, I found a beanie for sale at Forever21 for $3, less than a ball of yarn and a pair of needles, without even accounting for the time it takes to hand-knit the hat.
It isn’t efficient, either: a knitting machine, or even sewing, could accomplish the same job in a quarter of the time. Pulling fibrous yarns through each other to the clinking rhythm of my needles takes time. But it’s not only enjoyable, it is necessary. The world would be far more dangerous without this wasteful hobby.
Engaging deeply in a profitless hobby seems like the antithesis of what a productive young person should do. My former boss, an ex-investment banker, once told me that you should only do activities that will build towards a career. Neither training Ki-Aikido martial arts, playing tabletop RPG’s, nor knitting helps with any of my longer-term goals.
For such activities, their collective net worth is a net loss; the activity counteracts goal-setting and other important career skills, and it creates things that have no use for our society, which is why I call them useless. But the value in having a useless hobby is not its end result, but rather in its process.
In sharp contrast to the goal-oriented, results-driven perfectionist mentality that classes and work pushed onto me, I am able to enjoy the process of knitting. Mistakes merely tickle me. They can easily be undone and fixed before moving forward.
More important than the sensory engagement of knitting is its lack of expectations. If I don't create any standards to compare myself to, then there simply are none. I can let myself fully ignore the thrumming awareness in my mind that is my perfectionism. The idea of millennial burnout is spreading quickly, and the needs for perfection and optimization at its core demand a solution if we want to avoid crashing and burning out.
It’s telling that we have to engage in specific activities to relax, rather than having a lack of tension be our default state. Unlike other activities, such as watching TV shows or reading, knitting involves many more senses. My fingers brush over the yarn’s textures, each loop meeting a slight resistance and then almost popping through. The needles hit each other and release their small clicks under the whirring humdrum of activity around me to create a familiar echo for my ears. Finally, the piece I’m knitting grows over time, and transforms from a string into a two-dimensional fabric into a three-dimensional piece whose final form is in my mind’s eye.
Knitting is an activity I enjoy because it has no purpose in my life. The second I begin to drive it towards a direction, I begin to fret over my mistakes and think of what I can do better. Knitting, my useless hobby, is one of the outlets that draws me away from the structural problems that plague young career-driven generations. If we want to avoid the burnout that comes from productivity optimization, then we must allow ourselves to be unproductive. I’ll wear the hole in my hat with pride, thank you.
Featured image via