We constantly search for purpose and meaning in our lives. All too often, we look to our jobs and workplaces to provide this sense of self. However, as technology is progressing, things are becoming more automated, and worker alienation is spreading across the labor market, we are expanding our search for meaning beyond the workplace. But where exactly can we turn to find it?
The answer is already staring us right in the (off-duty) face: leisure activities. As our day jobs continue bringing us less self-fulfillment, we are increasingly turning to the activities and hobbies we enjoy in our down time to fill the gap. Eventually, we will reach a tipping point at which our leisure activities clearly become more than something we do “just for fun.” The question is, how much of a role can these activities play in helping us find personal fulfillment?
Today, there is a complex relationship between the way we view ourselves and the jobs that help define us. Work defines many aspects of our lives – even down to our everyday interactions. It provides an important sense of purpose and meaning by helping to shape us as individuals and craft our identities. When we meet someone new, for example, the question “What do you do?” inevitably emerges as a way of getting to know them.
However, as the processes and spaces in which we work continue to change – by becoming more precarious and/or automated – we find ourselves putting more weight on other means of defining ourselves outside of work. The meaning we take from our experience is playing an increasingly important role in helping us understand who we are, and the time we spend pursuing our hobbies and interests comprises a significant portion of that experience. This shift toward the personal could be a very good thing. After all, leisure activities provide an outlet for self-expression and personal growth that many of us will not – or do not – have in our professional lives. Imagine having more time to devote to this.
Of course, time is only so useful if we don’t develop the resources we need to pursue leisure. It’s true that serious leisure has given rise to certain tools and services that help us find interesting activities and hobbies, or that allow us to further refine our non-work expertise. But there are so many more opportunity areas that these tools could be touching on. For example, what if they better accounted for the requirements for developing feelings of community, purpose, and meaning?
So What? Opportunities in Serious Leisure
Emerging out of the field of leisure studies in the 1980s, “serious leisure” examines the ever-increasing role that leisure activities play in helping people shape a sense of self and fulfillment. Robert A. Stebbins’s seminal piece, “Serious Leisure: A Conceptual Statement,” highlights the importance of leisure activities in our lives. Identifying three different categories of serious leisure – amateurism, hobbyist pursuits, and career volunteering – Stebbins looks at how employees’ leisure activities can help them contribute value to the organizations they work for, or even to their professional fields as a whole.
While leisure activities are seen as being less serious or less valuable than paid work, Stebbins argues that non-work activities are important spaces for practice and play. From science fiction fans who organize amateur conventions to weekend runners who lead community running clinics, the notion of serious leisure provides a framework for understanding how our non-work activities can play a role in our communities and societies.
There are infinite possibilities and opportunities that could emerge if we were encouraged to take leisure more seriously, but we need to be asking the right questions. For example, how could leisure be used to give us a sense of purpose? And what could companies do to encourage using leisure activities to strengthen social networks and empower their communities? We’re already using leisure for these purposes, and we’ll only continue to leverage it more moving forward.
Signals of an Ongoing Move Toward Serious Leisure
Launched in 2002, Meetup has become a platform and organizing tool for a variety of hobbyists, fan groups, outdoor enthusiasts, community activists, support groups, and more.
DeviantArt is the largest online social network for artists and art enthusiasts; it serves as a platform for emerging and established artists to exhibit, promote, and share their works with an enthusiastic, art-centric community.
NeonMob is a platform for designers to create original trading cards that others can discover and enjoy. Independent artists and brands can both contribute to the growing marketplace. Current and past partners include the NFL Players Association, Care Bears, Domo, Tarzan, and Zorro.
International Quidditch Association
This international network of quidditch leagues governs the sport based on the rules outlined in the Harry Potter novels. The network has branches in 16 countries and is continuing to expand steadily.
/ What kinds of platforms or services can companies develop to support people in thinking more seriously about their leisure activities?
/ How can the leisure activities of your employees help you grow your business?
/ What kinds of change could your organization be a part of through enabling and encouraging serious leisure in the workplace?