As It Turns Out, You Don’t Actually Need to Be Good at Your Hobbies

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At some point in the last couple of years, I decided I wanted to own significantly more candles. Maybe it was a combination of spending more time at home and moving into a new apartment that triggered my need for hygge like never before. But nice candles can get expensive, and I wasn’t looking to melt down all my money, so I hatched a plan to make my own. How hard could it be?

To my relief, it wasn’t that hard at all. My sister and I split the cost of a kit we ordered online that came with a massive box of soy wax shavings and 100 candle wicks. I immediately envisioned my one-bedroom apartment as Ann Marie Tendler’s candelabra-filled home. We went to a local secondhand store and rummaged for ceramic bowls wide enough to turn into three-wick candles, and cute glass vessels for one-wick versions.

We also found a metal saucepan and a Pyrex measuring cup to form a makeshift double boiler, and used my kitchen scale to weigh out wax chips. All that lay between us and perfect candles was to slowly melt down the wax and pour the milky liquid into our freshly-cleaned, thrifted finds. 

But here’s the thing: The wicks floated away the second the wax hit them. We ran out to the craft store and bought a pack of candle-wick stickers, so crisis averted. Then the surface of the candles dried somewhat unevenly, and I wondered if maybe we did need the thermometer the internet suggested we have to make sure the wax melted at just the right temperature. And when the candles cured and we went in for the first fragrant whiff, the scent was so subtle it almost didn’t exist. 

As the makers of the best-smelling candles will tell you, candle making is an art. When I see my homemade creations next to purchased candles, there is no question which is which. But I love my wonky, vaguely vanilla-scented candles. Making them was the first time I realized that you don’t have to be good at something for it to be a hobby, as long as you enjoy it. Even though my free time has always felt full of things I like to do, I’ve long felt unsure about how to answer when someone asks me what my hobbies are. That’s because my original idea of what counts as a hobby is much different than what it is now.

I don’t have a type-A personality by any means, but I’ve historically thought of a hobby as an activity someone is very good at — which can significantly narrow a list. I feel differently at this point in my life. I love to cook and bake, but I’m not applying for the “Great British Bake Off.” Who cares! I relish long walks around the city, but that’s not exactly a special skill. So be it! And I happen to make candles, even though the wicks sometimes float away.

The process of making candles has helped me reconsider my idea of a hobby, which I’ve determined can be answered with two simple questions: Is it something I have to do? And if not, is it something I like to do? Recasting a hobby as something enjoyable that I’m not trying to become an expert in or turn into a side hustle has lowered the barrier for trying new things. It’s helped me understand that I have a lot of exciting and worthwhile interests, and I’m ready to find more.

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