If You’re Ambitious, Find a Hobby You Won’t Obsess About Cover

If You’re Ambitious, Find a Hobby You Won’t Obsess About

Peanutbeer. For most of 12th grade, I was in a heated competition with a guy named Peanutbeer. At least, that was his screen name on Xbox Live. His real name was Marc. He was the younger brother of one of my classmates.

Somehow, Peanutbeer and PandoraNiklas found themselves in a constant battle for Gamerscore supremacy. Who could beat the most games with the highest completion rate in the shortest period of time?

Each Xbox game offers up to 1,000 Gamerscore, points you get for beating the game on various difficulties and completing many, often hard-to-pull-off challenges. If you think video games are fun as they are, this extra layer of gamification will easily get you addicted. Besides optimizing each playthrough around garnering the most achievements, it also incentivizes you to try things in the game you otherwise wouldn’t have.

With Peanutbeer and me, it quickly became an 80/20 thing. We focused on getting the most bang for our buck, both literally and in terms of Gamerscore. We’d rent 2–3 games over the weekend (you didn’t have to pay for Sundays) and try to rack up as many points as possible. It was a blast.

By the time I graduated high school, I had amassed over 24,000 Gamerscore — the equivalent of beating 24 games to 100% completion. That’s nothing compared to world record holders with over two million points, but in our local Xbox community, no one came out ahead. No one, except Peanutbeer.

There was no set deadline by when we’d pick a winner, but, since I never overtook him, clearly, Marc won our competition. Eventually, I stopped playing video games when I went to college, but Peanutbeer is still going strong. 84,000 points and counting. Not bad.

For the next 10 years, I barely touched a controller. Until, for Christmas 2019, my family gave me a Nintendo Switch.

The Curse of the Ambitious Person

If you’re ambitious, chances are, you’re ambitious across the board. You don’t just want a great career, a happy marriage, or a fit body — you want to win everywhere. That’s a noble aspiration, but it comes at a heavy price: You can’t turn off.

You’ve got everything you need to achieve your goals, and, eventually, you’ll achieve most of them. Yet, the one thing you long for, the big reward you secretly crave for all this effort, stays out of reach. Where is your peace of mind? Where is the big rest at the end of the climb?

As an ambitious person, your challenge is not to achieve your goals, it’s to keep your pace long enough to actually see yourself reaching them. It’s a question not of ability but sustainability. Rest matters. Without it, you’ll go up in flames before your fire can carry you to your dreams.

If you’re obsessed with everything, burnout is the only logical consequence. Unfortunately, it’s easy for obsession itself to become a habit. To some extent, your addictions even fuel your success. Completely immersing yourself in an activity is how you get things done. While this is great for your bank account and career, in the long run, it’s detrimental to your happiness.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You pick up a new hobby, eager to get some downtime. Painting maybe, or gardening, or shadowboxing. At first, you enjoy learning the ropes. You buy basic equipment. You spend a few hours here, a few hours there, but, as an amateur, you’re not worried. Your new hobby helps you relax. Then, your winner’s instincts kick in.

Suddenly, you can’t stop. You paint for hours. You watch every Youtube video on growing tomatoes you can find. You can’t wait to knock your teacher off the leaderboard. What happened?

One moment your hobby is exactly what it should be — a hobby — the next it feels like a frantic car chase in Mad Max, with you in the lead but also, well, mad. You’d like to kick back and take it easy for a few, but you can’t. You can’t not track your steps. You can’t watch the game without thinking tactics.

This restlessness in and of itself is a bigger problem than any particular obstacle to your goals. There’s no invisible wall keeping you from inner peace. You’re keeping yourself from inner peace.

The calm mind you long for will not magically materialize once you achieve all your goals. It will appear once you make it a habit.

The Kind of Hobby You Need

Tearing the paper off that big cardboard box made me feel eight years old again. My oh my, the endless worlds that await behind this screen!

After a few hours of playing Zelda, however, I noticed something: Roaming the wide plains of Hyrule were as fun as ever, but the desire to excel just…wasn’t there. I felt no need to kill every enemy, to grab every treasure, to complete the game quickly. It was easy to play to relax, then put it down. Even now, I might not play for days on end before my next two-hour session.

It may be the solo-player, open-world vibe of Zelda in particular or that I compete in many real-world arenas now where winning feels more important, but, for the first time in years, I really believe it when I say: Video games are my hobby — nothing more, nothing less.

If you’re ambitious too, this is the kind of hobby you need — the kind that balances your drive and allows you to actually rest.

Ultimately, this is more so about your attitude than any pastime in particular. What you need, much more so than a new hobby, is a new approach to hobbies. You must learn to not turn everything into a competition. You can’t win all the time in all arenas of life. It’s not human. More so, it’s okay.

What’s human is to decide what’s important and then try to let go of what is not. As a high achiever, this will be harder for you than for others, but it’s still an effort worth making. It’s how you’ll find balance. Just like chasing your goals, it requires patience, grit, and getting back on track when you fall off the wagon. It may also require experimenting with a whole bunch of avocations.

While it doesn’t matter which hobby ends up providing you with a sense of relief, cycling through a bunch of rewarding ones quickly is an easy way to find one that doesn’t trigger your ambition as much as past ones have.

Changing your habits means changing your identity, but a deliberate break in the former can facilitate the latter.

For you, discovering the wide world of Hyrule on horseback may not do the trick. Maybe, you need team games like Codenames or group cooking classes to accept that you can’t control everything, can’t always win. Maybe, the painting, gardening, or shadow boxing that didn’t work for your neighbor will work for you.

Whatever your exact activity ends up being, chances are, it’ll encourage cooperation and imagination over achievement and competition. Games like Zelda do so by providing a world of exploration and discovery, rather than one of multi-player fighting and hierarchy. So do many others.

You may even rekindle a hobby you’ve loved before but that now exacts less of a gravitational pull because you’re busy fighting more important battles elsewhere — at home, at work, or at the gym, for example.

I don’t know what you’ll choose, but I do know this: Right now, a hobby that’ll offset your drive in other areas is the only thing worth obsessing about.

What Game Are We Really Playing?

Ambition alone won’t make you happy. Without a sustainable pace, you won’t have any energy left to enjoy the fruits of your labor once you’ve harvested them.

What’s more, if you can’t find joy and contentment along the way, achieving even your biggest goals won’t bring you any closer to them. Becoming a fulfilled human being is the real game.

Life will teach you that you can’t always win one way or another. Don’t turn everything into competition while you still have the chance to win most of the ones you already signed up for.

To become the kind of person who gives their best when it matters and sees other activities mostly as sources of restoration, try to find a hobby you won’t obsess about.

You may not climb the leaderboards, but you’ll sleep a little better than yesterday — and that feeling is worth more than any prize.