Recently on a leisure trip I had the pleasure of watching a documentary chronicling the career history and professional lives of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (Thomas & Okubo, 1995). These two men, both simultaneously famous and unknown, are Disney animators responsible for bringing to life some of the media’s most beloved, iconic characters. Their work is famous (the seven dwarfs, Bambi and Thumper, Mowgli and Baloo, to name just a few,) yet the names Frank and Ollie bear significance only to those Disneyphiles that have a passion for the art of animation – among whom I unabashedly count myself.
While watching this documentary, I was struck by a statement Ollie’s wife Marie made. You see, each man, though industrious, creative, hard working, and passionate, each had something outside his work that brought him joy. For Frank, it was playing the piano in a small band of his fellow animators. Ollie was a train enthusiast, building his own scale steam powered trains, and later on purchasing an actual locomotive! Marie made the comment that, “The one thing that saved my life and saved (Ollie’s) was his interest in trains. With a job like his you don’t leave the office at five o clock, close the door and that’s it; you bring all these thoughts with you. You can’t turn it off.” Working as a Disney animator was (and I imagine still is) a tremendous achievement and intensely rewarding, but also intensely challenging and stressful. Frank and Ollie seemed to have discovered and practiced an emotional truism: in order to be productive and healthy, humans of all ages need play and fun.
Brené Brown (2012), a renowned social worker and researcher on shame and vulnerability, speaks to this in how we can live creatively and authentically. In her work, Brown has found that play activities and hobbies nurture an individual’s creative process, and allow us to be more resilient and balanced in our daily lives. Without it, our sense of self and enjoyment of life becomes stale and brittle. We become easily fatigued and may experience emotional burnout; losing joy in our relationships, work, and life in general. The emotional drain of being burnt out not only makes life less enjoyable, but also can negatively affect our mood and health.
Whether it is playing in a band or building model trains, leisure activities and hobbies are not just a zest that is added to our lives like the icing on a cake. Rather, such things are key ingredients in healthy, productive living; more like eggs or flour than icing in our cake analogy! It is somewhat ironic then that we have a tendency to cast aside such time for ourselves when the world becomes busier and pressures increase. In treating our passions and hobbies like they are expendable, we deny ourselves a potent tool for enduring that increase in stress. What makes you passionate? What kindles the fire of creativity and joy in you? It is a difficult process to describe, but I believe that we all know it when we experience it. In those moments of play and creativity, we connect more fully with ourselves and nurture our souls. The result of such time of self-care and personal enjoyment is the ability to better function in our jobs, in our relationships, and to enjoy life more.
If you find yourself feeling stressed, overwhelmed by life’s demands, or emotionally burnt out, consider answering these simple questions to help regain personal balance:
1) What activity or hobby do you enjoy or have enjoyed in the past that leaves you feeling energized and refreshed?
2) What interests you? What are you curious or excited about in the world that is not related to your “regular” work? Would you want to make this a greater part of your life?
3) How could such interests be incorporated into your week? Maybe an hour a day, a week, or one weekend in the month? Is there a course you could take or a group you could join with like-minded others?
Remember that time for personal enjoyment, hobbies, and play is not a luxury – these are key ingredients to living fully and with joy. Give yourself permission to engage in your passion, budgeting your time accordingly, such that work and play can coexist in a mutually beneficial balance!
Brown, B. (2012). The Power of Vulnerability (Audio CD; ISBN 1-60407-858-8). By Sounds True Audio Learning Course.
Thomas, T. (Director & Producer), Okubo, K. (Producer), & (1995). Frank and Ollie (Motion Picture). United States: Walt Disney Pictures.