t might happen at a concert, one you’ve been looking forward to for months, standing front row as the crowd behind you tries to push closer to the stage. Or maybe in the lull in conversation between yourself and an old friend as you perch on stools at the dive bar you’ve visited every weekend since junior year of college. Even on your commute to work, or in the quiet of your own home with your favorite book in your lap or video game paused on the screen.

But no matter when or where or why, there will come a moment -- maybe many moments -- when you stop and wonder: Am I getting too old for this?

Who we are and how we define ourselves is always shifting, but to realize the interests or hobbies that once felt like home no longer fit who we’ve become can be jarring. Whether it comes as part of a bigger quarter-life or midlife crisis or as a more gradual realization, figuring out how to cope with change in your own identity is a major challenge that everyone must find a way to face.

But you don’t have to face it alone. Our guide on how to adult when you don’t know what kind of adult you want to be will cover:

  • Why outgrowing hobbies can be stressful
  • Growing vs. outgrowing
  • How to reevaluate your interests
  • Defining who you are + what you want to do
  • Picking up new hobbies or interests at any age
a young adult standing on a crowded city street
Figuring out how to grow up is a complicated lifelong process that can leave you feeling lost or overwhelmed. But why is growing up and growing out of your hobbies and interests so hard to do?

I Guess This is Growing Up

Why Outgrowing Hobbies Feels So Weird

Who are you? And perhaps more importantly, how do you know?

From the time we’re children, we’re constantly exploring the world around us and finding new ways to relate to it. This doesn’t just help us learn about the people, places, events, and ideas we come into contact with -- it helps us learn about ourselves as well. We begin to define who we are by responding to the things that happen to us.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” - Epictetus

This idea has been around for centuries. Explored by thinkers ranging from stoics like Epictetus to Enlightenment-era philosophers like Kant and beyond, it’s difficult to ignore the role that our relationships with people, places, and ideas beyond ourselves play in defining who we are.

Our hobbies and interests, then -- the things that we repeatedly do -- are more than just a way of killing time. They are a part of our identity. Small, everyday ways of connecting with -- or rebelling against -- the world around us.

Imagined this way, it seems to follow that our hobbies reflect something essential about us, about what we find attractive or worth striving towards. Just think about every bossy kid that’s told they’ll make a great CEO.

Perhaps our childhood interest in playing house wasn’t so much about the plastic kitchen set we got for Christmas as it was about our desire to take care of people. Maybe some part of us wants to play the newest Fallout because we enjoy the challenge more so than we simply want to beat the game. Or we’re standing in the crowd at the rock show for the community as much as the music.

When our hobbies and interests are so entwined with how we define ourselves, it’s no wonder that feeling like our relationships with those things have changed can be uncomfortable.

Regardless of how old you are or where you are in life, whether it’s the result of a specific event or a gradual shift, the feeling that you’ve somehow changed as a person can be so unsettling -- it shifts the foundation on which we’ve built everything else in our lives.

a young adult looking at a phone
Letting go of a hobby or interest -- particularly one that has shaped who you are or given you a community -- can be difficult. It’s important to remember you have no obligation to continue doing something that no longer serves you.

This Isn’t Giving Up, This Is Letting Go

Questions to Ask Yourself When Reevaluating Your Interests

Some things are easy to let go of -- shirts that don’t fit, decor that hasn’t matched your room since middle school, friends that are obviously no good for you -- but when it comes to hobbies, it can be a little more complicated. So how can you tell when it’s time to actually move on? Start by asking yourself a few basic questions.

  • Where did the hobby come from?
  • What drew you in?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How does it make other people feel?
  • Why are you reevaluating?

Where did this hobby come from?

Or another way of phrasing it: whose interest is it, anyway? Sometimes the interests we develop have less to do with the activity itself and more to do with the people we do it with. Did you inherit a love of crocheting from your grandmother? Or perhaps an interest in DnD from roommate freshman year of college?

Just because you’ve inherited an interest from someone else doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good fit for you, but if you feel like you’re outgrowing a hobby and it wasn’t yours to begin with, that’s a huge red flag that it might be time to move on.

What drew you in?

Our relationship with our interests is nuanced -- there are a variety of facets of an activity we can love or appreciate. Maybe it’s the topic itself. Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it’s the community.

If you’re holding onto a hobby that you may have outgrown, you might be trying to cling to whatever element of the interest drew you in to begin with. Is this hobby the best place to get whatever it is you’re getting out of it? Where else can you find those elements that are more or attractive or constructive?

How does it make you feel?

Maybe this is obvious, but sometimes taking time to consider how you actually feel about something gets lost in the shuffle. Does your hobby make you happy? If not, it may be time to nix it.

How does it make other people feel? Does it matter?

You don’t necessarily need the support of others in your life to pursue an interest, but it certainly makes it easier. If the people in your life whose opinions you value and respect are urging you to drop a habit or hobby, hear them out. They may be raising good points.

Why are you reevaluating?

Sometimes we can tell when things just aren’t right. Even if you can’t pinpoint why, you might simply know it’s time to leave a particular interest behind.

two people with the same hobby - cosplay-  pose for a photo
Hobbies can be deeply fulfilling on a personal level and also shape the person you become.

How to Define Your Own Future

A Crash Course in Figuring Out Who You Are and Where You’re Meant to Be

Letting go of old interests or hobbies can leave you with lots of free time to fill, and how you choose to fill those free hours matters. If we are in fact what we repeatedly do, the new hobbies we choose can shape the type of person we become. Additionally, choosing a hobby that’s a good fit for who we are and who we want to be can land us within a supportive community of people who share those same values.

When considering what kinds of hobbies you’d like to pick up, ask yourself:

  • What do you do when you’re bored? What are the things that naturally interest you?
  • What kind of people do you like spending time with? What do these people do in their free time?
  • What kind of person are you? What kind of person would you like to be?
  • What are your personal goals? What can you do in your free time to help you achieve them?
three girls dance at a music festival, enjoying the community their hobby has allowed them to join
Finding a community we’re comfortable with can make picking up a new hobby feel like finding a new home or growing your family.

It’s Never Too Late to Pick Up a New Hobby

Forget About Not Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks… Here’s How to Get Started with a New Hobby Whenever You Want

Maintaining some sort of a social life as a kid is easy -- all you have to do to find someone who shares your interests is walk down the street or get a ride to a friend’s house after school. You meet new people in class, on field trips, at summer camp, on sports teams. But once you graduate college and leave the academic world behind, meeting new people becomes much more difficult.

So how do you get started with a new hobby as an adult? Here are a couple of tips to make finding a hobby as an adult easier:

  • Know what you’re looking for. What are you hoping to get out of your new hobby? Have realistic expectations going in and you’ll be considerably more likely to have a satisfying experience.
  • Find a mentor or role model. Starting something new can be scary, especially if your new hobby has a learning curve. Talk to friends, join a class, hit a chat room. Finding a mentor or role model can make picking up a hobby as an adult much easier.
  • Study up. Even if you’ve matriculated all of the degrees you want, you can still hit the books. The more you learn about your new hobby, the easier it will be to pick up.
  • Find (or build) a community. If you can’t find another group of people who share your interest in your area, consider creating one. Friendships built around shared interests and values are exceptionally rewarding.
  • Talk about it. Starting a hobby as an adult can be tough, and so can letting go of the old interests, friendships, and parts of yourself you may have moved away from to make room for this new chapter in your life. Don’t forget to get support from the people who know you best if it starts to feel overwhelming.
Tiger's Jaw plays a basement show for an enthusiastic crowd of young adults
Find yourself preferring the sound bar in your living room to a concert in someone’s basement? Fear not. Just because you don’t engage with your interests the same way you have in the past doesn’t mean you’ve left them behind. Image courtesy of Run for Cover Records.

Growing vs. Outgrowing

A Note on Being True to Yourself as an Adult

Things rarely turn out the way we expect them to -- think about turning 16. If you grew up watching 90s tv, you might have been expecting a huge party with lots of friends, a giant cake, a car wrapped up in a big red bow. What does it actually look like to be 16? What did being 16 mean to you?

Now picture what it’s like to be 21. How about 25, or 30, or 50? What does it look like to graduate college, to own a home, to be ready to start a family, or to hit any other milestone in your life? There are as many answers as there are people in this world.

Which is all just to say there’s no right way to be the age you are. Just because you’ve grown or hit a milestone -- just because your relationship with your hobbies or interests has changed -- doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave them behind. You can collect Hot Wheels at 30 or go to punk shows at 70.

If you want to forge a new relationship with your hobbies or suspect it’s time to leave one behind, that’s one thing. But that decision is yours to make, and yours alone.

a happy young woman with her arms spread in celebration
Change can be difficult, but finding a hobby as an adult that truly serves you is worth it.

Outgrowing hobbies or interests can be stressful or uncomfortable, but it’s just a part of being an adult. Learning how to choose hobbies that serve your goals and let go of those that don’t with grace is something everyone has to learn how to do.

When it really comes down to it, what you do with your time is nobody’s decision but yours, and perhaps it matters less who you are than who you strive to become. So who are you? What will you do next?

Apr 24, 2020