A child of the ’90s, I grew up on alt-girl rock from the likes of Liz Phair, Lisa Loeb, and Alanis Morissette. To me, there was nothing more badass than a woman rocking out on the guitar. But as an introvert with a middling confidence level, I couldn’t think of anything more terrifying than taking the stage.
Although the decade is far behind us (okay, fashion trends aside), I’m still not comfortable with all eyes on me. I’ve never done karaoke, and in yoga class, I’m usually found hiding out in the last row—definitely not planted on a mat front and center. So maybe it’s not that surprising that when my parents gave me a guitar for Christmas when I was 16, it sat in my closet untouched…for 10 years.
Every conversation revolved around my job—I couldn’t even remember what I talked about before. I realized I didn’t want my career to be all that I was.
When I landed my dream job at my favorite magazine in my 20s, my whole life revolved around work. Partially because I loved it and partially because of the workload, I was the first one in the office, the last to leave, and even went in on weekends. Every conversation revolved around my job—I couldn’t even remember what I talked about before I started this gig.
One night, sitting in my cubicle and staring at my computer screen, I realized I didn’t want my career to be all that I was—I needed a hobby. So the next time I went home to visit my parents, I came back with that guitar.
“I don’t want to play for anyone except myself,” I told Sam, my guitar instructor, a 23-year-old British musician I paid $30 an hour to come to my apartment once a week and teach me. “I just want to be able to play along to songs I like and maybe one day write my own songs.” And that’s exactly what Sam and I did week after week, first with a Kings of Leon song, then working up to The Killers and The Black Keys.
I started taking lessons to give myself an excuse to leave work on time once a week, but the more I learned to play, the more confident I felt—even though I was really just playing for myself alone in my living room.
Thinking there could be more at work here than just strumming some chords, I called Susie Moore, a life coach who helps women develop their mojo, to see what might be manifesting below the surface. And she had some very interesting things to say.
Keep reading to find out why pursuing a hobby can change the way you think about yourself—and how others see you.
Cultivating a skill reminds you what you’re good at
“The reason why hobbies are so powerful is that we forget how competent we are,” Moore says. “People are typically drawn to hobbies that fit their strengths already, and they’re often skills that have been dormant from childhood and get to be exposed.”
She makes a good point: Even people who love their jobs use the same (metaphorical) muscles every day, so that talent of being good at painting, knitting, pottery—whatever it is—stay completely hidden and unused. Or in some cases, like with me, it reveals a skill you didn’t realize you even had. I’d never picked up a guitar before my mid-20s…but now, I’ve got a whole binder full of songs I can play.
It’s a form of self-care
Something else I didn’t realize until Moore pointed it out: The time you set aside for your hobby is time you’re purposely carving out for yourself. “Us life coaches call it being ‘positively selfish,'” she says. “We often tell our boss yes and other people yes, but we don’t make a habit of doing that for ourselves.” And it’s not so surprising, but putting yourself first every once in a while feels pretty darn good.
When I started leaving the office on time—gasp!—for my lessons, I was worried my boss would think I was a slacker. But the opposite happened. Instead, she started stopping by my desk more regularly, asking what new song I was learning. I liked that she started to see me more as a person with a fun life, not just a worker bee. And that inherently made me feel more badass.
You become a magnet for other confident people
The more songs I learned on guitar, the more I enthusiastic I got—and I wanted to share it. Suddenly, I was striking up convos with people I otherwise might not have talked to. “Pursuing a hobby connects you to other people who are into it too,” Moore says.
Now that I finally had something to chat about other than work, I realized the discussions I was having—with my friends, on dates, even people I was interviewing—became livelier, and I left those conversations feeling really, really good.
“The echo it has on your life is bigger than you realize. It impacts how you feel, the people you meet, and it only continues to grow.”
“Nothing exists in a vacuum,” Moore says. “You don’t just have your one-hour lesson and then it’s over. You have your lesson and you carry that feeling with you, waking up a bit happier the next day. The echo it has on your life is bigger than you realize. It impacts how you feel, the people you meet, and it only continues to grow.”
If all of this has inspired you to pursue your own hobby, but you aren’t sure what it should be, Moore offers up this advice: “Think about what you enjoyed as a child, or if there’s something you’ve heard other people talk about that has caught your attention and stuck with you.”
While I still have no desire to sign up for an open mic night anytime soon, playing the guitar makes me feel cool and sexy—and I don’t need a spotlight shining on me to see the ripple effects it’s had in my life.
If you want to leverage your newfound confidence to get ahead at work, here are some tips. And here’s a simple hack for feeling more badass in mere minutes.