When I started to write this Postcard, I looked at its number – 250. I cannot believe that I have written 250 of these weekly texts about my life and topics I am passionate about. In times when it seems that video content is dominating, I infer from the number of people reading these Postcards that the written word still touches the heart of so many readers. And writing brings me to the actual topic of today’s Postcard.
In Postcard #168, I wrote about lifelong learning and how much I enjoy diving into new topics. A while ago, I felt stressed at work and needed something completely different to distract me. Fashion and art have always been my passion. When I finished high school, I looked into fashion design programmes and contemplated to study art history. While the content would have been 100% what I wanted to do, I had the feeling that I needed something with better prospects in the job market and opted for business administration. I remember a conversation with my mother where she suggested doing both – focus on business and do a few courses in art history on the side, or maybe even do both alongside each other (which is possible in Austria). But as soon as I started with business, I forgot about this. I had entered the hamster wheel – perform, study hard, finish fast and with good grades. There is no time for anything else. As you may have read here in various other Postcards, also when I looked for jobs, I made rational choices; not the ones my heart or gut told me make.
Coming back to when I needed some distraction: I decided to sign up for art history seminars at university. I thought that maybe I just listen to a few talks, get inspired and that is it. Well, if you know me, it hardly ends there. Once I start something and I get excited about it, I want to finish it. After I listened to the lectures, I thought it would be a waste not to take the exams. After that, I decided it would be also silly not to do more seminars now that I had done all the exams. And one thing led to another and I found myself doing a Masters’ degree in art history in addition to running my business.
It was interesting indeed, but it was also quite challenging and demanding to juggle both, especially over the course of the past year. Every free minute was invested in my “hobby”. And there was more than one day where I had to take off from the business and focus on the thesis or the last exams. Covid had helped me in a way that remote classes and interviews had become available. Hence, I saved time by not commuting to university or by attending classes or writing some papers from the other side of the world. Nevertheless, studying while working full-time is a challenge and kudos to everyone who has managed to do this. Not only because it needs a lot of persistence and effort but also because your relationship and social life will also feel the impact of it. Even the most supportive partner may sometimes get annoyed when you are stressed out because of taking on this “double-challenge”.
Last week, I passed my last exam – I had handed in my thesis and had to present it and in addition I had an exam about another art history topic. It felt strange leaving the institute that day – it is this feeling of something being over but you have not fully realized that it is over yet. Because this was a programme I started as a hobby, the whole experience was different to when I studied business. Back then, it was a lot of pressure. I was scared that I would not find a job if I did not perform well. Some topics I enjoyed studying, most I just did because I had to. Studying art history had always been my dream and when I did it, I was already much older than most of the students. I chose the lectures which I found most interesting, I did not have any pressure (apart from the one I created myself). I enjoyed being in class, listening to all the different topics and took it all in. (Most of the other students probably thought I was a nerd or outright crazy.) I am not exaggerating, I really enjoyed it; also focussing on the thesis itself and diving into the topic, talking to experts, doing research on location. (I did not enjoy proof-reading though, but I am sure I am not the only one.)
A lot of people struggle to understand why somebody would enroll at university if you do not have to. Learning does not seem to be considered a hobby. A friend of mine who is also a lifelong learner always gives the following answer: “If I went to the golf course or to soccer training five times a week after work and on weekends, nobody would find that strange. I enjoy learning about new things as much as some people enjoy chasing a ball. What is the difference?”
Whatever secret passion you have, think about pursuing it. It does not have to be a degree, but maybe it is something new to try and learn. I definitely think that art history broadened my mind. I feel that I now approach problems in a different way, I got exposed to different points of view and I learned about things which may have not been directly related to my work, but they also somehow shaped what I am doing. In any case, I am really happy and proud that I did this. Almost 20 years after I first set foot in a university, I finished something which I had always wanted to do. And for now, I will enjoy all the free time I have until I find a new hobby. 🙂