In my adult life, I've had three major hobbies - theater, birding, and sports car racing. Pretty much as different from one another as three hobbies could be. But for me they all have a few things in common. First, I garner tremendous enjoyment from doing them, and have somewhat of an aptitude for them. The first part of that falls into the "well, duh!" category - obviously it makes little sense to have a hobby you don't enjoy. And as to the second part, let me caveat that by saying my aptitude in racing is limited to race officiating - working as a corner worker and serving as race controller. My aptitude most certainly does not extend to behind the wheel of the race car. As much of an adrenaline rush it is to be behind the wheel, I probably get greater satisfaction from my work as an official because I have the self-satisfaction of knowing that I'm good at it.
As hobbies, they all have different requirements from the perspective of time commitment. being successful as an actor requires a focused commitment of between 4 and 8 weeks at a time. Being successful as a birder has no hard and fast rules, as long as you are committed to a lot of early mornings. Being a successful race official has a more structured schedule - I already know the bulk of my weekend commitments for 2009, as race schedules must be fixed well in advance.
But for me, enjoyment and aptitude are not necessarily enough to make a hobby a passion. The third ingredient is social interaction, and that is the other component that each of these three share that has caused me to pursue one over the others at different phases of my life. Theater was my primary hobby throughout my undergraduate college years, acting in 11 shows throughout my 4 years at Washington & Jefferson College. It was the people I acted with for 4 years, and the friends that I made there that really turned theater into a passion. When I left for graduate school, I left the core social group that I had come to know so well, and because I was afraid to commit the same level of effort to theater that I had as an undergrad, I drifted away from theater, and it was 12 years before I did another show. In graduate school, birding became my primary hobby, and it really was turned into a passion when I was at the University of Florida. It was there that I got involved with the Gainesville birding community, which provided that key social element. However, when I moved to Virginia in 2001, a couple of negative interactions left me with the impression that the Northern Virginia birders operated in a closed clique, and that took the passion out of local birding for me. I still love to travel and bird, and I still love to go to Florida to bird with the friends I made there. I still travel to Gainesville every year to participate in their Christmas Bird Count. Though it would be a lot easier and cheaper to stay and do the local Northern Virginia counts, it would not be as fun. This year marks my 15th Gainesville CBC, with the last 11 of them requiring me to travel either from New Mexico (1998 - 2000) or Virginia (2001 - present) to participate. It does make me a bit sad that I don't have that passion to go out and bird locally anymore - and it makes me think that I can't really call myself a birder anymore. I'm more like one of those people I used to look down on - the birder who only chases rarities, or who only travels to other locales to have someone show them new birds. Perhaps it is time to give the local birding community another shot, especially during these winter months when racing, my current "Enjoyment+Aptitude+Social=Passion" is in its off-season. Maybe a New Years Resolution is in order for 2009.