How Your Interests Can Affect Your Social Success
I think most of us notice a link that seems to exist between people's interests and how well they do socially. Those who are into computer programming and tabletop RPGs generally don't seem to do as well as the people who are into snowboarding and playing guitar. I think the connection between interests and social success is somewhat complex, and that's what this article will go into.
Your interests indirectly influence your social development
Your interests exert a strong, indirect effect on your social success by influencing how your people skills develop for the future. Some interests put you on better "life paths" than others. Having exclusively non-social interests in your earlier years can lay a groundwork where your interpersonal abilities are shaky by the time you hit adulthood.
- Some interests require you to be around other people and develop your social skills as a side effect. Others are difficult to do unless you're alone, putting your social growth on hold during that time. That alone isn't bad if you have other social outlets, but if you only take part in solitary activities, then everyone else's people skills can pull ahead of yours.
- Some interests put you in contact with other people who have good interpersonal skills, who you can learn from. Other hobbies tend to place you with people who have bad social habits, which might rub off on you.
People are often drawn to interests that mesh with their natural personalities. An alone time loving person is going to gravitate toward solitary hobbies. More social types will move toward more people-oriented pastimes. These choices can reinforce themselves. Over time the more social person will improve their people skills and get even more enjoyment from group activities. The solo hobbyist's social skills may fall behind, making interacting with others even less rewarding, and their solitary pursuits to seem even more attractive. All in all, if you're interested in improving your interpersonal skills, having interests that foster them is one way to help the process along.
No interests are intrinsically better than others
No interests are inherently good or inherently bad. There's nothing about math, for example, that makes it better or worse than cooking or baseball. I think some interests carry more social cachet. But that's more related to the baggage surrounding them, not the interests themselves.
Certain interests carry more social value than others
It would be hard to argue that some interests aren't seen in a better light than others. If you spend hours pouring over dozens of statistics to pick your fantasy football team, you're seen as a red-blooded guy's guy. If you spend hours pouring over statistics to pick out the best equipment combination and attack pattern to beat a tricky boss in an MMORPG, then society as whole tends to paint you as a dork with no life.
I could go into more detail, but basically some interests get associated with various negative stereotypes. Like all stereotypes, they probably have some small element of truth to them, but are mostly based on exaggerations and ignorance. The stereotypes could be about the kinds of odd people who take part in an interest, or how the interest affects people's personality for the worse. In reality, most people who are into so-called dorky hobbies are nothing out of the ordinary. Take video games: For every pale, basement dweller who fits the stereotype of a no-life gamer, there are hundreds of average people who enjoy gaming.
And what if your interest is low value? Whatever, do it anyway. Don't give up something you enjoy because society has a vague aversion to it. However, I can understand when someone decides it's socially practical to downplay a certain hobby of theirs if they think the people they're talking with won't get it. Everyone does that at least sometimes.
Your interests affect the way people see you, but not as much as it seems
The last heading portrayed liking RPGs as something that makes everyone see you as a dork. But it doesn't exactly work like that. Most of us know people who are technically way more dorky than us in terms of how they spend their time, but also more charming and likable. Their likability cancels out, or is dominant over, the supposed dorkiness of their interests. Overall, the impression you make socially makes the biggest contribution to how people see you:
- Let's take someone who's really socially savvy. And let's say they have interests other people would typically see as "non-dorky" or even respectable, like mountain biking. They're going to be viewed positively, and any interesting hobbies they have are only going to make them look better.
- Take someone who's very socially awkward, and who has stereotypically dorky interests. People are genreally going to see them as a dork, and their interests are only going to be used to support that opinion.
- A sociable, likable person with stereotypically dorky interests will still be seen in a positive light, unless their interest causes them to act very out of character. The dorky interest is just an abstract piece of information and doesn't have the same power as the their presence and charisma. If they're really charming, people may even see the dorky interest more positively, or at least as a non-issue. Most people know someone who's fun and socially adjusted, and who also enjoys sci-fi shows or comic books. It doesn't really affect how they're seen.
- Last, a socially awkward person with "non-dorky" or even admirable interests will still be seen as dorky overall. Their respectable hobby may give them a slight boost in credibility ("Oh wow, I didn't know you were into surfing."), but again, the social impression someone makes overpowers any theoretically positive items they have on their "resume". If other people are being harsh, they'll even discount the dork's respectable interests as a try hard attempt to win everyone over. Or they'll subjectively cast the interest in a negative light, but only for this case ("It's kind of weird to enjoy paddling around in the cold ocean at the crack of dawn every morning").
Most people will already have made up their mind about you before they even know your interests. When they know what kind of things you're into, it will do little to change the opinion they've formed. So there's really no point in giving up any of your interests for the sake of doing better socially. You find them fun. Why would you do that? If you want to do better with people, work on it directly.
How you approach your interests can turn people off
It gets more complicated. It's not just what your interest is. It's how you approach it. Certain behaviors can make almost any interest acquire a negative tint. If the interest is already low in social value, those behaviors make it look even worse. Even if an interest is normally viewed favorably, the wrong approach can take its sheen away. Example: Working out is fine, but super-intense, macho juice pigs are usually looked down on.
It's entirely reasonable that you may decide to do the following things anyway and not care what people think. It's not like they're all intrinsically horrible ways to act. But if you're more in the mentality where you want to manage how you come across to others, here are some points to watch out for:
Being obsessive about your interestsPeople have radars for when someone has gone too far. It can be an almost instinctive turn off. This can include behaviors such as:
- Spending a huge amount of time on your interest.
- Spending what seems like an unreasonable amount of money on your interest.
- Knowing waaaaay too much about your interest, especially tiny details.
- Putting aside more important or essential activities to pursue your interest.
- Making pointless, excessive sacrifices for your interest.
- Accomplishing interest-related goals that seem pointless for most people.
It's unfair, but people get more leeway to fixate on a hobby if it has social cred. Though even that has limits ("I get that she's a talented basketball player and all, but it's all she ever thinks about.")
Going on about your interests to people who don't care about them
This is a fairly basic social faux-pas. This article has some tips on what to do when you have an interest most people don't want to hear about:
Taking your interests too seriously
In other words, displaying levels of emotion about your hobby that seem inappropriate to most people. Or treating it like it's life or death, when it's just supposed to be a fun diversion.
Not living in the real world because of your interest
Some interests involve elaborate fictional universes. Others are highly abstract and theoretical. If you spend too much time on them your mental space can become devoted to the comings and goings of these imaginary worlds. Your social skills can fall a beat behind everyone else's and you can come across as a bit off.
There's a balance you may have to make between becoming proficient at your interest and developing yourself socially
I'm not much for giving up your interests entirely. You may need to tone it down though if developing socially is also important to you. You might want to cut down the amount of hours you devote to your interest each week, or take on some other hobbies to round yourself out more. But what about people who become experts in their field? Don't you have to single-mindedly devote yourself to something to get really good at it? There's definitely a point to that statement. There is a use for having a narrow focus. Art, science, and writing thrive on it. To become world class at something you will have to make sacrifices in other parts of your life, maybe in your social skills.
Like a lot of things, this can just be an excuse though. Deep down someone may be unhappy with where they stand socially, and realize their life is unbalanced, but it's easier to tell themselves they're nobly pursuing perfection in their field, and that their screwed up interpersonal life is a side effect that's out of their control. With some exceptions, even the most devoted scientists, artists, and athletes don't spend sixteen hours a day, day after day, honing their craft. There's always time to be around people if it's a true priority. Also, it's not a simple case of Be really good at something --> Have bad people skills. Lots of experts aren't any different socially from anyone else. How much that's the case probably has to do with their field though. The world's best soccer player will have had a far different social experience while becoming a master compared to the world's best game engine designer.