How do you define a hobbyist?
Is it someone who engages in an activity in a casual manner? One who picks up something for a time, then gets bored with it and moves on, perhaps to re-engage later?
Yes. That is one definition. Our attics, garages and basements are filled with old exercise equipment, idle sporting gear and other toys that represented something we thought we valued but don’t anymore.
Is a hobbyist someone who actively pursues a craft but doesn’t take it too seriously?
Yes. That is another definition of the term. Every weekend golf courses are full of duffers who give lip service to the game but do nothing to improve their skills (except for thinking that a different style of clubs will solve the problem of that nasty slice). Yet, they are enjoying themselves despite rhetoric to the contrary.
Is a hobbyist someone who takes up a craft and devotes a significant portion of his or her time to a serious pursuit of it?
Yes. That is yet another and equally valid definition of the term. There are amateur painters who will never earn a single cent from nor any recognition for their work. Yet because of a self-motivated dedication to learning and practice, their skills can be on par with those who are considered to be professionals.
Depending upon who one listens to, model railroading only fits into the first two categories. Whenever the discussion gets too serious, folks whose comfort zone is being stretched too far quickly remind everyone that it’s just a hobby.
It is a hobby; yet it’s hardly a one-size fits all activity. There are certainly those who suffer from bright-shiny-object syndrome. The trainset is received as a Christmas present and begins collecting dust a month later. Maybe it’s rediscovered years later and the old nostalgia comes rushing back, only to fade again in a few months. But who’s to say that the person didn’t have fun while it lasted?
It is also a hobby for those who dedicate a significant amount of time and other resources to the pursuit of it. Something about trains or the hands on aspects resonates deeply, and the satisfaction provided as a result adds tremendous value to the individual’s life. Seen in such light, is it just a hobby? Yes, but I would argue that it can be more for such people.
A simple hobby can be more in the sense of how a person’s view of themselves and the world may change. I would argue that those who pursue a hobby with depth and seriousness of intent might be more engaged with their world than the casual participant. The on-again off-again hobbyist will never understand the depth of experience that the dedicated craftsman knows.
It isn’t a value judgment, or of claiming one path to be better than the other as some wish to unfairly frame it. It’s a matter of understanding and experience. I can read all I want about golf but will never understand golf until I step up to the tee and swing the club. Further, I will never know the depths of golf until I’ve swung that club thousands of times. This is simply how life works.
A hobby is no different. I will never understand the depths of this craft by adopting a casual attitude toward it. I’m not saying that those who do aren’t enjoying their time, only that they may be selling themselves short when it comes to enjoying the full potential this craft can provide.
Railroad modeling is a hobby, whether it is done for mindless entertainment or a life’s work. The choice is in the hands of the individual where it should always be.