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Since I was a little boy, I have always been fascinated by model trains. As I advanced in age, I mastered the art of model train assembly and have gone on various trips around the country to show off my collections and to examine others.

However whilst I derive much satisfaction from this hobby, I have always hid it from my coworkers as if it were something to be embarrassed about.

My family was much more of the athletic-fandom variety:

No Dad, I don't care how many more rings Tom Brady has than Big Ben please keep your American football anecdotes for other company

and never appreciated how much skill was needed for model trains.

I am afraid that my coworkers will feel the same way. I do not wear my model train apparel to work after an incident at an old company. I worked remotely for years but now I am required to come into the office more frequently.

Is there a way I can subtlely bring up model trains and suss out an ill feelings towards the subject matter?

I was considering reserving a conference room and setting up a small train exhibit as a way to build morale and also find out if there are any other fellow amateur conductors in my midst.

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    Why do you think it is necessary they respect your hobby? How does a train display build morale. – paparazzo Dec 28 '17 at 20:49
  • What are "handegg anecdotes"? Considering the reference to Big Ben, I'm guessing this is a UK term I haven't heard in the US. – Joe Dec 29 '17 at 0:20
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    @Joe: Outside the US, "football" means soccer. "Handegg" is a snarky name for American football. (See english.stackexchange.com/questions/215399/what-s-a-handegg for more info.) – cHao Dec 29 '17 at 0:24
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    "I do not wear my model train apparel to work after an incident at an old company.: What is "model train apparel"? Did you go into your office dressed as a train conductor? Would you consider it reasonable for someone to come to work dressed as an American Football player? – terdon Dec 29 '17 at 12:23
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    What kind of industry and profession is it? Among enginners (software in particular) it would not be odd — TMRC is part of our cultural herritage. – JDługosz Dec 30 '17 at 6:05

13 Answers 13

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No Dad, I don't care how many more rings Tom Brady has than Big Ben please keep your handegg anecdotes to uncivilized company

I find it strange you’re expecting acceptance and respect for your hobby, yet showing scant regard for other people’s—particularly family’s—pastimes and interests.

At the end of the day, what a person does in their own time as a hobby or to relax is their business (so long as it stays within the law). It’s not up to you to convince others to accept it or embrace it. If you enjoy something then you enjoy it; no one can tell you otherwise.

For example, I’m (at time of writing) 28 but I still follow professional wrestling. It’s one of things deemed as “for kids” and people are quick to point out to me, “But it’s fake?!” But I still watch it and attend live events. I just don’t advertise it. If I find out someone else is also a fan then that’s great. But more times than not, it leads to slight teasing. It’s something I’ve come to expect, and something I just own and laugh off if people do find out and want to tease me for it.

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    If you want to have a discussion about how fake or real wrestling is, please do it in chat. Comments should only be used to ask for clarification or suggest improvements to posts. – Catija Jan 2 '18 at 18:34
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    This exactly. People will almost certainly have more respect for what you find interesting if you don't show such blatant contempt for things they find interesting that you don't. I have some interest in model trains (US O-gauge, FWIW), but no matter how interested I might be, if you also want to call my interest in football (both varieties) something as condescending as "uncivilized", then you should probably expect nothing better than a negative reception on all fronts. – KJ Seefried Jan 3 '18 at 5:02
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    That comment about American football seemed like the crux of the issue to me as well, OP seems to expect people to only share their interests with people who share them, but that's not how polite conversation really works, people use their hobbies as framing devices for their conversations, or simply to share their excitement for something. If he wants respect for his hobby, I think he should reciprocate, or if he's expecting everyone to simply keep their hobbies to themselves, including him, I think he has unrealistic expectations. – Faceplanted Jan 27 '18 at 5:39
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    I got the impression that the football quote was an unvoiced expression of the OP's frustration — something that would go through his mind in response to the subject coming up again and again at home — rather than something the OP would actually say to his father or to anyone else, nor a real expression of contempt. – Gaultheria Jun 8 '18 at 1:00
  • @Gaultheria Doesn’t matter if OP vocalised it or not, the point still stands: you can’t expect people to take your vocations seriously if you don’t respect others’. – Martin Bean Jun 8 '18 at 8:13
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You'd be surprised at how little most people care about most things. Model trains isn't a weird hobby, as long as you don't make it your entire life or something; tell most people offhandedly about it (only if the topic drifts there!), and they'll generally be like "oh, cool", or "oh, cool!". Their enthusiasm (or lack thereof) is your clue as to whether to continue on that topic.

Don't push or overshare -- that really weirds people out.

And frankly, that seems like it might be the real problem here.

Your hobbies are something you do on your own time. They aren't generally a topic of conversation with people who don't share your interest, and the more you share with "outsiders", the more put off and/or weirded out they'll generally get. Bringing your trains to work and doing an exhibit, without having been directly asked to, is not something you should even be considering. This is work, not show and tell.

As for finding other people who share your interest, there are more subtle ways. Every subculture inherently has some memes that insiders will pick up on and outsiders won't. I don't know anything about the model train community (other than that there definitely is one), but in your case, you could maybe wear a small pin with a well-known logo on it. The current Lionel logo doesn't even hint that it's about trains, but anyone who's into the hobby is likely to recognize it.

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    Good suggestion about the logo pin. I've got a tie-tack that reads "rec.games.pinball," which only means something to people who both love pinball and remember the days of "usenet groups" – Carl Witthoft Jan 3 '18 at 14:01
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Normally, this isn't the answer I would give for such situations, but this one comes from personal experience.

As a huge fan of Pokemon in my mid 20s, I get a lot of flak from co-workers. I used to get a ton from family too, but I took an important step to fix this:

Own It.

Like I said, not normally my advice. But for so innocent a hobby as studying Pokemon or building model trains, this is a great way to handle things. Now, how you own it is a huge deal as to whether you're annoying or not.

For example, if all I did was talk about Pokemon, people would hate me. I'd be obnoxious as hell. Instead, I only bring up Pokemon in a few select cases:

  1. Talking to another Pokemon fan about the games. Naturally, this is 100% okay. Talking to a fellow enthusiast, so long as it's not interrupting anything super important for either of you, is never wrong!

  2. Someone else brings it up. I have Pokemon plushies on my desk here at work. This shows my enjoyment of the franchise without forcing others to have to do more than occasionally see them on my desk. They aren't my only decoration, they aren't in the way, they're just there. It'd be like walking around wearing a bright pink hat: No one has a real reason to complain if it's not hurting them. But it also gives people the chance to ask questions, indicate their shared interest, or even make small jokes. Own those jokes, roll with it. It both makes it okay to talk about this hobby and may help you make friends. (Of course, bullying is not okay, but an occasional joke is absolutely fine and can even indicate that the joker is fine with your hobby but just not into it themselves.)

  3. When a joke makes sense, and isn't intrusive. On occasion, I'll make a Pokemon joke. For example, the other day we were discussing how to explain something to our clients so that they know what we mean and what to expect. After a bit of discussion, I jokingly offered to make a demo for my boss to help. He asked how, I answered, "Why, I'll model it out of Pokemon of course!" And this got a laugh from my coworkers. It was a decent joke as we had just moved desks in the office, and my Pokemon had only just gone back up. This joke also didn't force itself in- It had a clear opening, and if my boss hadn't asked how I'd make a demo, I wouldn't have made the joke. If any of my coworkers got annoyed, I'd be careful about making that joke (or any others) again, at least for a good while.

As cHao pointed out, wearing a small logo or button or such is a great way to invite conversation without forcing it on people. If people make jokes, but aren't bullies or don't make you uncomfortable, it doesn't necessarily mean they don't respect your hobby; more than likely, they just don't understand.


HUGE disclaimer: This will not work for everyone. If you can't handle jokes or laughter, which will likely be most frequent when you first announce your interest in a subject, this strategy will only make you uneasy. If you can handle the jokes for a couple weeks, you should be able to handle this well. Not only that, but you may even be able to pave the way for a more shy/reserved coworker to open up about the interest!

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    Even with your disclaimer I think this is the perfect solution; I know a handful of professionals that have their personal hobbies - some 'mature', and some not - and the ones that are most comfortable and easygoing about it are the ones that have the 'own it' attitude. I met, of course, some that were insecure or ashamed of their own hobbies, and that's when things went downhill. (Of course, it helps if you're on a respectful professional environment that understands how awesome model trains are.) – OnoSendai Dec 28 '17 at 23:36
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    @Issel If a workplace is so uptight that I can't even decorate my desk with what interests me, or what makes me happy, or what have you... I'm not sure I want to work there. Now, don't get me wrong, there is a limit where it gets rediculous, but a couple of Pokemon plushies is not that limit. If I were told I was not allowed to have these on my desk, I'd pitch a fit until no one could have anything not work related on their desk. It's not unprofessional to decorate your desk. It's not unprofessional to have conversations, so long as it is not interfering with anyone's work. – Kendra Dec 29 '17 at 20:14
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    @Issel I think to somewhat address your point, this may not apply to all workers, especially customer facing employees. But for your run of the mill office worker this is totally appropriate: As long as it doesn't interfere with your work or create a hostile work environment, you do you. I have one thing I keep on my desk that is mine (mainly so it doesn't look unoccupied, I'm not a big decorator), but others desks are (almost literally) covered in figurines, pictures, widgets, etc. It depends on your corporate culture, but it's increasingly uncommon these days to restrict personal expression. – TemporalWolf Dec 29 '17 at 21:01
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    @Kendra Excellent response. I think this sums up all concerns and addresses most viewpoints, as well. Humans are not just cogs in a machine. They have soul and it desires expression and individuation. The modest manner in which that expression is demonstrated in your example of a few plushies on the desk (not the whole darned collection!) is more helpful to emotional and mental health of the worker, and therefore, makes for a better cubicle worker. – Eric Hepperle - CodeSlayer2010 Dec 30 '17 at 17:10
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    @Issel, "You never know what gives an appearance of being less than professional." Yes, and I never know what I may do or say which might offend someone in theory, but I'm not going through life attempting to avoid all possible sources of potential offense. Your boss having had a boyfriend as you described would be the boss's issue and the boss would be unprofessional to be treating you differently as a result. – eques Jan 2 '18 at 17:30
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No one else needs to be aware of your personal hobbies. If your workplace is unrelated to trains (e.g. you don't work in a shipping yard) it's unlikely that anyone will have strong opinions either way on your hobby.

If it should come up in conversation (i.e. coworkers are talking about what they do outside of work and you're asked) just say "I assemble model trains". If people ask about it, share. If the topic is changed that's a polite way for people to say they're not interested. It doesn't mean they think less of you, they are just unable to relate to this particular hobby.

Finally consider that watching and following sports may be your father's hobby and if you don't want to listen to him or others talk about sports, you shouldn't expect them to want to listen about your model trains.

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Your coworkers do not need to know your hobbies. They are yours, and if you think it'll come off in a negative light, then just keep it to yourself. Personally, I wouldn't bring it up, but if a coworker asked what I did over the weekend I might say "Oh, well, I really like to work on models. Model cars, airplanes, trains. It's fun because I like the detail that goes into finished product. Right now I'm working on several trains." Being obsessed over trains in particular might seem peculiar, but expressing models as a general hobby would likely go over well.

Whatever you do, do not setup a demonstration in the conference room. I don't see how you don't see this goes directly against your goals of not weirding out your coworkers.

As a side note: Referring to other people's interest in Football as "Hand Egg" is just drenched in the "M'lady" cringe worthy attitudes. Drop all of that, and show at least a small bit of interest, ask a few questions about your families interest just because it's polite and easy to do. I would suggest Dale Carnegie's "How to win friends and influence people".

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Nobody needs to know about your hobbies, unless they ask you about a hobby. Then I would say, "I spend crazy hours making model trains and layouts. Do you have a hobby?"

And leave it at that, turning the question back to them. If they want to know more they will ask for it, otherwise, they will tell you about their hobby. If they are into model trains you've got them hooked, if they know somebody into model trains, they'd probably tell you about them, and might matchmake a meeting for you, to find a fellow enthusiast.

One of my sisters is an artist, she can draw photo-realistic images of people, faces, hands, feet, clothed or not, in movement or not. She doesn't sell anything, but she draws three or four hours every day. If you ask her what her hobby is, she'll say "I like to draw people and animals." That's it. Her coworkers don't know she is an artist.

Don't be obsessed with yourself, nobody has to "respect" your hobby. What they should respect is that you play in your spare time the same way they play in theirs. And that is what you should respect too, instead of expressing disdain for those that use their spare time to watch sports. You have wasted just as many hours of your life on you fun as they have of theirs on their fun. Perhaps you've wasted more!

Nobody has to even know about your hobby. Other than the one liner above, nothing more need be said. Once you have advertised your interest, it either hooks their interest or doesn't. If it doesn't, let it fade from their awareness.

5

What's to say your current coworkers don't respect your hobby?

At my last job, I would occasionally see flyers inviting us to come to a model train club and it had a coworker's contact information on it. If you're in any clubs or have any upcoming events, perhaps you could advertise it if your work has a bulletin board and put your name as a contact point for further information.

If someone contacts you or comes to the event, great--you found someone with the same hobby. If no one does, perhaps they simply don't share that hobby with you but it doesn't necessarily mean they disrespect it.

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Why does it matter?

Although you have posed a legitimate question it also begs the question to be asked of, "why does it even matter?" Which, personally, I find to be a much more compelling question.

We all have a need to be validated and liked. It's part of our social fabric and perhaps, part of our DNA. We are a social animal and to be liked increases our chances of mating and continuing our genetic material. Continuity is a key component and driver for every animal species on the planet. We eat so we can grow so that we can mate. It's as a simple as that.

Underlying that matrix of drivers is a desire to be liked. If others approve us then a possible mate will see our 'approval rating' with our social group and possibly consider engaging in mating in order to pass on their genetic material, together, you both move onto the sunset doing whatever your specific species does with offspring.

So ultimately, why does it matter?

Family Acceptance

Well, we want our families to accept us. It gives us the validation we require in order to show confidence. Confidence is an import aspect of roaming the planet. It allows to attempt to do things we may not have otherwise. Plus, these our individuals that are frequently part of our daily routing and their acceptance drives our own self esteem which again is a key component of confidence. It only makes sense that you would strive for the acceptance. You show many of the signs of low self esteem. You promote your activity as an active agent of the activity. This, in many studies, is off putting. Especially if the individual being advertised the activity is completely uninterested. Your lack of interest in others activity, you mention sports, shows a privileged position of entitlement. Your not interested in your families activity and you actively demote the credibility of what they enjoy yet you expect acknowledgement. Expecting something is a clear sing of being entitled. This is a dangerous place to be in the mating game and the behavior can spill into a lack of attractiveness that may inhibit your ability to consummate intercourse and complicate your active desire and need to mate and continue your genetic material into the future.

Professional Acceptance

It's curious that you would want to contaminate your professional landscape with a personal love and hobby. It would seem that simply talking about how you love trains for a short period of time at lunch with new individuals would be enough for you to advertise that you are interested in the topic and allow people to gravitate to you at will rather than an active and energetic advertisement of your passion in a break room. You may be setting yourself up for disappointment if you are unable to attract others with your passion. I would imagine the demographic of train'o'philes is rather small per capita and you may not have a large enough statistical population base to find someone of similar beliefs.

This could be dangerous for your self esteem and confidence at work if others do not engage in your level of passion. You may end up feeling isolated and possibly humiliated if an aggressive alpha were to tease you in front of someone you like. This could cause irreparable confidence issues for you at work which is a place where confidence would typically be a key ingredient for success.

A Different Approach

I would suggest finding a club where there are people as passionate as you related to your subject matter. You will find a group if you search. This will allow you from attempting to 'turn' people in your life into passionate train buffs and allow you to completely disengage from the emotion hurdle of gaining acceptance in that fashion.

You can then focus on the positive aspects of what you love and enjoy with people who also love and enjoy your passion. You will not have to deal with the fear and anxiety of gaining others acceptance of the hobby as legitimate because you will be surrounded by people who legitimize the hobby by simply showing up to share their hobby.

I hope this helpful to you and I hope you understand the message I am attempting to convey in my feeble words. You are worth more than chasing acceptance. Go to where you will find it and you will thrive.

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I don't think anyone should have any problem with your train collection hobby until and unless you are trying to force it on them. And anyway why bother telling them about your hobby? The only two reasons I could think of someone asking for your hobby, specially a coworker, is they are either interested in you and want to know more about your life, your likes and interests or you have a birthday coming up and some coworker wants to gift you something but have no idea what to gift and asking you for your hobby.

Seriously I have never come across a situation when a coworker out of nowhere asked for your hobby for no reason. And you too don't need to announce it to anyone and even if someone knows why should you care whether they accept it or not until and unless you are doing in office time? Its what you do in your own time and like doing it.

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If you are afraid of what coworkers might think, and withholding your hobby in (perceived) shame, your coworkers are going to react to the fear and anxiety you present. That's not good.

Show off your model trains in ways that make them look good, even to the untrained eye. Put them in glass display cases, preferably with external validation of how good they are (news clippings, award ribbons, or whatever you have). Put those in plain sight and wait. You'll eventually have a person ask about them, and that is the appropriate time to share.

And, as others have said, nobody will want to bolster your spirits if you've trashed their hobbies or enjoyments. Find something interesting in their past times, without upstaging them with your past time. That interest can be the interest of a complete novice; but, remember that you are fostering positive lines of communication more than you are becoming a (insert sport here) fan.

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I think a little self-deprecation always works. You can just say, "yeah, it's kind of weird, but I'm really into model trains". For example, I'm 40, but I tend to be into things that 80-year-old women are stereotypically into: genre mysteries, mystery tv shows, British TV shows, vintage clothing, old music, etc. So if any of that comes up, I just say "I love that show, but I'm an old lady!" or "I love drinking my tea and watching Miss Marple like an old lady" - that shows that (a) I'm not ashamed or about to stop, (b) I know it's not everyone's hobby, it's my thing, and (c) it sort of deflects or acknowledges what the listener might be thinking ("isn't that an old lady thing?"), and shows I have a sense of humour about it. At that point, someone like you could reply, "Oh yeah? I get it. I'm really into model trains. I guess I stayed a kid!"

So, you can always say, with a sense of humour, with a genuine smile/positivity: "I come from a football family, but I'm the kid who's stuck to his model trains", or "I'm part of this weird subculture that's into model trains. Yup. Grown men, little trains. It's intense!" Everyone's into something and people are pretty understanding of it, as long as you allow for the natural feeling of surprise that might arise initially and accept it, rather than be on the defensive.

0

Sounds like your secrecy is part of what drives your desire to be seen and recognized for your passion. Take it slowly, one step at a time along what other people have said about casually mentioning it, or putting one little train piece on your desk (if acceptable). Most people already have so much going on anyways that they might not have the mental or emotional energy to get more into your hobbies than that.

If you start asking people about their own hobbies to learn more about them, you might be surprised at how much you have in common. Not the hobby itself, but maybe someone is building a replica of the Taj Mahal in Minecraft, and they'd share the necessary patience and attention to detail that you have. Or maybe they have a fantasy football league that they constantly crunch numbers for, and that's not so dissimilar either.

It can feel pretty darn validating to just tell someone about your hobby, have that acknowledged, and keep rolling; you don't need to induct them wholeheartedly into your secret universe.

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It sounds like, based on your dismissive "I'm better than you" treatment of football hobbyists, that the real problem is you don't know how to treat others with respect. The problem is that for 70% or so of people if you treat them badly then when given the chance they are going to treat you badly too. This sounds like the problem.

If you come off as a, arrogant, elitist, deplorable person, and then bring up something that could be taken two ways ('oh that's interesting, what a youthful hobby', or 'you pathetic blah blah') and the people are the ones that don't like you, then its no surprise which option they will choose. No one is dismissive of the really friendly nice person at work with the odd hobby. They are of the person they don't like. You set the frame of how your hobby is received and whether people will want to make fun of you, or accept the hobby as you just being you.

Your hobby is not popular, and not mainstream. This is not a big deal. Everyone has some kind of hobby that is a little strange (some have mentioned anime, video gaming, table top games, model anything, video game design, fanfiction writing, and so on). For the most part no one will care what you are interested in so long as its not harmful to others. But if they are very obviously not interested then stop sharing, because that is when it gets annoying. And definitely don't publicly announce your hobby to everyone unsolicited. No matter what your hobby is (it could be football which is socially acceptable), it is just inappropriate to draw everyone's attention to you during work for something related to your private life. It will have a negative reception. If I stood up in work and said I love FOOOOOTTTBAAALLLLL, you know I'm going to be made fun of for the rest of my time there. I will probably also make someone mad.

My suggestion is bring your hobby up in conversation once in a while, with the coworkers you get along with. If they are not interested then drop it and don't bring it up again. Your hobby is rare so you might never find anyone. Which is just life. Work is work. You can find hobbyists in your private life easy enough (make a group on meetup.com, try reddit, etc etc).

So be nice. Be respectful.

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