I have a lot of hobbies. Some that I dabble in (camping, letter-writing, crafting, cooking) and others that I pursue with rigor (running, writing, soccer, mentoring). I consider any of these activities equally productive uses of my time. I’m more advanced in some than others, but I’m not “world-class” in any.
I often question whether my smorgasboard approach is a good one. If I want to be a notable writer, shouldn’t I spend every free moment drafting, submitting, or agent-finding? If I want to be a runner, shouldn’t I enter and train for marathons? Why am I voluntarily straying off the path of mastery? Shouldn’t I pick one thing and run with it (figuratively, except in the case of running)?
Recently, two things happened that provided me with clarity around my approach that seemingly lacks strategy.
Thing #1: I got injured
I’m currently recovering from bursitis in my right knee after a collision on the soccer field. The (hopefully) 3-week process involves lots of rest (no soccer, no running), ice and aspirin, and rehab exercises. After serious “It could have been worse,” recognition and gratitude, I was overcome with a mild depression — the injury affects my favorite part of my daily routine. I go for a run almost every morning. Some runs are longer than others, and some are faster than others, but they all count.
The first morning after my injury, I woke up when I usually do and simply skipped Morning Routine Step 1 (the run) and went straight to Morning Routine Step 2 (get ready and go to work). Arriving at the office at 7 AM, I realized that, despite having enough work to do, this wasn’t a healthy resolution.
That evening before going to bed, I denied myself the self-pity. Instead of wallowing in the fact that I wouldn’t be getting up the next morning to run, I reminded myself what running means to me: Above and beyond the obvious cardiovascular benefit, it is a mental stabilizer. It allows me to tune in to my physical and mental health — Am I in pain? Am I anxious? Am I content? Am I strong? — before starting the day.
I then took inventory of my other hobbies to identify one that could temporarily replace running. When it came to writing, I recognized that, though it is not currently part of my everyday routine and obviously lacks the physical jolt, it helps me achieve a similar mental balance whenever I do sit down and do it. Writing became my chosen substitute.
For the rest of that week (and for future weeks through my recovery), I spent each morning running words across a page before heading to work.
Thanks to the existence of my buffet of hobbies, I was able to find an alternative when two were taken away. If I had previously written any off, the injury would have left me in a darker hole.
Thing #2: I read a memoir
I started reading Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running shortly before I got injured. After the injury, I considered putting his book aside until I was fully recovered. It’s painful to read a runner’s love notes to his sport when you are unable to participate. It’s tempting to hate him for writing passages like, “I’ve never had a time when my legs hurt so much I couldn’t run. I don’t really stretch much before running, but I’ve never been injured, never been hurt, and haven’t been sick once. I’m no great runner, but I’m definitely a strong runner” (Murakami 40).
But I persisted. I persisted because in many ways, it’s not a book about running. It’s a book about lessons learned from running that have helped Murakami shape his writing and his life. He explains, “Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate — and how much is too much? [. . .] I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different” (Murakami 82).
Skills honed as a runner, such as focus and determination, are ones that Murakami applies when writing as well.
As I read, it was clear to me that I too have hobbies that intersect. Writing and running, of course, in all the ways described by Murakami. But others as well, like soccer and mentoring.
Whenever I sub out of a soccer game, I have the ability to experience the game from an entirely new perspective. I immediately see opportunities that were previously invisible to me (i.e., routine plays by opponents or open space for passing). When I reenter the field, I’m a better teammate and player, making deliberate choices based on what I’m seeing as well as what I wouldn’t have seen before. A few years ago, when I was struggling with the realities of mentoring high school students in a bad school district, I came to the conclusion that, even as a mentor, I needed to think and act like a soccer player on the sidelines. While I can’t change the game first-hand, I can observe from afar, helping students and teachers identify opportunities for improvement that they might not see while in the thick of things.
From Murakami, I learned that having multiple hobbies means I can improve on one while practicing another.
Camp, glamp. Potato, potahto.
From both the realistic perspective (a hobby being taken away from me) and the creative one (hobbies informing one another), there seems to be no reason to eliminate any from my life. It’s nice to dabble, and mastery needn’t always be the goal. Perhaps my perspective would be different if I were truly brilliant at one activity or had specific aspirations as such. But then again, maybe not, if you consider running-enthusiast Murakami to be a great writer.
From marathon writing sessions to realistic mentoring goals, I’m choosing the circuitous path to extra-curricular enlightenment. To be great at anything, after all, you have to go the extra mile.
Ref: Murakami, Haruki and Gabriel, Philip. What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: A Memoir. New York, NY: Vintage, 2009. Print.