Atmosphere

Just Do It

Seeking a true leisure activity—and a little bit of Zen.

June 2011

You know that place you go to quiet your mind? Maybe it’s your Zen place, or your no-strings-attached place, or your doing-this-just-for-me place. Well, recently I’ve been wondering if a place like that even exists for me—and, more important, how I can create one.

It all began when I had to interview a bunch of strangers about their personal lives. Over and over, I’d ask: “Do you have a secret hobby or talent?” I thought it was a throwaway question: I mean, what busy, not-enough-hours-in-the-day professional really has time for a legitimate hobby beyond traveling or reading?

As it turned out, all of them did. “I love horseback riding.” “I’m learning to play the banjo.” “I’m a treasure hunter at estate sales.” Seriously? Are these people just overachievers? I mentally reviewed what I knew about my own friends and colleagues when the laptops snap shut for the weekend: They paint. They garden. They fly-fish and brew their own beer. Everyone, it seemed, had a side project going on. And so I worried: Why don’t I have a real hobby? Am I missing out on some serious soul satisfaction?

It’s not that I don’t have interests. Never once have I found myself on the couch, bored, wondering what to do next. More often, I wish there were about three more days in every week so I could shrink my to-do list and still have time to relax. With a job that demands multitasking to the nth degree and post-work social engagements aplenty, the Monday through Friday grind flies by without time for reflection. And while weekends are often packed with ski trips or hiking excursions—I’ve even trained for, and run, a couple of marathons—these things aren’t really hobbies in a conventional sense. They’re more like Colorado rites of passage. Most people I know dabble in them in addition to their other leisure pursuits.

It’s funny, really. When I was a kid, I was all about the extracurriculars: I took figure skating, drawing classes, gymnastics, flute lessons—you name it. I was always up to my elbows in some arts-and-crafts project or searching for the perfect item to complete some obscure collection. I loved the feeling of achievement, of seeing that finished product and recalling my efforts. In fact, that results-oriented mentality has grown more prominent over the years: I naturally balk at things I’m not good at because I know those activities won’t yield something I can hang on my walls or show off to my friends.

And maybe that’s the problem, the reason I can’t seem to locate that quiet “place,” or why I’ve never picked up that guitar gathering dust in the corner of the bedroom. A hobby doesn’t necessarily require a goal. It’s not really about the final outcome; it’s more a way to get out of your head, to escape the chaos and stress of daily life. Whether it’s an hour or an afternoon or just a few minutes, that time is a way for you and you alone to decompress, refresh, or just stay sane. You don’t need to validate that time or prove that you used it productively.

So therein lies my challenge: unlearning that goal-centered mentality. Allowing myself the space to do something without necessarily needing to finish it or produce tangible results. I had been concerned that I don’t beeline to my home pottery studio on Saturday mornings, or spend my Sundays tinkering with my bicycle collection—as if maybe that makes me less of a well-rounded person. But really, it’s not that I wish I did those things; I’m not missing out on an actual hobby, I’m missing out on the “me time.” I know I’ll never be an artist or a chef or a jewelry designer, and that’s OK. I don’t need to be the best. I just need to hit the off button and let myself enjoy the simple process of doing. Doesn’t matter what, really: refinishing my antique vanity, planting flower boxes for the balcony, taking my camera out to the park. I’ll try them all, no expectations, no results needed. Zen, here I come.