This coming spring I will turn 37 years old. Maybe it’s the age or the end of the decade, maybe it’s the splash of gray in my hair that I just noticed or recently becoming a father, but I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am in life and where I want to find myself tomorrow or next decade.
I recently had a wonderful realization, a liberating realization. I’m not going to become an astronaut. Nope, it’s never going to happen. Not only that, but I’m not going to become a star athlete, millionaire record-producer, venture-capitalist, scientist inventor of the cure for whatever, or any other dream and expectation that one has growing up. Nope, none of that is going to happen. What I am is a husband, father, brother, writer, dog-owner, and a few other mundane things that I love and enjoy.
One of the benefits of giving up on high expectations is that I can focus and enjoy life and hobbies on a micro-level. I can pick up guitar playing without hoping to become the next Jimmy Page. I can lift weights without the desire to compete and rate myself against professional bodybuilders. When I jog it’s because I enjoy it not because I’m training for the Boston Marathon.
There is a poisonous mindset in our culture that takes every hobby and activity and hyper-professionalizes it. Even video games are professional, you can’t just play a game, you have to be on-line, have to rate on seasonal ranking boards, have to compete and practice for hours, everyone has to stream. Tabletop RPGs are going the same way. You can’t just play with your friends, you have to blog about it, stream your games, monetize monetize monetize.
I fell into this mindset when I was young and gave up two activities I really enjoyed for stupid reasons. In high school and a bit after I used to play guitar. I really enjoyed being in a band, playing gigs, hanging out with friends, but most of all I enjoyed playing the guitar, writing music, learning riffs, and experimenting with equipment. For whatever reason, life, bands breaking up due to school and relationships, the usual, I gave up on playing guitar. I told myself that if I wasn’t going to make money on it I should stop wasting my time. Around that time I did the same thing with art. I used to paint, all the time, every day. Large oil and acrylic paintings. I loved art, but I knew that I would never become an artist, whatever that means, so I quit. I gave up art and music because of the sick mindset in which you don’t engage in activities for pleasure but only for professional profit.
Around the time my wife became pregnant I made a resolution to pick up cooking. Since then I’ve become a somewhat competent amateur cook. I can knock out a few dishes confidently and I’ve taken up summertime grilling where I’ve kicked up some delicious burgers, hot-dogs, chicken, and ribs. Most of all I’ve realized that one can enjoy a hobby without obsessing about being the best. I can cook and grill for myself and my own pleasure.
The realization that I’m not going to be the next top chef, that I don’t want to be discovered and open my own restaurant, that I don’t want to own a food truck and a Netflix show. I just want to cook great food for my family and friends. That’s it, nothing more nothing less. It’s a great feeling and makes the enjoyment of the activity so much more pleasant, a truly relaxing hobby.
This year I’m going to continue cooking. I’m going to up my game and have a lot of fun with it. I’m also going to apply the same mindset to other hobbies. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up a paintbrush.