A few years ago I took my first adult ballet class in Pittsburgh. It was intermediate level and a small group of adult women from various walks of life stood at the barre with me. Some had just started ballet lessons in their 40s and 50s, others were former professional dancers, and others–like me–had danced for much of their childhood and early adulthood but ultimately pursued another career. The class ran much like those I took at Boston Ballet as a teen with about 45 minutes or so at the barre, followed by adagio and petite allegro in the centre, ending with leaps and turns on the diagonal. It was familiar in structure, language, and how my body ached in the beautiful way bodies ache when we express their desire to be moved. Even with those things equal, there was something different that I couldn’t put my finger on as I experienced permeating contentment walking back to my car and driving home.
I took a handful of classes that year and the next and, overtime, I developed a newfound appreciation for the hobbies we take on in adulthood. I thought there was something magical about an adult ballet class in which grown-up people who had chosen one thing as a career, were consciously developing themselves in another area. It was so magnificent to me because it seemed purely internally motivated unlike so many things in our lives and society. Something about it was joyful.
Over that same period, I have been reflecting on my own and with my therapist to unpack and begin to dismantle my intense drive to achieve all of the time. I have come to understand this is part of who I am, made even more concentrated by what U.S. society values in its members. This part of me has grown more ingrained over years of academia where individual success is rewarded by high grades, publications, internships, scholarships, and recognition. And, over days, months, and years, my achieving tendencies seeped into most parts of my life.
I continue to hold myself to the highest standard possible in all aspects of my career and, for a long time, at home too. Even when I was not at work, I thought, I should still be working: bettering myself, helping someone else, taking on another job or volunteer opportunity. My yoga practice has helped me appreciate slowing down and being mindful of messages from my body, mind, and spirit as they tell me clearly and directly to take a break from “doing.” Not to mention that my practice teaches me that I have to make space to understand myself and my own mind before I can be present for others anyhow. Yoga has been a big part of what has allowed other parts of who I am to come into balance with my achievement. But the other part of my practice in this area has been my hobbies.
Since I first moved to Pittsburgh when I dropped into ballet classes, my hobbies have changed a little. Now in my free time, I enjoy experimenting with forms of art I never formally studied (mostly drawing and throwing on the wheel), writing, and going to Zumba classes.
In my Zumba class last night, I had a realization about why hobbies in adulthood bring me so much joy. I love my Zumba class for many reasons including that it helps me connect with my new neighbors, it creates space for me move my body, and I enjoy it! But, most of all, it is an hour or two every week that the part of me focused on achieving shuts off entirely. I don’t do it to lose weight, I do it because it’s fun. I do not need to be the best because there would be no rationale for being the best in a Zumba class anyhow (what would that even look like?!). I do not need to professionalize my experience of it. And I do not need to critique or improve it or myself in any way to participate. It just is.
I know that always striving for high-quality is one piece of who I am and being ambitious is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Some of it is internal and some external and I’m still working on disentangling the two in my life. But, most importantly, I’m embracing the understanding that this one piece of myself it is not the entirety of who I am. Hobbies are critical for me because they give me practice tuning into and out of this whole achievement thing. And the more practice I have with that, the more joy I will experience in my life. Hobbies in adulthood remain pretty cool for the reasons I thought as first, but the relief from achievement is the real reason walking back to my car after ballet or Zumba or ceramics makes for bliss.
*In the interest of practicing tuning into and out of “this whole achievement thing,” I am publishing this post without spending too much time rethinking, tweaking, and perfecting. Cheers! Enjoy the weekend!*