Digging through my commonplace book last week, I stumbled across a snippet of conversation I’d transcribed from an episode of the Slate Political Gabfest where two of the hosts—John Dickerson and Jamelle Bouie—were discussing hobbies. John was stressing the importance of having some sort of escape, separate from your work:
“I was talking to a friend who recently told a story about Paul Newman and said basically—Paul Newman, if you met him, hated to talk about acting. The wrong thing to do would be to say, ‘tell me about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’ But if you said anything about car racing, he would be yours for an hour of in-depth conversation about that passion of his. And so this person said, ‘what’s your version of car racing?’ and I was at a loss for an immediate response.”
What is your car racing? Do you have an answer? Probably not.
Rarely do we take the time to truly think about what interests us. Rather, we mechanically move from one task to the next—whether by habit or obligation—without taking the time to stop and consider what we’d like to do. What we’d rather do. What we’d love to do. The thought never occurs.
French author and entrepreneur, Fanny Auger, said something similar in her recent conversation with Jocelyn K. Glei on the Hurry Slowly podcast:
“Jocelyn: So in America as you well know I’m sure, we love to start a conversation by asking someone what they do for work. It’s probably the most common thing that people ask you when they meet you for the first time. I think for Europeans, it seems like it’s easier to talk about hobbies or talk about inspirations or to talk about your interests outside of work. Why do you think Americans have this particular obsession?
Fanny: You know, I’m sorry to say, but I’m not sure. Cause if you ask a French person, he would probably reply as well what his job is or talk about his job. Two weeks ago I followed a very good training about transpersonal psychology, and one of the first questions we were asked was ‘what would you do if you would have no work, if you wouldn’t have to work?’ And most French people present that day were like, ‘Oh my god. I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.’”
One of the (many) disadvantages of our productivity-obsessed culture is that we value doing over thinking. We offer our thoughts for just a penny when, in reality, those thoughts and those hobbies, are what allow us to create the work that brings real value—whether monetary or immaterial. They refresh our creative juices, give us something to write about, and have inadvertent ways of influencing our future (profit-producing) work. As writer Yiyon Li says:
“I think any kind of experience is good for a writer, except sitting at home all the time.”
PS: As I was writing this blog post, I got an email from Squarespace promoting Keanu Reeves’ new Squarespace site about….his motorcycle side-business. How serendipitous.
What’s your car racing? Reply to this email and let me know.