You're pretty much in control of things going on in your everyday life, right? We all have those first tier responsibilities like work and family to take care of and I doubt you regularly wake up without something to do. Even if there happens to be a day with no responsibility attached, I'm sure you have a few activities to kill the free time, I know I do.
On a day off, I might watch TV, go shopping or do some work around the house and not even think twice about it. We spend our free time doing the things that we think are appropriate for our situation - and that's completely normal. Those are second tier priorities, things we might do when the necessities are taken care of.
A major reason we fall back into these second tier activities is to feel that even though we have nothing that needs to be done, progress is still being made. We find ways to engage with the world around us and then look back on those actions as being a part of our identity, a major part of it in fact. Surely a tendency to be proactive can be a great thing, but how often do we feel uncomfortable when we have nothing to do? Have you ever felt like your free time could use a little more structure? I get that friends and entertainment are universally accepted, but that doesn't make it a good thing.
Whenever I used to get bored, I felt like a ghost, drifting around aimlessly and rattling my chains in an attempt to interact with anyone or anything. I could go out with friends or order pizza and watch all three Mad Max movies in a row but at the end of the day, I still felt like I had wasted my time. I wanted to relax but never felt like I did. Their was a stress that came with not doing anything at all or the exhaustion that came with overextending myself to make myself feel like I had. Silence was too quiet but beer and pizza wasn't cutting it. I needed to strike a balance between feeling productive and mentally unwinding. What I never would have guessed was how critical people would be of my decision to spend more of my free time writing, as if watching an entire season of Hell's Kitchen was what I should be doing.
Before I tried to do something for myself, I was a specter, an identity out of focus and the product of black and white thinking. There was an entire string of excuses for why I couldn't do something and shouldn't even try. I wouldn't fit in there, I'd look stupid here, my family would question my involvement with them and I'd be embarrassed to be seen doing that. I was limiting my choices by shooting down ideas before attempting to understand the value in trying and I was a smaller person for it and without even being asked to, had bent to the will of my peers.
We cage ourselves in even though we have the necessities of life under control and are following a life path of sorts. We give the thoughts of others way too much credit and let fear of their opinion dictate our behavior. We let negative outcomes of prior attempts to find our niche fuel an unreasonable fear of failing future ones. I probably wouldn't be the next world class chainsaw juggler, but why should I care about what other people think if I threw a few hanky sacks in the air on a sunny Saturday afternoon? Our free time demands that we do something that nobody else is.
A lot of people in look at life as a singular chain of events -and to many, I'm sure that's what it looks like. They liked to work on bicycles as kids, cars as teenagers and became mechanics or mechanical engineers when they were adults, but it takes a lot of sacrifice to commit to one thing and that grooming of identity is something we all have a right to do on our own. Only we should have a say in how our free time is spent.
I used to know I would be an artist, actor, architect, writer or any other number of careers that I thought fit my personality because in my free time, I was in theatre, liked to draw, read, write, generally cause mischief in my community and have fun. I liked to shake things up and that mindset has begun to serve me to this day. My parents completely disapproved of all of it and spent the better part of ten years trying to coax me into going into some kind of work in business. It would never happen and that rift exists to this day.
It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I stumbled into psychology (something I had never even considered) and felt like I had found a home. At this point, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. In fact, because I have such a patchwork history of experiences and perspectives (custodian, waiter, financial management, ESL teacher), I can utilize and spin psychological theories from an entirely unique perspective. I made sure that how I understand psychology is my own.
I've worked hard to get where I am but I don't follow trails. I incorporate ideas laterally, applying things learned in psychology to cooking. I don't take a straight path to where I am going, I ooze there and pick up additional information along the way. Learning to assimilate new information is one of the most important things we can learn to do.
We treat the attempts of children to be unique like a gateway drug, the start of a slow decline into mediocrity. We believe that people who sketch in their childhood end up drawing well as teenagers and in audacious defiance of their parents, will want to become artists. When we take such an extremely limited view of life, we forget that with the combination of an extra discipline or two, the artist becomes an architect or product designer. The cook becomes a chef and the salesman becomes a CEO. None of those are certainties, but this culture of shooting one another down for even trying is surely holding a lot of people back.
Our passions are our own and we should fill the time we do find with whatever activity we want, so long as it's ours. No successful career is guaranteed, but to give up, disengage, settle into the couch and flip on the television surely isn't pushing ourself to be worth more than a shrug. Our deliberate avoidance of the unknown is what robs us of growth. Embrace it, reject the common ground where your friends and family meet and go out to discover something new. You might just inspire somebody else to do the same.