I used to be a master juggler. Granted, it wasn’t with pins or chainsaws (though for a while I was pretty decent with balls), but rather hobbies. My apartment was full of books detailing all sorts of interesting computer programming topics and drawing techniques, cooking equipment to make all sorts of foodstuffs, video games related to my favorite gaming genres (fantasy/sci-fi roleplaying), knickknacks showcasing my taste in the quirky, countless liquor bottles capable of delicious libation combinations, and computer hardware stuffed with games and projects and stories and who knows what else. All of these things served to feed my wide-ranging list of hobbies, all of which I kept juggled in the air simultaneously. Because, after all, having a bunch of hobbies is a great thing, right? And to have all these hobbies, you need all the accoutrements that go with them, right? Books to inspire programming and new drawing ideas, kitchenware to inspire culinary creations, games to draw you in, liquor to throw parties, and computers to engorge in all the wonders of the internet.
However, eventually I began to realize that, despite having all the trappings of a man with many hobbies and paying myself plenty of lip service to said hobbies, there were really only a few I actively pursued on a regular basis. I was juggling twenty balls at once, but I only ever paid any real attention to a fraction of them; the rest just fluttered around in the air, putting on a nice show but not much else beyond causing a persistent, dull mental anguish as I was constantly reminded of how I was largely ignoring them.
So I tried something crazy: I let them all fall to the ground.
Free from the distraction of trying to keep far too many balls in the air at once, I got a chance to take a good hard look at what I was juggling and determine what I was actually spending the majority of my time on outside of usual things like work and sleep. While many of the hobbies (writing, drawing, coding) were appealing and things I really enjoyed, the hard truth was that I was simply not spending any meaningful time actually doing them. So, I simply removed those balls from the pile… not to permanently extinguish them from my life, but to be honest with myself and realize that, at present, they were just not top priority. I’m sure I’ll swap them back in at some point in my life, but that is just not today.
What remained were hobbies that consumed much of my time, though that didn’t necessarily mean they were meaningful or worthwhile. Indeed, I wound up removing half of those so I could better focus on the remainder.
The first ball that went was liquor, specifically my well-stocked liquor cabinet. Over the years the frequency by which I threw wild parties at my place or brought my cabinet over to others’ wild parties dwindled to practically zero, and the appeal of all those expensive bottles was just no longer there. Around that time I had injured my ankle, so while doing my nightly physical therapy stretches I slowly but systematically drained my entire cabinet (and experimented with a lot of weird liquor mixes along the way, whew!). Now I keep just one or two bottles of decent stuff for close company and special occasions, which allows me to enjoy the occasional drink all the better.
Next to go were video games, or most of them anyway. I used to play a lot of Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends, and while I enjoyed those (many, many) hours quite a bit, I never felt particularly fulfilled or that those (many, many) hours had been spent as effectively as I could and should have spent them. That being said, three games did (and continue to) provide a lot of value. Nethack, a roguelike dungeon crawler originally released in 1987, is still in active development to this day and provides endless intrigue of such wonderful complexity and depth through a wonderfully basic interface (usually a mere terminal). Then there’s Undertale, a very unique and masterful twist on the traditional RPG that, if you let it, can really get into your head and make you feel wonderful or like the most despicable monster imaginable (or both). Unlike Nethack that is always a new adventure each time, Undertale is relatively fixed (emphasis intentional, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet played it) and can be finished in 10-20 hours or so… but let me tell you, I spent a lot more than 10-20 hours thinking about the emotions it brought up.
The last game is one I’ve raised to the level of a core hobby: Dance Dance Revolution, or more specifically, a particular clone of it called In the Groove. I first played DDR in 2002 during my freshman year of college and it quickly became a regular pastime that blended physical exercise, foot-eye coordination, and music. After graduation I played it off and on from time to time, but then around 2012 I really started to get back into it seriously. These days, it’s part of my regular weekly workout routine, right up there with the final hobby I found myself spending a lot of time on…
…which is running. My brother introduced me to this sport back in 2013, and since then I’ve had the itch. These days I’m averaging about 40 miles per week; I’ll be doing my third marathon in a couple weeks and recently completed my first ultramarathon (a 50k trail run in the hills). Some days I really look forward to getting out and hitting the all-purpose trails through my local batch of the Cleveland Metroparks, while other days it’s a struggle to just lace up and leave my apartment. Even when I’m less than enthusiastic, though, I’m always happy afterward.
So, when all was said and done, only two balls remained (DDR/ITG and running) from the previously hectic pile. And, as anyone who juggles can tell you, one doesn’t usually “juggle” two balls beyond basic practice or as a filler while other tricks are going on. So instead of juggling, I’m now living these activities with greater passion and focus than I could afford previously. And, you know, I don’t feel regret in having dropped everything else to do so. Simplifying and streamlining where my focus and attention get directed has allowed me to really weave these activities into my core being, and I feel great that they’re activities that go beyond mere pastimes and provide tangible physical and psychological benefits as well (I feel in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and I’ve made new friends in the process). One day I’m sure I’ll hang up my running shoes and my DDR shoes (yes, they’re different shoes) and pick up another ball or two from storage and integrate them into my life. But until then I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, and I won’t be juggling as I tear down those trails.