Why it’s cool to have a smart hobby

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Do you guys listen to podcasts? I am a podcast fanaaaatic. And, like all rational females, my favourite is Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations. A couple days ago, I had the immense pleasure of listening to Oprah’s latest interview with Sister Joan Chittister – a Benedictine nun, author, activist, and 83-year-old all-around badass. Sister Joan was talking about civil discourse and how we can’t seem to have conversations about important things anymore. Much of her work today focusses on the need for people to stand up and say the truth, rather than entrench themselves in their beliefs and put their heads down.

Well, here’s my truth: I think it’s cool to be smart.

We live in a time where mainstream culture is awfully stupid. This isn’t the first time in human history this has happened (hell, it’s happened a lot, actually…). But we are better than this, people! We are not as stupid as an alien watching our television channels would make us out to be!

Don’t get me wrong – I love me some mindless HGTV now and then, I’m one of those people who still watches Survivor (yes, it’s still on, and it’s still fantastic), and I’ve seen every episode of Friends about 50 million times. I watch gobs of sports and sports commentary. I indulge in the occasional (read: frequent) bullshit comedy starring Kevin James or Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell, even when they’re terrible. I’m not here to make you stop liking fun things that help you relax and that you enjoy, trust me!

But, I think there has been a massive cultural shift away from valuing smart hobbies and interests. There is a pervasive attitude of “who do you think you are?” that pushes intellectualism down and populism up. We see this in well-educated, articulate politicians like Elizabeth Warren being made fun of. We see this in the divide between “values” and “intelligence,” between “book smarts” and “street smarts,” between “real people” and the “ivory tower.” And you know what? It’s allllll bullshit.

It’s cool to have a smart hobby. No matter who you are, where you come from, what you do for a living… doesn’t matter. I don’t know about you, but I love – LOVE – when I meet someone (anyone!) and they are super passionate about something totally oddball. I love when someone knows everything about the Civil War, or how to grow tomatoes, or silent films. Heck, I love when someone is obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, or baseball statistics, or French culture. When someone has a “smart” hobby (which, really, is any hobby that involves passion plus continuous learning), it tells me that that person is awake. They do something they really enjoy that other people might not understand. They find pleasure in something that takes time and effort (but which probably doesn’t feel like effort to them).

Most of all, having a smart hobby means you’re spending time from your one precious life on things that actually matter to you. Smart hobbies are like eating nutritious food instead of filling up on junk. By peppering smart hobbies through your weeks and months and years, you end up adding a whole layer of richness to your life.

So yes, you can keep your reality TV and chick lit (I know I will!). But, also – do two things today. First, follow Sister Joan’s advice and speak your truth. And second, identify something that you could be really, super smart about, and that you could love for years, and spend just 10 minutes reading about it. If it’s your thing, you’ll know.