Grown-Up Hobbies

Dr. Sarah Marie Story
8 min readMar 13, 2023

Do you ever feel boring?

If you’re reading this, I’ll venture to guess you’re a hard worker. ELGL tends to attract ambitious, successful people. You are the type of person who is proud of your work and devoted to servant leadership. I have a hunch you’re also the type of person to do for others before you do for yourself, and so you might find yourself in a similar boat as I was in late 2022. I was post-wedding, post-honeymoon, in a new job, and realizing that I felt… slumpy. This is a word I just made up, but apparently, Grammarly has not decided it’s a nonsense word, so I’m just gonna go for it.

With all the excitement in my life, I still felt unmoored. I was, on paper, successful and fulfilled. I was mentally healthy, emotionally steady, and a contributing member of society. I did things that looked great on a CV when I wasn’t working — civic commitments and volunteer positions. But, I dreaded the question I knew would come in my new job as I met new people:

“What do you do for fun?”

Put another way: “what are your hobbies?”

How does an adult answer this?!?

Reading? Is that a hobby? Walking my dog and teaching her not to bark at people? Watching Law and Order: SVU? Watching Law and Order: Organized Crime? Sometimes doing a dance performance at church? I’m on a 165-day streak on Duolingo?

The fear that this potential question struck in my heart led me to self-reflect seriously. Did I really have to be on all these boards and commissions? I enjoyed serving, but what if I took the time to do something consistently for myself that had little to no bearing on my future professional opportunities? This was a scary prospect. I have a terrible habit of operating in a doom-and-gloom, scarcity mindset regarding my career. It’s as if, at any moment, I might get laid off. So these professional connections will magically produce the next job without even a whisper of a gap in my paychecks.

But something had to be done. As Drake said, “I’m really too young to be feeling this old.” So, stepping out on faith, I quit some things and made space for new things that would come. I’d already terrified myself by learning to surf , but since I live in landlocked Kansas City, this wouldn’t be “my thing” any time soon.

I didn’t have to wait long until my hobby calendar started filling up. Miraculously, in the same week, I was accepted into a docent training program at our local contemporary art museum was asked to design and teach a free fitness class for women. For good measure, I also started taking a Musical Theater dance class, reliving my high school and college glory days, where I was always cast as the funny sidekick who sang in an accent to make up for my very narrow vocal range.

Teaching about art and teaching about burpees are very similar. You have to know the fundamentals, stand in front of a group of strangers, and hope they don’t ask you something to which you don’t know the answer. There is a copious amount of sweating in all of these hobbies. You have to be highly attuned to the room’s vibe, be on the lookout for confusion, and overdo the passion so that your energy is contagious.

Where I thought hobbies would just be some sort of extracurricular pursuit I do as a cute break from growing professionally, it turns out that I’m learning more from these “fun things” than I expected. In fact, they’re making me a better human and a better worker-UGH! Can I just have without learning life lessons?!?

Lesson 1: Control your breath

The one thing I underestimated when teaching my first fitness class was the absolute hilarity that ensues when trying to work out alongside folks motivate them without panting. Attempting to demo a new move while recovering from what you just made everyone do and pointing out all the biomechanical adjustments they need to make is HARD. It’s the same feeling I get when formulating a complex thought at work or standing on a stage making a presentation. My class doesn’t want to see a leader who sounds like they’re one squat-thrust away from death’s door-they want someone calm under pressure, who works hard, but has control over their body. I’ve benefited greatly in all aspects of my life from daily breath control exercises designed for pro athletes. I also started singing out loud while jogging with my dog every day, working on keeping my heart rate steady and voice clear. This has the added benefit of dissuading strangers from starting a conversation with me and my scary-looking dog.

Lesson 2: Question Things

As part of my tour guide training at the museum, I must take 8 weeks of Modern Art History courses. Every Saturday, I sit in the museum for 3 hours and re-learn everything I studied in college. It’s heaven. The crazy thing is that while the art hasn’t changed, I definitely have. Where once a 19-year-old Sarah found some artists eccentric and charming, 41-year-old Sarah found them grating and misogynist. In a way, it was kind of heartbreaking to lose some of that hero worship. Conversely, I started to have a new, more profound appreciation for other artists I had dismissed. It also made me think about the broader structures at play: the wealthy patrons, the politics, technology, literature, religion, sexism, classism, colonialism, and the role of cultural “tastemakers” in shaping what was considered “real art.” It’s like a lightbulb turned on, exploded, and ignited my brain. Every Saturday night, I end up staying up too late, falling into an internet black hole about Abstract Expressionism, and likely annoying my whole family with gems like “did you know it was a suburban housewife who inspired Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and yet was the one who made it famous?!?” I feel alive and curious in a way that spills over to all parts of my life, and if that’s not the opposite of boring, I don’t know what is.

Lesson 3: Focus on your core

Everything comes back to your core muscles. Running, stretching, weight training, yoga… it’s all about the very center of your body. Often, the women in my class will say, “I want abs,” and I’ll tell them to just go eat a sweet potato and drink a coconut water. Your core is the part of your body you can not see — abs are just what the outside world gets to see in the summer. Yet, the core of our and our are the things we hold dear that are unwavering and immovable. This is why I find myself saying quietly (to myself) during a challenging work project or conversation, “check your core.” I say it often in fitness class when we are doing a move that might not like core work, but it definitely is. Am I strengthening the innermost parts that will keep me aligned and safe? Am I staying balanced and authentic to my principles? The practice is the same whether it’s a sit-up at the gym or a sit-down talk in the office.

Lesson 4: Leaders give choices

When I tell someone to do a push-up, I don’t go over to them and physically hold them while they do it exactly how I would do it. That would be strange and possibly illegal. Instead, I show them options and trust them enough to make the right choice for their goals. I urge them to level up, but I pull back if I see them struggling in a harmful way. In an art tour, I wouldn’t answer the question “is this blob of paint actually good art?” from a visitor by saying, “yes, of course, and now… let’s move on to the next piece.” Instead, I would inquire as to their motivations, try to pull out their own line of thinking, offer alternative answers, and help them come to their own realizations. I want to be the type of leader-in my workplace, my family, and my friend circle-who makes others feel safe in their struggle. I want to be a giver of guidance, not an arbiter of right vs. wrong. I want to live in the messy gray area with people because it’s awfully lonely otherwise.

Lesson 5: When in doubt, jazz hands

I am admittedly not the best dancer in the room. I can’t spin more than once without falling over. My kicks aren’t as high as others, and my splits are non-existent. However, if they gave Tony Awards for “most enthusiastic,” I’d be writing my acceptance speech right now. 41 (almost 42) years on earth have taught me that there isn’t any situation where my insecurity about talent can’t be overcome with a full cup of pizzazz. I may not know every single date of every single Mark Rothko work, but I might cry talking about my first time seeing one. I often forget which muscle is the hamstring and which is the quadricep. Still, I will bounce into that fitness class at 5:45 am full of excitement, powered by Celsius, singing Mariah Carey. And I might not be able to nail that jazz combo, but when the teacher starts filming the routine on his phone, I’ll be damned if I’m not shooting fierce, “Rihanna in the Super Bowl Halftime show” at the camera lens and overcompensating with the best hair flips this recreational adult Musical Theater class has EVER seen. I’m here to be a light, wherever I can, for as long as I burn.

I hope at my funeral one day, nobody gets up there and reads out my resume in chronological order, starting with my most recent job. I hope that, in my old age, my hobbies evolve and my interests widen. I hope my funeral brings together elderly fitness enthusiasts, dancers, art lovers, pastry makers, knitters, stand-up comics, surfers, and writers. I hope my eulogy talks about my passion for life, my love of people, and the youthfulness of my pursuits. The older I get, the less I care about what I’ve done, and the more I care about who I am.

Originally published at https://elgl.org on March 13, 2023.

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Dr. Sarah Marie Story

Lover of politics, data viz, storytelling, tech, and oversharing. Public Health champion, Policy PhD, reader/writer/runner/eater