Grandiose Challenges

An alternative title for this post could be, “How we make futile attempts to exercise control over the universe.”  I’ll explain…

PhD Comic: “Outside Interests”

I have had a few conversations with colleagues and friends lately that have me thinking about the sometimes irrational, obsessive  hobbying that crops up amongst graduate students.  Even if you do not have your own, you certainly know a colleague or friend that has has taken their “outside interests” to the extreme.  From the friend who was going to dress up for opening night of the Hunger Games (I’m looking at you @LizzyErwin) or the colleague racking up marathon mileage on their bicycle, I know more people who are not just taking up a hobby, but taking it to the next level.  Hobbies and interests are constant through society, but there is something about graduate students who like to kick up the intensity.

The common thread through so many of the stories I have heard recently (and have felt myself) is that people are undertaking challenges that have finite ends and grand challenges.  My theory is this: there are not a lot of things that you feel in control of while you are in graduate school.  Deadlines, bureaucracy, research subjects, funding: none of these are within our control.  But embarking on marathon running or getting certified to teach yoga, you are setting a goal that is yours and yours alone.  And, true to the nature of graduate students, there must be a significant challenge posed to make it fulfilling.

Taking stock of my three years, I made a small list of my favorite endeavors

  1. I grew my hair really long so I could donate to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program.
  2. I joined a CSA and challenged myself to waste nothing of our share.  This, naturally, involved learning how to can and buying the More-with-less Mennonite cookbook to maximize efficiency.
  3. I tried to take up running. I did a 5k, which I am considering a success.
  4. My roommate and I have had an unfailing, every-evening date to watch the day’s Young and the Restless.  Comparing everyday life to what goes on in Genoa City’s will make you feel like you have got your act together.  (Oh, Sharon, look at your life.  Look at your choices.)
  5. I have taken two cross-country train trips (most recently making our way from Boston to Chicago to Portland, OR).
  6. I am currently participating in the #LUBlogTribe challenge to post once-a-day for 90 days.

We want to pretend we have some control over the universe, which is an illusion whether you are in school or out.  But, when we undertake these large hobby endeavors, we remind ourselves of our capacity to do great things.  That capacity is what we must draw on to accomplish the academic task at hand, and it is by these outside interests that we reinforce our confidence, feel empowered, and keep moving forward.

I hope that there are more of these adventures and oddities on the horizon for me.  However, I draw the line at a Battlestar Galactica marathon.


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