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August 6, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Digging Deeper: Why We Cling to Our Hobbies

By Rachael Steil More Blogs by This Author

"We would like to see more behind who you are - running is what you do, but what does it mean to everyone else? There is a deeper meaning behind running that you may have yet to explore."

Something clicked when I heard this. Yes, I commonly found it difficult to relate to others who did not have the same passion for running as I did. But what did I care? It was something for me. It made me feel more like an individual, like I could have more discipline, control, and dedication than others. It made me feel free, helped me to float away from my anxieties and fears.

And then I realized I only seemed to enjoy track practice. I only felt very close to those who shared a passion for running. Outside of that, who was Rachael? How else could I connect to a world full of people who did not run? Why were my relationships outside of running not as strong, and how could I make them stronger?

It wasn't until I fell too deep into running, or rather, an eating disorder that manifested itself with running, that I realized that running was more than an escape from life - it had become an escape from myself. I no longer wanted to be under the reign of running. Suddenly, I found myself struggling to get out.

Uncovering the Mystery Within

I felt as if I had a case to solve this summer: What was I afraid to face about myself? The only person holding me back from a world outside of running was myself. Who is Rachael, separate from running? What has running covered up for so long? Was I scared to reveal the real me to others? As a child, I ran because it was the only way I knew to express myself as a quiet and shy student in school. But what was I trying to express? Could running actually be a metaphor for something bigger in my life? What was Rachael yearning to reveal? I wanted to connect with others, but I had to learn to do it in another way.

Running was my best friend. It seemed to always be there for me. But I recently realized that running is not an entity, not a physical thing that is everything I am. It is only a result of who I am as a person - a perfectionist, a dedicated, hard-working, disciplined person. I like running because I have these personality traits. It was the intensity that made me take these traits too far. When running began to take up every conversation, when I diligently counted my miles, and when my days were determined by times and splits, I found myself trapped, as if possessed by something that had gone too far. How could I find release? Wasn't running my saving grace? How had it suddenly become my enemy?

Who Are We Without Our Hobbies?

If running was not who I was, and these characteristics made me a runner, then I had to learn to use these characteristics in other areas of my life. It didn't mean I had to give up running; I just had to see myself as more than just a runner in order to pull out of danger.

I got out of my comfort zone, but it took a knee injury. When I was unable to run, I realized that it was not running I was sad about. It was feeling a loss of control over something that had been so stable and certain in my life for so long - and not knowing what else to turn to. Running helped soothe my anxiety and kept everything in place for me.

Even if we are obsessed or passionate about anything in our lives, when it gets to the point of obsession and determines how we feel day-to-day, it requires examination. Running itself is not bad, but when it began taking over my life in the form of an eating disorder, I realized it was time to understand why.

I felt as if two sides of myself were battling each other. It was time to find a truce. How could Rachael the runner allow the Rachael underneath to come out and express herself with a voice that said more than, "I am a runner"? How could I apply who Rachael was to other areas of my life, so that if running was out of the picture, I could still be a happy, well-rounded person?

Metaphors

What we are passionate about can act as a metaphor for who we really are. The relationship I have with running actually depicts the relationship I have with myself. It did not mean I had to give up running, but I had to give up as seeing it as everything I was when I was so much more than running itself.

I have more to bring to the world then just my speedy legs. Yes, I had this perfectionist personality, this need for control and discipline that fueled my desire to run. By exploring my past, I realized that running was my voice for the perfectionist, people-pleaser within me. Running was something for me after feeling like I tried so hard to make other people happy; when I began to run for others instead, I realized running wasn't a fix, either.

All I wanted was a voice - and I thought running would give that to me. By exploring my personality, looking into my past, and seeing what was underneath my favorite hobby (a girl who wanted a voice), I began to understand myself more than ever before. I simply didn't know how to use my voice yet, how to relinquish myself from a personality that wanted so badly to make everyone like me.

I think we can all relate to that - a yearning to fit in. But now that I was a college student, a grown woman, I had to learn to speak for myself without the metaphor. I had to learn to fully embrace myself, with running just as something I did, not who I was. I couldn't do that until I relinquished my safety with running, until I decided to move outside the box and explore other parts of who I was.

Suddenly, I was able to let go of the controlling personality. I let go of my fears, anxieties, and frustrations with the dark side of Rachael trying to hold me back from going out with friends even though it would "mess up" my schedule or cause me to get three less hours of sleep for the run the next day.

And then a funny thing happened: My relationship with others is not as as strained. I was open to the world and trying new things. I was still Rachael, but calmer. The voice inside that wanted to be heard spoke at last when I decided to speak up for myself, to say what I really wanted in life rather than trying to please others by doing everything "right." I felt more confident in who I was, and I liked this person I had become.

Finding a New Path

"I want it back."

Another runner I knew had been injured and sick for a long time and, ultimately, was not able to run for her college team anymore. Her high school coach left a comment on her Facebook: "NOTHING'S changed! That heart, passion, confidence, and toughness is still in you [...] You just need to find different ways to bring it out!"

I think that's a great comment for all of us to ponder, runners or not. Who are we without the hobby or passion we have in life? It doesn't mean forcing ourselves to let it go. It encourages us to explore it, turn it over, and learn more about why we do it and how we can move on in our lives if we find we can no longer involve ourselves in something that has become destructive or inhibits our relationships with others. It's not about pushing away our passions, but about being okay without them too.

I'm lucky to have running at my side for now. But after this summer, I realized that even if it were to fall out of my lifestyle for any reason, I could be confident in Rachael - just Rachael.

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