In Praise of Phases


When I was sixteen, my voice teacher predicted I would become a Jack of all trades. It wasn’t a compliment: We were in the midst of a fight, squaring off across the shiny black battlefield of her baby grand piano. She wanted me to concentrate only on singing. But I couldn’t imagine abandoning subjects like math, from which I derived a kind of type-2 satisfaction, or quitting ski racing—the locus of my teenage social life.

That latitude—that lack of focus—would be my downfall, she warned. And her prophecy seemed to come true as I grew up and flitted from hobby to hobby, career to career.

In college, I fell in love with philosophy, then geology. After graduation, I moved to a mountain town where I spent winters in ski boots and summers sweating under a backpack or dangling from a climbing rope. In graduate school, I dedicated much of my free time to trail running and even completed an ultra-marathon. For a while, I became obsessed with trying to bake perfectly round baguettes with perfectly scored “ears.” I grew and canned food like the apocalypse was nigh. And for several years, I fronted a raucous country band.

On the outside, it looked like I had a long list of skills and accomplishments. But to me, this all felt like mounting evidence of my promiscuous mind and weak willpower. I was hardly exceptional at any of these pursuits, and I hopscotched between them like a distracted child. I wasn’t serious; I was just “going through a phase.”

Read the full essay at The Last Word on Nothing.

(Credit: Flickr user Spirit-Fire under Creative Commons license)