Friday, October 29, 2010

balance, pt 8: cross-training

I used to feel guilty that archaeology was not my only pleasure. I think that's common. We're often made to feel bad if we didn't start excavating in the sand box at the age of six, or turn down after-school TV in favor of learning Egyptian hieroglyphics. A cousin of mine in electrical engineering makes a similar complaint. In graduate school, she said, there was a sense that the really serious students had spent their childhoods disassembling radios and building printers out of Legos, and everybody else was just a dilettante. (It probably didn't help that she attended MIT.)

I'd like to make a case for mental cross-training. I was going to say"hobbies", but I don't like the term because it sounds frivolous, selfish, and pointless. Activities outside of our academic focus are useful in getting our creative juices flowing and re-charging our interest in life and in research. I honestly believe that my cross-training activities help me be a better teacher and to get more academic work done.

OK, not all hobbies are created equal, but whether you're interested in flower arranging or model trains, if your hobby makes you think creatively, and introduces you to something new and different, then you're stretching your mind, and that can only make you a better archaeologist. Personally, I write fiction (and this blog!) and do some sewing, as well as small craft/art projects with my daughter. Yes, they take time away from my academic work, and no, a new skirt or a Halloween costume is probably not worth the time it takes to make it. But, I find myself more interested in everything, more motivated, and more creative when I take time to indulge in some mental cross-training.


  1. I especially liked this post! After a bout of depression (directly related to work-life imbalance), I realized non-work activities weren't discretionary for me. It had seemed logical that a few more hours at work would pay off more than a few hours spent on other parts of my life, but eventually the work wasn't very good because I couldn't function. . . The attitude you mention prevails so I try to avoid appearing "well-rounded" in the workplace.

  2. Yes, by all means, let's avoid the stigma of being well-rounded! ;-)

    To be honest, the majority of people I know with the attitude I described in the first paragraph of this post are either women without children, or men with spouses who take care of mundane aspects of life, like food and shelter. I don't think the majority of the field feels this way, but because people who do feel this way tend to be some of the more prolific and influential members of the community, the rest of us think we have to hide chunks of our personality. A life outside of work should never be considered optional! Maybe when children are accepted as a major and non-discretionary part of life, academia will accept hobbies, too.