My third decade on this Earth is hurtling towards its swansong and to be quite honest; I’m not as fazed as I thought I would be. If you had asked twenty-year-old me what turning thirty would entail; I’m almost certain that the response would have been either naïvely dismissive or laughably hyperbolic. No-one thinks that far ahead, particularly when caught up in the heady maelstrom of university campus life. It really is a like a blissfully removed pit lane where you can take three or four leisurely years to fuel up on sex, alcohol and sleep, ready for the dull roar of the rat race. Or not, as the case often is.
The post-university blues are real. It’s a very melodramatic and vain affair, but it does exist and it does have a marked effect on both the mental and physical wellbeing of many disillusioned young graduates in the UK. The term ‘quarter-life crisis’ is also a thing, believe it or not. I once casually tossed this new coinage into conversation when visiting my nonagenarian grandmother, who was evacuated from East London during The Blitz and saw first-hand the horrendous consequences of war on a global scale. She was, as you might expect, somewhat underwhelmed by the notion. To compare post-academic ennui to the large-scale bombing of a city is quite obviously an exercise in futility, but just how inconsequential a condition it is does not truly hit home until you’re face-to-face with someone who has experienced real hardship in their lifetime.
The fact remains however, that for many peppy new graduates, the transition into delayed adulthood can be a tumultuous metamorphosis indeed. I am, sadly, a rather perfect example to illustrate this most modern of ailments. I gorged, quite literally ad nauseam, on all the hedonistic pleasures university life had to offer. I gave little thought to what would become of me after the kebabs and WKDs had been taken away. I would have a degree in modern languages, for heaven’s sake, the horizon was limitless.
Fast forward two years to a crumbling and discoloured terraced house in Upton Park, East London. Not as bad as The Blitz, as we’ve already established, but suffice to say it was pretty depressing. Living with two of my closest university friends; we clung desperately to our former glories. Former glory – not a term you’d typically associate with a trio of twenty-four-year olds, is it? But that’s how it was. Initially unperturbed by the sweaty commutes and mindless, corporate subservience; we ploughed ahead with the drinking, womanising and general indulgence that so astutely summed up our carefree and quite frankly careless stint in higher education. Needless to say we weren’t ploughing ahead for long. Our house was a pint glass’ throw away from the infamous Green Street and a very long way from the lush and manicured grounds of our former place of study. That sort of change would be a shock to anybody’s system, but when you throw continuing to treat your body like a rubbish bin into the mix, that’s when the cracks start appearing. Stress, anxiety, apathy, depression, self-loathing. All too common symptoms of a quarter-life crisis.
Jump forward again, this time to the present day. Things are VERY different. I’m renting a cottage outside a tiny village in Buckinghamshire. With my fiancée. It’s the kind of exponential change that would merit a lengthy and spectacular montage in any eighties blockbuster and something that would have scared the absolute hell out of twenty-year-old me. But I’m older now; complete with crow’s feet, a few grey hairs and a not-so-infallible metabolism. And it’s invigorating. I feel so much more assured in myself and where I am in life, even though I’m still skint and arguably even further from fulfilling the potential that I was labelled with from my first day at primary school right on through to my graduation ceremony.
That shift away from an adolescent view on life really is the key step here. That’s where the notion of ‘unsexy hobbies’ comes in. Here’s my definition:
Unsexy Hobby – noun, 1. A pastime or leisure activity that is enjoyed in spite of the societal stigma or preconceptions with which it is associated. (See Trainspotting/Meccano/Warhammer)
It’s that simple. Do the things you love, with the people you love, because they make you feel good. Blogs and tube train magazines fan the flames that spread the quarter-life crisis pandemic, overloading our brains with must-dos, must-sees and must-eats. Not to mention bucket lists, which in a morbid and worrying twist of fate, have become a somewhat integral part of twenty-something culture, most notably in and around London. All too often, young people restrict themselves to what their phones and tablets tell them they should be interested in. Again, I myself fell foul to this phenomenon during my stretch in The Big Smoke. I strove to eat at every restaurant and pop-up café that Timeout magazine irrefutably informed me I couldn’t live without, until both my bank balance and my waistline had seen better days. But what did I get out of it? I could drop in a fancy name at the office the next day, sure, but did ticking that box really satisfy me on a personal level? No. I’ve enjoyed a lifelong love affair with food, don’t get me wrong, but this just felt hollow. It was all so prescribed, fun-by-numbers; I wasn’t in control of my own happiness anymore. I needed to stop trying to be sexy.
Without meaning to sound arrogant (honest); I do a number of things that have, on occasion, been described as ‘sexy’. I speak French and German for one, something that served me very nicely as a single man. I also play a number of sports, to a fairly decent level, I write poetry and have acted in several independent short films outside of my nine to five slog. These are activities that most people seem to be fairly impressed by, or at least pretend to be vaguely interested in talking about. There is, however, a very different side to adult me. The unglamorous, unappreciated and above all, unsexy side. This is the side where things get interesting.
Ornithology. Bird-watching, to the layman. The granddaddy of granddad-y pursuits. And I bloody love it. My dad got me into it as a youngster and for me, it was always very much akin to catching Pokémon (another very unsexy hobby that gives a lot of people a lot of enjoyment). You grab your Pokédex (Collins pocket bird guide), your Pokéball (A pair of binoculars – really stretching the metaphor here) and off you go! Adventuring through the wilderness, looking for the rarest, most elusive specimens you can find. It’s addictive. No really, it is. Nowadays it’s simply the most relaxing, mindful thing I do and something that I can enjoy with or without my loved ones. Best of all, it’s my own little world to explore. When I mention my birding excursions to friends; they laugh, or roll their eyes, or pretend they didn’t hear me. But that’s fine. I take a lot of pleasure from spotting a particularly vivid cock yellow wagtail and I will continue to do so regardless of public opinion. God, it felt good to get that out!
My unsexy list goes on and on, from coarse fishing to watching camp nineties wrestling videos and everything in-between. What you decide to indulge in is entirely up to you; an unsexy hobby is by definition one the most personal and self-fulfilling things you can do, and it’s for this reason that it’s so damned important in this grey and homogeneous world we live in that you have at least one! Give it some thought this week, I implore you.
Write a list of all the things you do in your spare time and one-by-one, rank them on a scale of one to ten for enjoyment. If something scores less than a six, put a big line through it! Next, it’s time to find some unsexy replacements. This is the fun bit. Dig deep and write down all the things that make you grin from ear-to-ear as soon as they pop into your head. More often than not, these things will turn out to be very unsexy, or in the very least an acquired taste. Grab these morsels of individuality and unbridled enthusiasm with both hands, because it might just be the most empowering and sexy thing you ever do.
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