When I was young, baseball players were like teachers to me, in that it was hard to imagine them doing anything other than their job. In the same way that I imagined my teachers living and sleeping in their classrooms, at age 10 or so I couldn't really conceive of a baseball player's life off of the field. So when I saw Jack McDowell's 1992 Pinnacle baseball card for the first time, I was a little dumbstruck.
If you've never seen it, the card features McDowell in a killer early ‘90s vest strumming a guitar in some kind of live venue. And when I saw it back then, I couldn't imagine anything cooler than a pitcher who also played in a rock band. The back story on McDowell is that an injury a few years prior had given him more time to devote to his musical interests.
I learned as I grew older that it wasn't uncommon at all for baseball players to have non-baseball hobbies, of course. And some players can end up being really successful with theirs. Ryan Dempster might be the next late-night host, and Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts is a crazy good bowler.
Seeing that Jack McDowell baseball card was one of my first introductions to the importance of having hobbies outside of work and the valuable contrast they bring.
This is a healthy thing that I worry a little might be fading out of our lives. In her 2020 book, Do Nothing, Celeste Headlee argues that people today have fewer hobbies and spend less time on the hobbies they do have, than people did even a generation ago. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the problems it creates is the lack of needed contrast in our lives. We already know that having a clear separation between work and home is harder than ever with the ability to read and respond to work emails and messages all day, every day, no matter where we are. There's an additional problem created when I spend my whole working day looking at a screen of some kind and then transition to looking at something else on a screen during the other parts of my day.
I've written in a past issue about a family member's old neighbor who works as a lawyer by day and then spends as much of the rest of his time as possible outside working with his hands. There's also my neighbor, who is a soft-spoken and mild-mannered college professor, but on a warm weekend, he almost always devotes an afternoon to meticulously polishing and then riding his yellow Harley-Davidson. He's quiet and scholarly, but when he fires up its engine, his Harley makes the whole street rumble. Both of those guys are demonstrating healthy contrast.
Historically, there are many examples of this kind of thing. Winston Churchill was an avid painter and bricklayer during his years as Prime Minister. Teddy Roosevelt liked to take long hunting trips and played tennis while he was president.
There's research that one of the reasons why Scandinavian people consistently rate among the world's happiest despite their long and brutal winters is because of the way they embrace contrast in their lives. Hot and cold. Easy and difficult. Bitter and sweet.
Having that clear delineation between work and home is a contrast that I've been working harder to create lately. I've not always been very good at cultivating hobbies, either, because no, watching every season of “The Great British Bake-Off” doesn't count as a hobby. But the value of fostering contrast in my life is growing more and more clear to me as I get older, so I'm at work on becoming my version of the pitcher/rock star.