Your Mellow Outdoor Activities Are Rad, Too
It's time to stop judging people for how they recreate outside
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Welcome to Tough Love. We’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic, work being really busy, or something else, but I’ve lost all motivation to do the sports I once loved. A year ago, I was training for ultramarathons five days a week and meeting friends to go rock climbing on my rest days. My weekends were stacked with camping trips and long, social hikes.
Then, the pandemic hit, the race I was training for got canceled, the climbing gym closed, and of course we all stopped hanging out in big groups. I got much more into gardening, baking, and home renovation. And, even as things begin to open up again, I’m finding it hard to embrace the sports I once loved. I find that I’d much rather spend a sunny Saturday in my garden or on a mellow dog walk with my partner than trying to send a project at the crag.
I know, I know: I should probably just embrace this new me. But I work in the outdoor industry, so there’s still a tiny part of me that feels pressured to get back into those sports again. Gardening is far less “rad” than running 50 miles or climbing sandstone, after all. What should I do?
First off: all of this is rad. Personalizing your home, growing your own food, walking with your dog(s) and loved ones? These things are objectively cool. I’m happy for you that you’ve found great interests at this point in your life: things that help you feel grounded, and that are relaxing and invigorating at once—especially when so much has been changing around you.
To me, it seems like you’re adding to yourself, not diminishing yourself. It’s not that you’re not a climber anymore, or not a runner. It’s that you’re also a baker, a gardener, and a home renovator. We all go through phases, and it’s normal that the hobbies you’re drawn to will evolve with time; that’s how things stay fresh. You’re not throwing away your skills and experience by focusing on other interests for a while. You’re just maintaining a kind of natural balance.
In fact, if you stay true to the hobbies you’re drawn to, you might find that in another year you’ll be completely obsessed with climbing or running again; you might even want to pursue them at a higher level. But if you force yourself to stick with something you’re not feeling at the moment—especially when the whole point of that activity is for you to enjoy yourself—you’re actually foreclosing your options. It’s a lot harder to come back to old interests with a sense of fun if you’ve already burned yourself out on them.
That’s not to say that the pressure you’re feeling isn’t real. As a culture, we tend to glorify activities that are considered traditionally masculine (endurance sports; anything that involves jumping off a cliff) over activities deemed feminine (gardening; tending the home). The pattern extends far beyond the outdoor industry, of course, but you're experiencing a particular microcosm of it. And I get it: bold adventures make great stories. But connecting with nature is about far more than free soloing—and it’s no more outdoorsy to run an ultra than to take a casual stroll in the woods.
This is not to say that adventure sports are bad (or even overhyped!) or that gardening is good. The point is that they’re both good. The point is that the hierarchy of radness—any sort of hierarchy—is subjective and artificial. (There’s a fundamental insecurity to maintaining a hierarchy, of course, that suggests that whatever’s on top of the pyramid might not stay there if the scales were leveled. Personally, I think adventure sports are inherently cool, and people will love them—as I do—even if they’re not held up as cooler than other things.)
Working in the industry means you’re more susceptible to these pressures; you’re embedded in them every day, and there may be professional implications if, for instance, out-of-office socializing happens at the climbing gym. But it also means you get to help define the industry—and if you’re feeling something, it means countless others are, too. There are plenty of people who have felt excluded from outdoor culture and spaces because the ways they want to spend time in nature, or the ways they do spend time in nature, aren’t the ways that are most visible or celebrated. And even small changes within an industry can help shift a space from exclusive to welcoming.
Professionally, it seems to me that you’re an incredible asset. You have experience across a spectrum of outdoor activities, and you can speak to a wide range of the ways that people experience the outdoors. The industry is stronger for having your perspective and skills. Frankly, what you do in your spare time isn’t your boss’s business. And if your friends don’t immediately recognize the coolness of your new hobbies, I bet few things will open their minds as quickly as a few slices of fresh bread.