I decided to start surfing even though I'd never done it before. In the end, finding a new passion I wasn't good at made me happier. Here's why you should consider it too.

By Karen Rinaldi
Konstantin Trubavin/Aurora Photos/Getty Images

When my sons were toddlers, I decided to take up surfing. Everything in my life felt incredibly important—child care, work, household chores—and I felt the need to do something where there was no pressure to succeed. Surfing is virtually impossible to master unless you start in adolescence, and many years later, I still suck at it. But it’s what I love doing most of all. What started out as an urgent whim to get out in the waves where no one could reach me turned into a two-decade long deep dive into understanding the joys that sucking at something can bring.

Although it may seem like absurd advice, I believe that the best way to find balance in parenthood is to find a new challenge that you do purely for the fun of it. Getting out of your routine is what makes the routine possible to continue without feeling overloaded or resentful.

So many of us stop working out, getting haircuts, or enjoying time with our friends simply because parenthood has changed our priorities. Those novels we got to read every month are now bedtime stories we read to the little ones, and the late-night drinks with friends to blow off steam are now too painful to recover from when the baby wakes us up at 4 a.m. Little by little, You can lose some of yourself, and feel like there’s no time to recharge, no time for a respite.

How could you possibly have time for a new hobby? Because it will make you happy—and benefit both you and your kids.

How to Find a New Passion

Even if you try out a few different activities, you’ll want to settle on a challenge that is meaningful for you—otherwise you’ll quit. If you don’t love music, your ukulele will sit in its case, out of tune. If you don’t love moving your body, dance will be a lesson in pain. The meaning you find will be your own, but the activity should be something you look forward to doing again and again so that even when you can’t get to it, just thinking of it gives you pleasure.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Choose something you’ve always wanted to do but thought you wouldn’t be good at. Think something that scares you a little, like singing, improv, or slacklining. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid of it?” and “What do I see other people doing and think, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that!’”

Surfing terrified me. While I learned—after many years of trying—how to stand upright on a board and ride a wave, what surfing has truly taught me is how to wipe out over and over again and still have the resilience to try again. Along the way, it’s also helped me teach my two sons a thing or two about perseverance and how to focus on the journey and not the goal.

Start small. You don’t need to make a big commitment or investment. If you’re on a tight budget, you can always buy second-hand gear. If it’s hard to take time away from family or work, you can do something at home or on your lunch break, like beading, crossword puzzles, or learning a new language.

To find time, consider what you can let go. When I started to surf, it certainly helped that I lived in a beach community, but the key to finding a few extra hours a week was allowing myself to give up something else. At times, baking those cookies, vacuuming, blow-drying my hair, or that doing the laundry had to wait. Once I gave myself permission to surf, it became easier each time I paddled out to leave what was inessential behind. Think about ways you might be able to loosen up your standards.

Have no expectations about the outcome. Your reward should be the simple fact that you are doing something for yourself, rather than any sort of external validation. The beauty of finding something you can suck at is the freedom from having set goals that can cause anxiety. Appreciating this outlook will help you ease pressure in your kids’ lives too. They will learn to focus on the fun they are having, as opposed to getting that ribbon or gold star at all costs. More importantly, it’s important for them to know that even if they fail, they are worthy of love and respect.   

Dive in for the sheer audacity of it. For me, surfing became non-negotiable partly because of how downright outrageous it was to even think of doing it. “Mama’s going surfing,” always seemed an absurd thing to tell my kids, which was part of the fun. It always made me giggle—like I was getting away with something. But everything I did afterwards, I did with more generosity in my heart because I had bestowed that generosity on myself.

Karen Rinaldi is the author of It’s Great to Suck at Something: The Unexpected Joys of Wiping Out and What it Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, and the Stuff That Really Matters.

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