It’s okay to quit doing what you don’t like

When I was younger, I used to feel bad when a new activity didn’t stick.

It doesn’t bother me much anymore.

Reading retirement advice has helped me get over feeling like a dilettante. The authors recommend giving lots of different things a try, since you can’t really know whether something’s for you unless you try it out. If you don’t like it, drop it and try something else.

Shortly after moving downtown, I joined a Great Books group for intellectual stimulation and to meet people. During the last meeting, I realized I’d hardly said a word and wasn’t enjoying myself. People don’t always conform to the Great Books rule that the discussion stick to the reading so that everyone is on a level playing field. Those who were showing off their erudition both intimidated and turned me off. I sat there thinking, why am I making myself go? I may not continue.

I gave this Great Books group three years. I was in a previous one that I quit for the same reason: I didn't like the showoffs and lecturers.

A friend who’s in the first group doesn’t react that way, so maybe I’m intolerant. So be it. I’m not going to force myself to go to Great Books anymore just because the intellectual stimulation is good for me.

During the last school year I volunteered to the Chicago Scholars program, which helps bright underprivileged high school students get into college. With my editorial background and a quarter-century of work at a university, I thought I could help with college application essays. The mentor role, which is where volunteers are placed, was a bad fit, however. Mentors are assigned to groups instead of individual students. Other than expecting us to be cheerleaders, the program lets each group work out its own dynamic. In a group with two other mentors who functioned differently from me and from one another, and seven students who often ignored my emails, I felt adrift and ineffective. So, I left after my one-year commitment was up.

With my interest in Chicago, judging papers that high school students enter in the Chicago Metro History Fair sounded like just my thing. But I realized that I couldn’t do the students justice when I found out that we had just a few minutes to give to each paper. The volunteers with teaching backgrounds weren’t flustered about flying through the submissions, but I let the organizer know that one day judging would be my only day.

All of this trying out and discarding activities could get to be depressing if there weren’t things I’ve tried and enjoyed. The goal, after all, is to find what one does like.

My most-liked new thing is this blog. I’m not discouraged that it’s not attracting a large readership because my reason for doing it is to commit to writing. The blog has given me an avenue to write about anything I want to and commits me to writing regularly. It helps me to work out my thoughts about whatever is on my mind.

Scrabble is another newfound pleasure. A friend who moved downtown shortly after I did suggested we play every other week, and now we’re talking about playing weekly when we’re both free. I’m loving it and thinking about exploring online word games, too.

Cooking for my church’s monthly hot meal for needy people has also been satisfying, both as a social activity and a chance to do good. It’s fun to chop vegetables while chatting with the other volunteers.

There are also long-standing volunteer activities that I continue to enjoy — being a Chicago Greeter and ushering at the Goodman and Steppenwolf Theatres.

It’s not my wish that eventually everything will be in place. I hope to be in experimenting mode forever, following up on “that might be fun” inclinations and being willing to discard anything that isn’t fun. New activities keep boredom at bay and help you grow, which is what we want at any age.

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