Take a look at your calendar. If it’s anything like mine, you probably see meetings, doctor appointments, family obligations, and deadlines. It’s exhausting to even look at, much less experience.
I have one recurring appointment in my schedule that’s not like the others. It doesn’t make me any money, it’s not something I have to do, it’s mostly pointless, and it’s almost entirely for my own benefit.
Every Thursday at 9:30am for the last three years, barring rain or illness or travel, my friend Anders Varner and I meet up at his gym, San Diego Athletics, and we go surfing.
Anders and I are both are fortunate to have flexible schedules. I’m a freelance writer and I take care of my two kids, ages seven and ten. Anders owns a gym. But just because we aren’t expected to be in an office for eight hours, doesn’t mean we aren’t busy. My work time is precious to me. I can usually only write when the kids are in school. Anders runs a business and coaches and also has a million projects going at the same time.
Even with deadlines and obligations piling up, we set it all aside every Thursday for about two hours and paddle out to our local break in Pacific Beach, California.
The whole thing started because I was annoyed I wasn’t getting better at surfing. I learned to surf before my kids were born, when my husband and I could take long drives up the coast of San Diego in search of waves. Morning sessions were followed by lazy breakfasts of huevos rancheros and endless cups of coffee.
Then the babies came. A daughter in 2005 and a son in 2008. When the kids were small, I couldn’t summon the mental energy — much less the time — to get on a surfboard again.
When my kids were two and five, I emerged from the fog of babyhood. I started CrossFit in 2010 and occasionally ventured out into the water, but every time I went out, I came home frustrated. In my typical goal-driven, type-A fashion, my lack of progress was driving me crazy. I knew I needed time in the water, but time was the one thing I didn’t have.
In the summer of 2013, I finally made a commitment to surf every week, meeting my friend Dana in the water at 6:00am. I slowly improved, but then the kids started school, and I had to be there in the morning to pack lunches and help them get dressed.
Then one day, I was talking about surfing with Anders, who had started a few years earlier, and he said, “We should go out on Thursdays. How about 9:30am?”
My first instinct was to say no. I already felt a bit guilty about taking an hour out of my short work day to work out, but I reasoned that as a writer for CrossFit, it was sort of part of my job. Working out feels productive and virtuous. But surfing for two hours when I should be working? That just seemed indulgent. Riding waves wasn’t going to put words on the paper.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The thing about surfing, especially at our local break that isn’t known for exceptional waves, is there’s a lot of sitting. When you’re sitting on a board in the ocean with your friend, the only distractions are birds, fish, and the occasional dolphin. With no phone, no emails, and no social media, the only thing to do is talk.
I had known Anders for three years, but our lives were very different. When we met, I was 37 and he was 27. I was married with two kids and he was single (though by the time we started surfing together, he was thirty and dating the woman he would later marry). We always got along, but when we socialized outside of the gym, it was in big groups. He is a loud, gregarious extrovert. He’s the life of the party, good at working a crowd, and all out there emotionally. I’m an introvert, much more comfortable expressing myself on paper than in person. I hate big groups and I’m terrible at small talk, and the best way to describe my demeanor among people I don’t know well is reserved.
Although we looked completely different on paper, Anders and I share a few important characteristics. We’re both searchers and learners. We’re entrepreneurs and always looking for the next project or goal, not satisfied with where we are. And we both love ‘90s hip hop and Eddie Vedder.
As we bobbed up and down on our surfboards, waiting for waves, at first the conversation was fairly superficial. We’d talk about what happened that week, about the basics of our lives.
As the weeks went on, we moved into deeper waters. I told him about article ideas I was considering and projects I wanted to tackle, and he talked to me about new business ideas. I’d tell him about my struggles as a parent. He’d talk about the challenges of owning a business.
We’d catch waves, and whoop at each other after a particularly good ride, but the talking was always as important as the surfing.
Schedule Your Own Fun
My original goal was to improve my surfing, which I did, but I had no idea how important this weekly appointment would be for my well-being. I developed one of my deepest friendships, with someone outside of my usual circle of forty-something parents. I created a space to share ideas, to dream, to complain, to problem solve.
Most importantly, planning my life around this seemingly frivolous, self-indulgent activity helped me become the kind of person who values friendship, time in nature, and movement without competition as much as work.
So, how do you make this kind of appointment-for-fun happen in your own life?
- Pick a hobby or activity you love. It can be anything from knitting to golf, but it should be something you enjoy doing and have trouble fitting in your schedule.
- Find a person who is also interested in this activity. If you don’t know anyone who is interested in your activity, ask around. Look for meet-ups or online groups. A shared activity is a great way to get to know someone.
- Make a weekly appointment with this person to do your activity. If you can make it work, weekdays are better than weekends. There will always be a reason to miss your weekend appointment, and weekdays tend to be more predictable. Early morning, late at night—do your best to fit it in.
From there on out, just show up.