Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Knitting, CrossFitting, and How I'm Growing as a Person Here

By Jenn Casey

(This post was originally published at my blog Rational Jenn on October 28, 2011. I have edited this post slightly for clarity and style.)

So, you may or may not be aware that I have taken up two new obsessions hobbies over the last year. I started CrossFit in September 2010 and started knitting in November 2010. I love them both, and I'm here to tell you why.

Now these two obsessions hobbies might seem like completely opposite types of activities. You've got CrossFit, which is super-intense-lifting-running-jumping-struggling-to-breathe-active-sweating-badassedness. And that's why I love CrossFit.

Then you've got knitting, which is sitting-somewhat-calmly-hardly-ever-breaking-a-sweat-and-you-can-watch-tv-and-have-a-conversation-and-drink-coffee-while-you're-doing-it. And that's why I love knitting.

However, and perhaps you've never noticed this before, knitting and CrossFit have much in common, and I think it's their commonalities that appeal to me and why they are my two new favorite obsessions hobbies.

There's counting. And patterns.

Yes, I realize this will not appeal to those of different personality types (though that doesn't mean you have to be just like me to enjoy either one!).

But I like the counting and the patterns. A row of knitting is not unlike a round of CrossFit. Let's take an example. In knitting you might knit 2/purl 2 seven times to finish a row. In CrossFit, you might, to use an example from just the other night, do 3 power snatches and then row 250 meters seven times.

See? It's a nice little pattern you follow and when you've reached the end of the row or finished all 7 rounds, you're done!

Goals: Both big and small.

I'm a goal-oriented kind of person. There is almost nothing more satisfying to me than checking a Something off of a list.

Both knitting and CrossFit let me check off big and little Somethings all the time. Even if it's only the smallest goal--a purl or a k2togtbl, or a single box jump or a quick 200m run--I'm checking checking checking my accomplishments off my mental list throughout the process.

And as each unit get mentally checked off, I get closer to the next bigger goal--for knitting, that's a row, and in CrossFit, that's a single set of reps, like 5 pull ups in "Cindy." And for each of those mentally checked off, I get closer to an even bigger goal--the completion of a group of knitted rows that make a larger pattern, or the completion of an CrossFit round.

Finally, I complete the knitted piece or the WOD. All of those discrete unit-sized goals--each knit, each purl, each lift, each wall ball--have all added up to this bigger, more comprehensive accomplishment!

For these two obsessions hobbies, there are tangible results (no, I'm not inviting you to touch me, you'll just have to admire my muscles from afar). Over time, I have a created nice collection of knitted things, and a stronger, healthier body. I'm way stronger and in better shape than I was this time last year, and I have ever so-many knitted things in use by people in my house. And I know that by this time next year, I'll have more of the same, and on into the future. I will always have more to accomplish, more to do (and once I get a bit quicker at knitting, more handmade gifts for friends!).


Developing patience, persistence, and killing the Perfectionism Monster.

I was really bad at both obsessions hobbies at first. Well, maybe not horrible, but let's just say I've made great improvements in the last year in both arenas. In fact, I was nervous about taking up both pursuits because I generally hate doing things I'm not terribly good at, and have historically lacked the patience and persistence to stick with such things until I can improve.

Oh yeah, and I have had this ugly Perfectionism Monster lurking in my head for my entire life, which whispers things to me like "There's no way you can do this well. You're not good enough. Why even try?" Helpful, huh?

But, and this is where I've grown and continue to grow as a person here, I am not so scared as I used to be of trying new things that I might suck at. Maybe this is part of the reason it took me until my FABULOUS FANTASTIC FUN 40s to even consider pursuing obsessions hobbies so difficult (to me) as CrossFit and knitting. I'm finally at a point in my development where I can say "Oh well, if it doesn't work out, at least I tried." before finding something else to do.

Of the two obsessions hobbies, knitting was the one I was scared of doing the most. It surprised me to realize this! I think part of the reason has to do with the fact that doing a craft like knitting is more optional than getting fitter and healthier and more badassier. I definitely wanted to pursue some kind of exercise regimen--that was non-optional itself. Even if CrossFit turned out to be not my thing, I'd have chosen something else.

But knitting. . . oh, well, I think a person can do just fine without crafting. In fact, I avoided any sort of crafty thing for years and was just fine and happy and it didn't have an ill-effect on my health.

So why would I be more scared of the optional value? I think that's Mr. Perfectionism Monster whispering "If you quit it, you'll be a failure." But, as you know, nothing horrible will befall a person for giving up knitting if they hate it.

The other reason I was more scared of knitting is because I knew I was setting myself up for frustration. Sure, CrossFit (as well as just generally trying to improve one's health) can be frustrating at times--you can't quite get the form correct on a lift, or those pounds aren't coming off as fast as you'd like.

But nothing NOTHING frustrates me quite like having to undo teeny tiny obscure mistakes because once you fix one, another inevitably turns up. It makes me feel like Sisyphus. This is why I'm not a computer person--the idea of having to hunt through tons of code to fix one semi-colon sounds like hell on Earth. Unraveling rows of knitting to correct a mistake is not just inconvenient, it actually physically hurts. No. Actually.

I'm happy to report that I have pushed through this frustration and have learned how to fix mistakes more quickly and without too many swear words or physical ailments. Go me! Such a feat would have been impossible for me even a decade ago, I think. In fact, it was a decade ago that I took up knitting for the first time and dropped it because it was made me feel like Sisyphus. So there you go.

A final reason I wasn't as scared of CrossFit as I was of knitting (though I was a-skeered of CrossFit plenty, I assure you) is that I at least had evidence that I could learn to handle CrossFit. The movements are, after all, functional--things you do in every day life. So you just get better at them and are stronger and can do more of the same. Also, I remembered enough from my years in gymnastics that though I'd never considered myself any kind of phenomenal athlete, I knew I had talent enough for that, and managed to do pretty well at it.

The other people who knit and CrossFit are pretty awesome.

I've learned that all you have to do is wear a CrossFit shirt (or Vibram Five Fingers) or carry your knitting in order to wind up in interesting conversations with people.

The people at my CrossFit gym are super nice and encouraging, share your excitement about accomplishing a new goal, are willing to answer questions from newbies, and are generally up for a good discussion about technique or equipment.

My knitting friends are super nice and encouraging, share your excitement about accomplishing a new goal, are willing to answer questions from newbies, and are generally up for a good discussion about technique or equipment.

While that wasn't the primary reason I got into either obsession hobby, it's certainly a welcome benefit. :D

So there you have it! Even though at first glance these activities are seemingly quite the opposite of each other, both knitting and CrossFit satisfy my goal-oriented, pattern-loving personality, and both have required a level of patience and persistence I'd generally found difficult to summon many times in the past. Obsessions Hobbies are supposed to be enjoyable diversions from your usual productive pursuits, and in my case, I've found two that fit me very well.

And since I'm not doing CrossFit until tomorrow, I'm off to knit!

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