Free time for the first time

If you suddenly had 20+ hours a week to learn whatever you'd like, what would you do?

By Jesse Mostipak in blog

March 1, 2023

Note: this was originally published in Weighted Tangents, my Substack newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

I left home when I was 16, and shortly thereafter was legally emancipated by the State of New York. What ensued were almost two decades of extreme poverty and a myriad of close calls. I know that I’m lucky to have made it to where I am today, both because I avoided any major medical issues and because the longer one spends in poverty the more likely they are to stay in poverty. There wasn’t a magical turning point where things suddenly got better, but little by little I completed milestones like graduating from college, getting a masters degree, and transitioning from retail and service jobs to teaching before eventually landing an office job.

Being poor is incredibly expensive, and along the way I racked up an impressive amount of debt not just in student loans, but also through private loans and credit card debt. I was routinely working three or more jobs at a time to chip away at the debt, and remember when I was excited about being able to enter the cycle of “getting a private loan to pay off the credit card in order to increase your credit score”, which allowed me to pay off a credit card, take out a larger loan with lower interest to pay off another credit card, then rinse and repeat.

It’s taken what feels like forever, but two weeks ago I paid off the last of my credit card debt. I didn’t really feel anything, in large part because I’m still staring down six figures worth of student loans, but the realization that I’ve finally reached a level of financial stability I’ve craved my entire life has slowly started to set in in unexpected ways.

The first was the realization that if I lost my job tomorrow I could take a significantly lower paying job and still be OK — it wouldn’t be catastrophic. It would be challenging, it would absolutely suck, but it would be OK. The second was that I suddenly had the time to explore all the things that interest me.

As you might imagine, it’s harder to cultivate interests when you’re working multiple jobs, or working one job while trying to pick up skills for another, or simply focused on funneling all of your money towards paying down debt. I’ve carried hobbies like reading and walking with me my entire life as they’re accessible and affordable, but up until now I’ve rarely been able to try something out just because.

Being a goal-driven person has served me well throughout my life, and to be honest, when I sat down the other day to think about what I wanted to explore, I started by picking a goal and planning out a learning path. But the more I thought about it the less it made sense. Why should something like “get a PhD in History” be a goal, when I don’t really know how much I like learning history? Yes, I’m having fun splashing around in the shallows right now, but do I need to be on a defined learning path?

Absolutely not.

And maybe this is an extreme counter, but I started to wonder what it would be like to metaphorically throw things at the wall and see what sticks. What if instead of setting out on a curated learning path I set a specific amount of time where I could try anything I like, for any amount of time, and at any depth, and see where it takes me? A kind of commitment-free exploration of as many things that caught my attention for the next 18 months? And then at the end of those 18 months there’s the option of extending this period of chaotic exploration, or starting to refine the paths I’m interested in.

Although this newsletter started out as a chronicling of my animation journey, things have obviously shifted. I’m still committed to writing on a weekly basis, but (hopefully) have not set any expectations about what you’ll get out of me other than a weekly post. For now I’m planning on sharing my broader learning journey, some weeks diving deep on something and other weeks doing a lighter round-up of what I’ve been exploring. And if you’ve got a hobby or endeavor you think I should try, I’d love to hear about it!

This past week in new endeavors

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Here’s what I’ve spent the last week getting curious about:

  • Learning Swedish, currently via Duolingo
  • Trying out Procreate via a class from New Master’s Academy
  • I tried a couple of Processing tutorials and remembered that while I enjoy coding for work, it’s not something I enjoy outside of work
  • I did the first lesson in the Blender Donut Tutorial and already like Blender heaps better than Maya, although that bar was already on the floor to begin with
  • Researched how to set up a cat-friendly balcony garden
  • Watched a couple of lectures and interviews about the Icelandic Sagas
  • Signed up for an online course from Oxford called Vikings: Raiders, Traders, and Settlers
  • Tried to find a tapestry I liked to hang above my staircase, came up empty, so bought a pocket loom and supplies to complete a short course to see if I enjoy it enough to invest in making my own tapestry
  • Signed up for a Cinema 4D course from School of Motion — I’ve taken some of their classes in the past and enjoy them
  • Tried new video games: Bad North (adorable, fun as h*ck) and Northgard (super intriguing, love the graphics, and I want to try all the modes)

If something in here resonates with you, let me know! I’d love to learn together ♥️

Posted on:
March 1, 2023
5 minute read, 968 words
newsletter weighted tangents
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