Law school comes with many challenges that The Paper Chase and Legally Blonde woefully fails to prepare us for.
And one of the poorly represented (and highly unglamorous) tasks of law school was the job hunt. I truly felt like I spent the entirety of law school constantly applying for jobs. Even when one was secured, there was always the next internship or summer clerkship (or the scariest of all, the real job after graduation) looming on the horizon. And with all these applications came the dreaded interviews.
And there was a singular interview question that I had just the worst time with.
What are your hobbies?
Or whatever variation thereof that strongly implied that I should have a robust arsenal of “fun” happening on a regular basis in on top of everything on my resume about how I’m going to law school and doing internships and on law review and whatever other random networking thing that seemed like a good idea at the time even though it totally wasn’t worth it in the slightest.
What are my… hobbies???
Staying alive and maybe sleeping occasionally? Is that a hobby? I really do like sleeping…
But there’s more life to contextualize here. I started law school as a single parent of two children who had plenty of hobbies (or as we call it in parent speak, extracurriculars). So the reality was that my hobby (assuming “hobby” is shorthand for what one actually does outside of work or school) was pretty much exclusively driving my children to all of their clubs and activities and practices and keeping track of (and cleaning) their gear needed for said activities. Plus homework management and support. And keeping up with laundry. And feeding all of us. And maybe even making faint attempts at cleaning the house if I’m feeling really extra ambitious and/or productively procrastinating extra hard.
My best example of how ridiculous this all was is an evening where I was sitting in the back of Macky Auditorium a few days before Thanksgiving, which also happened to be a week and change before my fall semester 1L exams began, desperately trying to flip through a stack of haphazard course outlines in the dim light while simultaneously keeping my younger daughter quiet and still just so I could adoringly watch my older daughter when she ran on stage for 30 seconds as a mouse in the battle scene during her ballet school’s dress rehearsals for The Nutcracker.
It was her first year in the production and my first year of law school, so needless to say, I truly had no idea what I had gotten us all into or how much it would all be. But here I was, trying so very hard to do all of it all at once. And I’m sure I was doing all of it pretty badly. Or at least, very, very tiredly.
So no, I did not have “hobbies” right then to pour extra time and energy and money into, because I did not have extra time and energy and money. I had children, whose lives were time consuming and exhausting for me as a parent. I had law school, a never ending time suck and energy drain with extra stress sprinkled on top of everything. And I liked to at least occasionally go to sleep before midnight.
Trying to honestly explain any of this to people interviewing me failed miserably. Somehow, “my hobby is supporting my children’s hobbies” just wasn’t the answer they were looking for.
So I took up different tactics along the way, and tried to lean in to things I enjoyed doing before law school consumed every functioning brain cell I had left.
Like reading! I love reading! Novels (and libraries) are the best! Or at least, I love reading when I don’t also have to spend hours slogging through textbooks every day. But it’s fine that I’m not actually reading new novels during law school because I can remember books I read before law school, and therefore can still have a reasonably articulate discussion about which Stephen King tome is the best and which one should never be read by human eyes ever again because the creepy sewer clown is just a little too much when it turns into a giant spider.
But they just didn’t get it. Or I just couldn’t communicate it well. Or maybe I just didn’t have sufficient passion for mainstream sports teams and strenuous outdoor recreational pursuits as expected in Colorado? Regardless, it did not feel like any of my answers about “my hobbies” had ever gone well.
And so, after several frustrating years of this train wreck happening in every job interview, I finally accepted that I needed to get a hobby during my 3L year. Yep, I needed a hobby purely for the purpose of answering this singularly terrible question in job interviews, and not for any actual desire to do much of anything (as I still had children who still had to be driven to lots of things every week and I still liked sleeping).
Through some targeted Facebook adds I stumbled across Let’s Make Art, where they mail you kits with all the supplies for watercolor painting and you follow along with their YouTube videos. I had enjoyed doing the occasional wine and (acrylic) painting class in the past, and this seemed like an achievable (and much cheaper) from-home variation. And while my knowledge of watercolor as a paint medium was limited to not-great memories from a middle school art class, this company model was genuinely appealing. Mainly, that I did not have to think too hard about any of it. Order the subscription. Box of supplies shows up at my house. Follow the step-by-step instructions. Boom! Watercolor painting achieved.
I could do this. And then I would have an easily articulable hobby that would (hopefully) be accepted at face value and sufficiently check whatever box interviewers feel like such a question is checking. It was a brilliant plan.
But there was an unexpected plot twist in all of this. Turns out that I absolutely love watercolor painting, so much more than acrylics or drawing or any other art form I have ever dabbled in.
(It sure wasn’t me)
The easily-accessible tutorials were eventually phased out, first replaced with harder tutorials and then more independent projects from my own fleeting moments of artistic ambition. I started upgrading to better quality materials (buying art supplies is its own fabulous hobby). I read many a beautiful art book and watched many an inspiring YouTube instructional video.
I had found solace for my soul in the simple act of painting small strokes of color over and over again. And watercolor painting became a true hobby (and passion) for me. I suppose I should thank the terrible job interviews for motivating me to go find it.
And I also got better. An iris happened to be my first painting, as curated by Let’s Make Art for my subscription box. As such, I have revisited painting an iris every year since. On occasion I ponder whether I even like painting irises at all (they are a bit of a fussy flower), but I do so love comparing each year with the prior ones. Growth is a beautiful thing when it can be so simply seen. And while I know I have experienced personal growth in other areas of my life, none of it is as visually satisfying as the irises.
So, for anyone who thinks that they too may need a hobby (even if just to say, yes, I do have a hobby) but does not feel like they have a lot of existing hobby-talent (or even untapped hobby potential), skills truly are teachable, instructional resources are abundantly available on the internet, and you will absolutely get better simply with time and practice. But even if you’re not very good at, the act of doing it is enough if the act brings you joy or peace. Dance badly. Knit lumpy. Sing offkey. Do what makes you happy.
And just maybe, when interviewing other people for jobs, we could all be a bit more understanding of how much of a privilege it really is just to be able to pursue such recreational follies in the first place.
Marty Whalen Brown is currently pursuing a PhD in law at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. She holds a J.D. degree from the University of Colorado Law School and previously worked in public service with the State of Colorado.