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VORBACH: Stop scrolling, ignite old passions

Column: We need to talk

It is all too easy to waste time scrolling through your phone, but taking up a meaningful and challenging hobby can bring new joy to your free time.  – Photo by

If you are feeling bored with life, we need to talk. 

When I was a kid, I hated piano lessons. 

I never understood why I did it — I enjoyed playing well enough, but it was never an activity I had truly been interested in. At some point, it was fun. I taught my friends what I learned, I practiced new songs and I experienced the joy of making music.

Nonetheless, my enjoyment faded fast when it simply became another task that I was told to do. My parents were convinced that it would improve me academically and cognitively (they were right), but as a kid, I never saw it that way. When the opportunity arose to quit in the sixth grade, I took it. 

I would begin to regret my decision in high school as I saw friends excel in musical performances and use it to destress. Barely three years after I decided to leave the piano behind and I was convinced that it was already too late. Everyone else had been practicing since they were a child, and I had missed three years of valuable music lessons. I would never be great at playing, so I could not even bother to try. 

This defeatist attitude remained with me throughout high school and the last three years of my college career. Even though I could have made an effort to relearn throughout the first 15 months of being at home, I never did. Either life got in the way, or it was simply too hard to be even more productive when grappling with the pressures of life in a global pandemic. 

Yet this past summer, everything changed. Whereas before I would unwind after classes, extracurriculars and work commitments with a book or the endless expanses of the internet, I became bored with everything that I used to do for fun at home. Suddenly, I was too tired to meet with friends, too burnt out to enjoy the outdoors and, most confusingly of all, too uninterested to go on the internet. 

For me, being bored of the internet was a new phenomenon. I had never before exhausted all possible online avenues of entertainment, advocacy and knowledge, but by June 2021, I would turn to my cell phone and find nothing interesting inside of it. 

What was I supposed to do to distract myself on my mandatory remote lunch break? What was I supposed to relax with while I had a few hours to kill during the day? 

During the semester, I certainly had plenty of competing responsibilities, but my internship work in the summer meant that I had greater freedom than before, and I was at a loss for how to spend my time. Worst of all, this feeling of boredom translated into apathy. I had no interest in anything, including mindless (or intellectual) entertainment. 

It was at this point of extreme desperation, during the moments when I felt least fulfilled, that I turned back to the piano. It had been years since I last truly played — I barely remembered how to read music, scarcely recalled songs that had once been ingrained in my memory and could no longer keep rhythm while playing. Yet those 88 black and white keys called to me, and they begged me to try once again to make beautiful music. 

In full transparency — I did not become a pianist over the summer. My rendition of "Für Elise" is slow and shaky at best, and I am likely worse than I was when I was 12 years old. But being good at the piano is not why I started playing (irregularly) again. I decided to play again because I needed an outlet, and the piano was familiar, fun and frustrating.

Having to try again and again to get a song right was challenging in all of the right ways, and, suddenly, I was no longer bored. I could spend hours sitting down at my family’s small upright piano, sometimes into the wee hours of the night. Unlike hours spent on my phone, I felt fulfilled for the first time in a long time, perhaps since the pandemic first began in earnest. 

In playing over this past summer, did I commit to a regular practice schedule, or plan out when I would have a certain song perfected? No! Because I played for fun, I played when I wanted to. My priority was not to improve and perform for others, it was to take part in something that brought me joy, even if I was not great at it. It is with this in mind that I challenge you to try something new or old — something difficult — for fun.

Maybe you will become a master painter or the next great American author, or you might not. Either way, I am sure you will walk away feeling a little more fulfilled with the world around you. 

Glad we talked. 

Laura Vorbach is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and criminal justice and minoring in international and global studies and economics. Her column, "We Need to Talk," runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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