“Knitting Is Meditation”: A chat with Elizabeth Segran, author of The Rocket Years

No surprise here: we all have way more free time than we did about a month ago. And despite some added screen time (we’re just being honest), the STIK team has been exploring new hobbies that we wouldn’t normally dedicate time towards if it weren't for the quarantine. Tessa’s becoming a master chef, Peter’s experimenting as a cocktail connoisseur, Sarah and Claudia are mastering the latest Tik Tok routines, Christina’s preparing for motherhood, and like many of you -- Tory and Meg are finally learning how to knit! 

Our friend Elizabeth Segran, author of newly released book The Rocket Years: How Your Twenties Launch The Rest of Your Life, is also a recent knitting convert. Which is fitting, because she spent months researching how investing in personal hobbies - especially in your twenties - have long-term impacts on your lifelong health and happiness. Taking a page out of her own book (pun intended) Elizabeth spent the past few weeks of self-isolation investing in a new hobby and took up knitting with us! Since learning to knit with our Level 1 Quarantine Kit, she has now gone on to knit a blanket. Talk about impressive!! 

We sat down with her to learn more about her new book and how her research can also help us navigate the chaotic moment we’re living in. 

STIK: What inspired you to write this book? Can I read it even though I’m no longer in my twenties?

Here’s a little secret: I just turned 37 and I really wrote this book for myself! I think our twenties are a magical period in our lives, full of chaos and transformation. They’re the years when we write our own origin stories about who we are and what we want from life. And I think that going back and revisiting those years can help us to reconnect with our great passions and ambitions in life. We can identify the things on our bucket list we still have yet to achieve and chart the course for our futures. 

The main thing I learned when I wrote the book is that we have so much more choice than any generation that has come before us. We can choose our careers, our life partners, whether to be parents, what to do in our spare time. All of that choice is a gift, but it is also paralyzing at times. The way to make sense of it all is to learn as much as we can about what matters to us, what we value, what makes us happy, what makes us feel alive, so we can make choices that align with who we are. 

STIK: What were some of the most interesting findings in your research?

There were many things that really surprised me. I discovered that while most of us start our careers with a sense of what our “dream job” might be, it takes the average person about a decade to find a job that they truly love. I found out that our fitness habits as children and college students don’t really have an impact on our lifelong health, but that the exercise routines we create between the ages of 25 and 35 can add two additional years to our life. I found out that our circle of friends peaks at the age of 25 and keeps shrinking for the rest of our life, unless we actively work to stop this from happening. And I discovered that getting involved in activism when you’re in your twenties makes you much more likely to be politically engaged later in life. 

STIK: It sounds like you’ve used your research to help you through this difficult period. A little bird told us that the book actually spurred you to start knitting: Is that true?

Yes! In my chapter on hobbies, I discover that while many of us find it easy to neglect our pastimes, because we think they’re frivolous, there’s a lot of research that shows that hobbies actually improve our happiness and mental health. Our hobbies tend to be an expression of our identity, and many people say that they feel “most like themselves” when they’re doing these things. And since hobbies require us to learn new skills and stay mentally engaged in a particular activity, they allow us to turn our attention away from work or anxieties. Medical researchers have actually suggested that hobbies can be an intervention for stress and it can help prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s. 

And boy, have I needed a way to take my mind off my anxieties. Besides being a book author, I’m a journalist, which means part of my job is keeping up with the news, but I was finding it hard to switch off after work. I decided to use my spare time to learn how to knit, and I’m very glad I was able to get my hands on one of your kits. I found knitting to be very relaxing. Knitting is really a form of meditation, isn’t it? I’ll admit I’m a little addicted! After I knit that first cowl scarf, I bought more wool and knitted scarves, hats, and even a blanket. It’s very satisfying to learn a new stitch. And I love that after a knitting session, I have actually made something. It makes me feel so productive!

STIK: Do you have any other advice for us, as we navigate this tricky period? 

I do! I have two pieces of advice, based on the research in my book. First, friendships are very important throughout our lives. Researchers have found that people with strong social bonds have better physical and mental health, and live longer. But relationships can be very fragile, so it’s vitally important for us to use this period to deepen our friendships of all kinds. It can feel awkward and foreign to interact with our friends in different ways: Talking on Zoom rather than in person, or saying “hi” to a neighbor from a distance instead of up close. But we really need to push through this awkwardness, because we will probably be in this period of self-isolation for a long time. If you can, perhaps even try and make new friends. You could have a zoom coffee date or dinner party where you invite a friend of a friend, for instance. 

And finally, I know that life feels very chaotic right now. In my book, I encourage readers to harness the chaos in their life. Turbulent moments have a way of teaching us about ourselves and clarifying what really matters to us. In my case, I have been really savoring the time I spend with my four-year-old daughter who is now home from school. I typically travel a lot for work, but now that Ella and I are spending hours together every day, I am able to get to know her in new ways. We’ve had a lot more time to take leisurely walks and talk to one another. That’s been one bright spot in this dark time, and I hope that when we do eventually come out of this difficult moment in history, I find ways to continue having these beautiful moments with her. 

Besides knitting, what other hobbies are you investing in right now? Let us know in the comments!

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