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I gave up the NFL to make more time for adventuring

Football season is once again upon us, but I won’t be donning my favorite jersey on Sunday mornings this season, yet again.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up a San Francisco 49ers fan. Well, make that a rather passionate Niners fan.

Only true fans wear an NFC Champions shirt over a short-sleeve turtleneck for the formal family photo.

How passionate you ask? Well, passionate enough to persuade force my parents to let me wear a Niners shirt during one of our few formal family portraits. Yes, that’s an actual family photo from my childhood.

I remained a dedicated fan through my youth and into adulthood. I’d rejoice in the playoff runs and endure losing seasons. But my loyalty to the game—and especially my team—never waned. One of the true constants in my life has been spending my fall Sundays watching NFL football. I’d record and later rewatch Niner games so I could better understand how plays and the game unfolded. I attended game watching parties with the local 49ers fan club. I made a pilgrimage to Canton to worship the busts of 49er greats, and I could batter rival teams with an unusually comprehensive bevy of cutting insults. I owned far too many products sporting the team logo.

And then three years ago, I gave it all up—cold turkey.

In short, I gave up the NFL to make more time for travel and adventuring.

I boxed up all the shirts, hats, jerseys, cups, plates, and other memorabilia I owned and unfollowed countless NFL and 49ers social media accounts. That might seem a bit dramatic to some, but sometimes the best breakup is a clean break.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love football. And my fall travel opportunities remain substantially limited by the football schedule—I’m an even bigger Sun Devil football fan, after all. But it all came down to choices. And while I loved watching pro football on Sundays (and Mondays, and even Thursdays), it wasn’t worth devoting so much of my fall to the sport. Because it’s not just watching a game or two or three every week, but also keeping up with the latest news, the latest conjecture, the nonstop discussion and analysis. You know, casually turning on the NFL Network and suddenly wondering what happened to the last two hours. There are surprisingly large phantom time costs involved. Until I opted out, I didn’t realize that being a diehard pro football fan takes up a lot of one’s free time.

Choosing priorities

Obviously, I’m not arguing that you should join me in ditching the NFL. It’s simply a gentle reminder to be intentional with your time and attention.

Life is full of tradeoffs and opportunity costs. You can’t have everything, so you have to prioritize based on what’s most important to you. Maybe the NFL makes the cut in your own life. For me, making space for more adventures—even if that’s just squeezing in a hike or day trip each Sunday—was more important than participating in America’s most popular fandom. And yes, even if it was something that I truly did love.

I spent last Super Bowl Sunday at the aptly-named Desert Bar, an off-the-grid cash-only (and tv-free) solar saloon in the mountains outside of parker, Arizona. On a day spent exploring a series of Western Arizona destinations, I completely forgot the big game was even being played.

Don’t get me wrong—I do occasionally miss it, at least a bit. But overall I’m pretty happy with my decision…surprisingly so, in fact. I had expected it to be more difficult than it really was. I had forgotten that it can be a bit of a relief to step away from something; doing so often provides an odd yet empowering sense of newfound freedom. And when I can direct that new freedom towards something I love doing even more? Well, that’s worth making the change.

As I dropped the NFL, I also made a conscious effort to curtail my investment in college football. I don’t read up on other teams much anymore, nor watch random games on television, even when it’s a much-hyped matchup of top 5 teams. In fact, it’s rare that I watch a game that doesn’t involve my Sun Devils. Ok…I admit that I still occasionally gleefully watch that awful team down south lose again, just for funsies.

Making some choices

If you want to travel more, or go on more adventures, then you may need to make some adjustments to your life to make that possible—whether that’s freeing up time, saving money, or both. Often, that will involve some choices—potentially hard choices—about where you place your focus.

I’m often asked how I manage to travel as much as I do. Some of it stems from some pretty big decisions I’ve made in my life, such as choosing not to have kids, or not pursuing more financial stability by working 70 hours a week in order to climb the corporate career ladder. And it’s also because of how I travel—traveling fast and camping in order to avoid the expense of hotelseven when I have to fly to my destination. But it’s not just those things alone. It’s also the priority I generally give travel in my life.

It means skipping happy hour after work on Tuesday so that I can do laundry and prep for a weekend trip, so I can leave immediately after work on Friday. Or choosing a cheap sub over a nicer restaurant so I can save some gas money for next weekend’s road trip. Or typing this on a 6 year-old MacBook Pro, even though my battery is toast and I’ve been dying to upgrade. It means driving my car into the ground before replacing it with something better.

But it’s not just about saving money. After all, my divorce with the NFL centered on saving time, not cash.

scott organ pipe cactus
I may not win the bar trivia bonus round by knowing who caught the game winning touchdown in last year’s AFC Championship game, but I thoroughly enjoyed a gorgeous day in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument instead. I guess I won after all.

Being time poor but great at bar trivia

I’m not well versed on pop culture. That’s rather clear to anyone who knows me today. I haven’t seen the latest movies, I only watch a handful of tv shows, and I don’t spend any time following celebrities. Most modern pop culture references zip over my head. I’m simply not someone you want on your bar trivia team. I bet most of the people who’ve met me in the last decade or so would assume that’s just “who I am.”

The truth is, that wasn’t always me. I used to go to the movies at least once a week, and I had enough shows I watched regularly that it was a constant struggle to keep a sliver of space available on the DVR. And I sought out all the football I could find, at least when I wasn’t playing it on xbox instead.

It was actually a period of minimalism—an attempt to reduce the number of material possessions I owned—that helped spark the change. I was already thinking critically about what items I owned, and why I owned them, so it was natural to turn the same analysis towards how I spent my time. And it’s astounding how much of a time sink all of this pop culture consumption can become.

The opportunity cost of time wasters

When I sat down and looked at how I was spending my time, something jumped out at me. It was all the things I didn’t seem to have time for anymore. I wasn’t reading any of the books I had bought. I hadn’t written a blog post in ages. I wasn’t hiking as often as I’d like—and when I was, I was simply returning to the same familiar trails instead of seeking out new ones. I had countless projects I wanted to work on, but I never seemed to have time to get started on any of them.

I was spending, at minimum, a dozen hours a week watching tv or movies that I didn’t care too much about—shows I probably wouldn’t miss if I just stopped investing in them. It’s remarkably easy to keep watching a show after you’re a season or two in, even if it’s no longer especially entertaining. The sunk cost fallacy and simple inertia are more powerful than we realize. And as a result, I was stuck just passively consuming entertainment instead of creating my own.

If I had still been watching pro football, I would have missed experiencing this sunset over the salt flats from inside the ruins of an odd “hot spring” resort at Zzyzx in Mojave National Preserve. [And yes, that is indeed the last entry in the world atlas]

So, let me pose a question. What could you accomplish with an extra 12 hours a week?

Could you spend some of that on a side hustle that could fund that big trip to Alaska you’ve been fantasizing about? Could you plan out some weekend adventures that you might not otherwise had gotten around to taking? Could you spend it learning how to be a better photographer, or maybe a better photo editor? Could you spend it prepping your gear so your next trip was easier to prepare for? Could you spend a day finally completing that day hike that’s been on your list for a decade?

Would any of these things inspire you to cut out a few hours of senseless sitcom watching each week? Because it sure did for me.

A constant reassessment

There are simply endless ways to waste time—and that was true long before social media cratered our collective productivity. But the key is to be proactive in deciding what’s most important to you and what’s worth the time you give it. And let’s be clear: I’m not perfect at this, by any means. I’m surely due for a reassessment of how much time I spend on twitter, for instance.

An important thing to keep in mind is that your own priorities will likely change over time. This endeavor is something that requires periodic re-evaluations. And to be truly valuable (and I’m convinced it is), this requires candidly honest assessments, not simple rationalizations.

The point is to be open-eyed and intentional about how your time gets spent. If you want to just get out more, then you may have to make some trade-offs to accomplish that. You may need to reduce some of your existing time commitments, even if that means renegotiating your relationship with something you otherwise enjoy—maybe even something like the NFL.

Have you cut out something from your life to make more time for travel and adventure? Tell me in the comments!