Living a Calling via Athletics Aesthetics

17 years ago, Paul Lukas took a calculated risk. The rest is uni-history.

Posted Apr 03, 2013

One of my guilty pleasures is uni-watch.com, a blog that revels in editorialized, obsessively-detailed information about sports uniforms. As leisure interests go, uniform design is probably a bit obscure, but what can I say? As a kid I spent hours designing new logos and uniforms for fictitious teams (for fun, naturally), and my favorite part of every Sports Illustrated season preview issue was its unveiling of uniform changes for the coming year. I could tell you which football players used which model of facemask; which basketball players wore which shoe; and which baseball players wore high pants and stirrups and which ones wore pajama-style pants (which I always hated, and still do). Imagine, then, my glee when back in 2004 I discovered an espn.com column by Paul Lukas, a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, that covered uniform trends, complete with web links to photos and articles. That was just the start of Uni-Watch (or rather, a continuation of it; Lukas’ column began in the now-defunct sports section of The Village Voice in 1999). In 2006, Lukas launched uni-watch.com, a blog (intended to supplement Lukas’ espn.com column) that has become part of my daily routine.

The Internet has a way of making people with obscure interests less lonely. Before, no one in my life cared when I complained about all the teams needlessly incorporating black as an accent color. Now I can go to Uni-Watch and find overwhelming support for my disdain of this lamentable trend from literally hundreds of people who Get It, to borrow from Lukas’ parlance. Before, where could I turn to profess my admiration of the St. Louis Cardinals’ striped stirrups? Ha—the Uni-Watch community actually has a stirrup CLUB! I haven’t started wearing stirrups under my Dockers on Fridays like a lot of these guys, but you get the picture.

Recently, Lukas posted the following bit of self-reflection as part of his daily round-up of uniform reporting:

"Emancipation Day: Seventeen years ago today, I walked out of my office at Billboard Books for the final time and began life as a full-time freelance writer. Haven’t had a regular job or a boss since then. (Also haven’t had employer-subsidized health benefits, paid vacation, sick days, or any other job-related perk, but of course I knew what I was getting into in that regard.) At the time, I thought of going freelance as an experiment. I guess we could now say the experiment has been a success. Good thing, too — after 17 years of working at home, I’m now pretty unemployable in any conventional sense of the term. The mere thought of going to an office gives me a rash.

"Anyway, the moral of the story is this: If you want to change your life or reinvent yourself, don’t just sit around fantasizing about it — go ahead and f***ing do it. Even if the experiment doesn’t work out, at least you won’t be wondering what might have been."

This struck me as a very poignant point of instruction. Uni-Watch is not the only venture that Lukas is involved in, but the blog is a big part of what he does, and obviously it’s had staying power. Why? Writing about uniform design does not cure HIV, feed the hungry, or nourish people’s spiritual needs (at least not directly). But for me and a lot of other like-minded people, it helps satisfy an embarrassingly strong interest and brings at least 5 minutes of extra joy every day. In that sense, Lukas is (1) using his gifts in meaningful ways to (2) make a difference in the world, which are two facets of what it means to approach work as a calling.

In my role as a vocational psychologist, I have interacted with many people who long for a new and different path. Identifying that path and then following it can be very risky in many ways—particularly when it means leaving a job with relative security and embarking on a more independent and uncertain journey, like Lukas did. For some, taking a risk like this leads to failure and regret. But as Lukas recognizes, sometimes a well-thought-out “experiment” can lead to many years of meaningful work that makes the world better, in big or small ways. I often ask people facing such a crossroads this question: What would you regret more, taking the risk and failing, or playing it safe and always wondering “what if”? Those of us who like striped stirrups and hate needless black accents are hugely grateful that Lukas took the leap those 17 years ago.