The Significance of Marginal Activities in Shaping Identity

Categories: Life

In Ian Frazier’s thought-provoking essay, "In Praise of Margins," he delves into his childhood experiences, emphasizing the importance of "margins" or moments when one engages in activities with carefree abandon. Frazier argues that these "marginal" thoughts are not only valuable for fostering imagination but also essential for personal growth and reflection.

Frazier challenges the conventional notion of margins as mere extra space on a paper's edge, expanding it to encompass the economic and personal realms of our lives. Marginal spaces, according to him, play a crucial role in the coming-of-age process, providing an escape from the challenges of everyday life that everyone faces, albeit in different forms.

Agreeing with Frazier, I believe that the unpredictable nature of marginal activities is a universal truth. Life's imperfections often interfere with our idealized moments, yet these very imperfections add depth and meaning to our experiences. Frazier's exploration of his childhood haunts highlights the loss of such spaces in modern societies, particularly in the context of the relentless pursuit of economic success.

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Frazier suggests that margins offer a unique space for trying out ideas without fear of judgment, a concept crucial to anyone's life. What one person considers a marginal space may differ from another's, but the common thread is the escape from reality. In the context of an economic society, where time equals money, Frazier's seemingly unproductive activities, like sitting in a tree for hours, are viewed with skepticism.

Reflecting on Frazier's experience, he initially felt useless during his tree-sitting episodes. However, as he matured, those seemingly wasted moments transformed into something sacred.

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I had a similar revelation when taking my nephews to an ice rink during Christmas. It made me realize the importance of occasional activities that provide a respite from the stress of daily life.

Reflection, as Frazier contends, requires a past to look back on. Memories, whether positive or negative, shape our identity. In a society focused on continuous progress and future-oriented thinking, humans need moments to focus and reminisce about their origins. The analogy of running straight with heads down warns of the dangers of losing oneself without occasional retrospection.

To stay on track and understand one's trajectory, occasional glances back become imperative. Frazier's seemingly purposeless "marginal" activities, like sitting in the woods, underscore the importance of engaging in activities not solely for profit but for the sake of creating memories to reflect upon.

During Frazier's youthful escapades in the woods, I found parallels in my own childhood experiences—ice skating in freezing arenas, hop-scotching with neighbors, and playing house with cousins. These seemingly typical activities held profound meaning for me, serving as a foundation for personal growth.

In essence, the crux lies in freeing one's mind from societal expectations and judgments. My childhood activities, despite their seeming normalcy, allowed me to disregard others' opinions and focus on personal development. However, just as Frazier lamented the disappearance of his cherished woods, I, too, acknowledge the inevitable changes that accompany growing up.

The excitement of childhood activities, be it ice skating or hop-scotch, diminishes with age. Frazier's realization, "…and suddenly there was nothing up there for us," echoes the sentiment that certain experiences lose their charm over time. The carefree enjoyment of activities like skating or hop-scotch becomes a nostalgic memory as responsibilities of adulthood take precedence.

Yet, as Frazier suggests, the essence of "playing" doesn't have to end. While the specific activities may change, the need for margins remains constant. Activities that once defined childhood can evolve into new forms—college pursuits, career aspirations—yet the underlying principle of occasional detachment from life's pressures persists.

As Frazier engaged in breaking ice, climbing trees, and picking fruits, my marginal activities took the form of ice skating, hop-scotch, and playing house. The diversity of marginal activities underscores their necessity for individuals of all ages to release the pent-up pressure and stresses of everyday life.

Moreover, these marginal activities are not merely frivolous pursuits but serve as building blocks for resilience and adaptability. In the pursuit of personal growth, we encounter challenges that require resilience, a quality often honed through experiences that push us out of our comfort zones. Frazier's escapades in the woods and my own childhood activities were not just about momentary joy; they were about building a foundation for facing life's adversities.

Consider the act of ice skating, for instance. It may seem like a simple childhood pastime, but the falls and bruises were lessons in perseverance. Each time I stumbled on the ice and got back up, I was unknowingly cultivating a resilience that would prove invaluable in facing the uncertainties of adulthood.

Similarly, hop-scotching and playing house were not mere games but avenues for developing social skills and cooperation. The negotiation of rules in hop-scotch and the collaborative role-playing in house games laid the groundwork for navigating complex social dynamics in later years. In essence, these seemingly marginal activities were the training grounds for the challenges that lay ahead.

While Frazier's essay primarily focuses on the personal aspect of marginal activities, it's essential to recognize their societal implications. In a world driven by technological advancements and a relentless pursuit of success, the value of activities that provide a mental and emotional escape cannot be overstated.

Consider the modern workplace, where individuals are often caught in the perpetual cycle of deadlines and targets. The concept of a "lunch break" has transformed from a moment of respite to a hurried consumption of sustenance while glued to a computer screen. The lack of genuine breaks, or margins, contributes to burnout and a decline in overall well-being.

Frazier's advocacy for marginal activities is a call to reevaluate societal norms that prioritize constant productivity. The occasional escape from the rigors of daily life is not a luxury but a necessity for maintaining mental health and fostering creativity. In the grand tapestry of life, these marginal moments are the threads that add color and richness to the mundane canvas of routine.

As Frazier eloquently puts it, "…the margin is where you can try out ideas that you might be afraid to admit to with people looking on." This sentiment extends beyond the individual to society as a whole. It's in these marginal spaces that groundbreaking ideas are born, where individuals can innovate without the stifling gaze of judgment.

In conclusion, the significance of marginal activities in shaping identity is not confined to personal growth alone. These seemingly unproductive moments are the seeds of resilience, adaptability, and creativity. Frazier's exploration of his childhood margins and my reflections on similar experiences underscore the timeless importance of these activities.

As we navigate the complexities of adulthood, let us not forget the lessons learned in the woods, on the ice rink, or in the midst of playful childhood games. Embracing marginal activities is not a regression to the past but a celebration of the enduring essence of play, creativity, and self-discovery.

Written by Daniel Rodriguez
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Keep in mind: this is only a sample!
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
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The Significance of Marginal Activities in Shaping Identity. (2016, Nov 18). Retrieved from

The Significance of Marginal Activities in Shaping Identity essay
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