Sprawling ramble about whether to become awesome

Audio recording here.

I have a lot of interests. Maybe a lot of people do, but I feel I might be straying to one end of the continuum. I’m not saying it’s bad, exactly, but it definitely impacts my life.

Here’s the problem: everything is interesting. Really, everything. I’m fascinated by it all.

Look, here’s my current Twitter bio: “e-Learning Contact in Northern Ontario. I also read, write, paint, play guitar, code, draw, nordic ski, run, take pictures, shoot, cook, and play with the kids.”

The first problem with that? I left a bunch of stuff out. I love Lego and video RPGs. I love editing video. I love woodworking. I even like to cut the grass. I love gardening, except for the actual creating-a-garden part.

The second problem is more obvious: that’s a very, very long list, and it’s going to grow over time. I’m 34 years old; I know I haven’t come across all of the awesome and fascinating things to learn about in life. I expect and hope to have decades of riveting years ahead of me, and I just don’t really have room.

Up until now I’ve taken the Renaissance approach: I’ll learn a little bit about everything. Mile wide, inch deep. I’ll be okay or even pretty good, but not excellent, at everything.

But I sometimes worry that this is the “wrong” approach. Perhaps it’s less fulfilling somehow than becoming awesome at something. I feel like I have it in me to be excellent at, well, anything. That’s not me boasting, that’s just how I feel we all are about most things. We can become great at most things if we commit to them. That commitment is the component that’s missing.

For myself, committing to something means the exclusion of a lot of other things. For example, if I were to decide to pursue painting in my spare time I’d probably have to give up guitar or writing or programming or blogging or… see? I don’t believe there is enough time to do it all. I already feel bad sometimes about not being a highly skilled guitarist because I don’t practice or try to learn new skills. How would I feel if I had less time for guitar because I spent my time painting? Would I feel even more guilt?

Part of the issue is that I don’t know why I feel guilty. To whom do I owe a guitar performance? Only to myself, I suppose. Is my own expectation for myself truly higher than what I’m willing to meet? That’s kind of a foolish way to set my personal standards.

Maybe it’s because I’ve already “bought in”. You know what I mean: I own a guitar and a terrific amplifier; I have tons of drawing paper and lovely pencils; I have dozens of tubes of acrylic paints; I have LOTS of Lego. If I were to abandon something it would be akin to admitting those purchases were wasteful. Even to myself it’s hard to admit a mistake.

I did once, though. I used to knit; my mom taught me. I still know how. I learned a lot about the craft. I listened to podcasts, watched videos, combed through blogs and pattern sites, borrowed books from the library (yes, the physical kind), and more. I bought a full set of beautiful bamboo needles, including pairs of single-points, quintets (is that right?) of double-points, and 4″ circulars. They were lovely to work with, and I enjoyed it a lot. But I found I was enjoying other pursuits more, and that knitting was an exceptionally slow craft. I could draw a stunning portrait in less time than it took to knit a pair of socks, and I had more fun at it. So I gave my implements and a truly giant stash of yarn to my mom. Don’t worry; she’s making good use of it, and she’s teaching my daughter now.

I’m digressing, but you can see the symptoms above: I want to know everything about whatever I’m learning right now. I want to know the nitty-gritty, miniscule, no-one-else-even-cares-about-them details. I probably know more about knitting than half the people in Canada and I don’t even knit anymore.

I just finished listening to “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield on Audible. I’ll probably write a review for it once I have all my thoughts semi-organized about it. In the meantime I’ll say that the author believes in a lot of things, which kills of a good portion of his credibility with me, and he gets a lot of things right. The good part of the book is that he exhorts the author/artist/writer/entrepreneur/etc. to overcome “resistance”, the things in life that get in the way of “the work”, that thing you should be doing. Apart from his confused spirituality (angels, the Muse, and so on), I had two problems with his messages. I’ll admit, I’m possibly not the audience he was addressing, so please enjoy a grain of salt with my criticisms.

First, I got the feeling that the advice he provides is for professionals or would-be professionals. He disdains the “amateur” for not being serious enough and not loving the art or “work” enough to commit fully to it. That bothers me a lot, because he’s saying that I should pursue the one thing that is my “destiny” with single-minded zeal. This essentially precludes the possibility that there is anything short of whole-hog to consider in my pursuits.

The second and more important issue is that he contends (“assumes” is perhaps a better word) that “the work” is more important than almost anything else in life, and that the rest of life is just a distraction and an excuse to avoid doing “the work”. While my perspective would be called “resistance” in his book, I’ll share it anyway: the other parts of our lives make us richer, and the creative parts suffer without them.

So no, I don’t think I should give everything else up to be a stellar painter/programmer/guitarist/Master Builder. It’s not like I’m trying to monetize my skills; these are more “hobbies” or things I like to do for myself.

But there’s a little uncertainty there…. Why do I want to create? Many of the things I love are creative, although I don’t think of myself as an especially creative person. For whom am I creating? If no one but me was to ever view my paintings, would I still put brush to canvas? If I wrote a dozen songs that were all stunningly mediocre, would I be satisfied? What is the purpose? Is there a purpose? Does there need to be one? Do I need goals in my pursuits? Does there need to be tangible gain, or even intangible gain? Is the activity itself enough? Can I enjoy it even without a clear accomplishment?

As you can see I haven’t answered these questions, just spewed them across the end of this post. I don’t know how I should spend my time, or even whether “should” exists. I suppose I’ll just continue to obsess over this activity or that for a while until I decide what the right course of action is.

In the meantime, now that you’ve read my 1200-word navel-inspection, I want to leave you with Wil Wheaton’s words about why it’s awesome to be a nerd. This is what I identify with, and it’s a perspective that’s informing my thinking on how to spend my time. Read the entire thing, and go watch the video of the live event, but I’ll share his definition here because it so perfectly sums me up:

I think a lot of us have realized that being a nerd … it’s not about what you love. It’s about how you love it.

Thanks, and I’ll let you know if I have any epiphanies.

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