Mastering the Art of Life

You get better at doing something the more time you spend doing it.  That’s very obvious, but that’s why it’s important to choose a job carefully, because you’re choosing to get good at it, over something else.

But no matter what your job is, you’re always doing life.  So you’d think you get good at doing life.  Part of becoming a master at something means you gain control over it.  Do you have control over your life?

Turns out there’s a flaw in my perspective there.  I thought that since I’m alive I’m “doing” life.  That’s not necessarily true.  I spent a lot of time trying to escape life.  Trying to distract myself from it.  Or thinking about the past or the future.  Engaged in something other than what’s in front of me.  Does it sound familiar to you?  Many people turn to drinking — how much time do you spend doing it?   I am grateful, I was a goody-two-shoes who never properly tested any serious substance as my life-distractor.  If I had I would have been so hooked.

My vice was video games when I was a child.  I was so addicted, I couldn’t stop.  My parents detected a danger in my inability to control my life, and they tried to restrain me by hiding my Nintendo.  But I found where it was hidden and played behind their back.  I knew that they knew it, but they didn’t confront me about it consistently.  As a parent now I can relate — they didn’t know what to do.   They were initially against buying it, but I begged them in tears, pleading that if I didn’t have it I would be the only one among friends who didn’t have it.

The guilt I felt playing my video games was crippling.  The enjoyment of playing got tightly coupled with the guilt of playing behind my parents’ back, and until recently I saw anything I like as something I had to do in hiding.  So yes, there was awkwardness with music, because I loved music but I felt guilty and weird about it, I couldn’t come out and say I was a musician.  Somehow I felt like I wasn’t allowed.

But I digress, the point here is that while doing something for a lot of hours does help to master it, the real point is you get better at doing something the longer you pay attention to it.  I was wondering, after four decades of existing, why I am not a master of life.  Turns out it’s because I spent a lot of time not paying attention.  Don’t get me wrong, taking breaks is necessary and healthy.  There’s nothing wrong with occasional (or even regular, in moderation) drinking or video games.  But if you want to get better at life, you have to realize that time you spend away from it is not contributing to your gaining mastery.  Only the times when you’re paying attention counts.

So I’m working on paying attention.  In life paying attention means being mindful, and that’s a skill I’m very much developing right now.  I had to remove a lot of inner blocks that built up the habit of running away from life constantly, but I’m making progress.  There are many things I did learn in life.  I used to struggle with money, for example, but now I don’t.  But I’m far from being a master at life.  I don’t have adequate enough control of myself to stick to good daily schedule — I have an hourly schedule that should work better for me, but I’m always 15-30 minutes behind it and thus things don’t fit in my days even when they should, in concept.  I realize there is a gap between what’s on paper and reality but I’d like to get better at both estimating what fits in my days and then coming reasonably close in my execution.

What do you want to get better at?  A professional skill, relationship, or wealth creation?  If so, are you paying attention to it?  Are you really spending time being engaged with it?  I’m still learning what it means to do so. I hope my story may give you a thought or two about what may be helpful in your life.