A friend’s request

You know, time really is passing us by, and while I’m sure you’re making great progress I wonder if you could be harder on yourself for your own good. I say this because I want us to be successful, the both of us. I’d really like for you to evaluate everything you do, everything you spend your time on, and see if it’s getting you closer to your goal or not. If not, cut it out, and re-examine every so often.

My longtime friend Aisha sent that to me in an email last month. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

She’s not the first to say something like that to me, and I’d had similar thoughts myself. But some revelations are like jars with the lids screwed on too tight: you’ve got to pass the jar around and have everyone give a twist, until finally it’s loose enough and someone manages to open it.

This jar is now open.

Like a scented candle, the revelation has been subtle but sweet, slowly spreading through the air, filling me more with each new breath. I haven’t cut much out yet — in fact, I added in piano practice and Chinese lessons — but I’ve been considerably more careful with my time. Guarding it like the precious resource that it is. Giving less of it to the internet and more of it to my manuscript. Spending less of it half-engaged and more of it fully committed.

It’s funny how time can seem bigger that way.

What I didn’t want to do was make a bunch of drastic changes and then find myself unable to stay committed to them. Instead I’ve been letting Aisha’s suggestion seep into me, like a plant soaking water up through the roots so that it can grow strong in the right direction. (Lots of metaphors today…) Only time will reveal what blossoms, but I’m optimistic.

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16 Comments

  1. Jon

    Great post. I totally agree, I can’t believe three years have passed since college, they either seem like the three longest years of my life or a dream. I can’t decide which.

  2. I have so many different things that I do, and somehow I keep adding more, and finding time for them all is not easy. I’m over-scheduled, but I don’t want to let anything go.

    I know that wasn’t really the point that you were making, but that’s what I have to say.

  3. Trisha

    Piano and Chinese. You are your father’s daughter.

  4. Les

    Oh I wish. I’m so blah with my down time now because I have nearly none of it. It’s all I can do to stay awake, never mind do anything productive with it :(

  5. Excellent words, and definitely something I need to take into consideration, too. With life, material possessions, and anything else; if it’s not bringing productivity or pure joy, why bother with it?

    I love that you’re doing piano and Chinese classes, it’s good for creativity to keep your mind going in many different directions!

  6. Yay, go you! I’ve found that I don’t give up on things easily. I’ve been taking piano for over six years, and writing for even longer, and the possibility of stopping just…never occurred to me. But I have the bad habit of practicing those two things only when I feel like practicing them. Like you, I’m working on devoting more time to them, even when it’s the last thing I want to do. To paraphrase Jeff Goins (you should check out his blog): Look at writing not as a hobby, but as a discipline.

    Also, a note on playing the piano: When you first start learning a really hard piece, it feels hopeless. You think you will never be able to learn it, that you’re just waisting your time. But then, you reach a turning point. And it’s like a breath of fresh air. You fingers fly over the keys. And, I swear, you can’t even imagine not being able to play it. With each new piece the memory of all that “suffering” is completely washed away.

    Well, hope that helped. Good luck in all your endeavors!

  7. Kristan, This reminds me of your comment on my blog yesterday . . . about reevaluating our passions and goals. Sounds like you’ll be doing a bit of that too. It IS hard to keep the internet from infringing too much on the rest of our life. There’s this magic time suck that happens where we really don’t feel the time ticking by. I know I personally always think “5 more minutes . . . ” It’s NEVER just 5 more minutes.

    Glad to connect via our blogs. Off to follow you on Twitter

  8. Julia

    I go back and forth between requiring myself to be committed to anything I do and allowing myself to dabble. The same way I go through decorating phases, sometimes limiting myself to one expensive high quality item and sometimes giving in to those cheap, fun, short lived items from Big Lots. I figure in the end, it all balances out.

    I took piano lessons for a few years, but ending up sacrificing the effort for work. However, one thing my instructor taught me has endured. Work on the hard parts first and break them down into small, chewable bites. Learn three notes of a difficult bit, then three more, then three more. Don’t worry about putting it together until the end. Steady advise for piano and life.

  9. I like this Aisha character. :)

  10. Carol

    Thanks for this wonderful and very interesting post. I really love it.

  11. Jon-
    LOL I know what you mean. Five years for me, same feeling.

    Sonje-
    I think different people work best different ways. You seem to thrive on the activity, and your enthusiasm for each generates more energy for the others. I’m sure there’s a breaking point for everyone, but mine just seems to be much lower, LOL.

    Trisha-
    And my mother’s, too!

    Les-
    But you already ARE going after a dream. So yeah, get some rest. You’ve earned it.

    Mandy-
    Both of those are my personal beliefs too!

    Laura-
    “Discipline” is the key word for me. I’ve got the passion and the skills, but sometimes when the going gets tough, I get bored. So yes, thank you for the reminder to stick with it past that turning point. It’s totally worth all the “suffering” that comes before.

    Nina-
    Yes, it was funny to read your post and realize how it related to my friend’s request. Seems like a lot of signs are pointing me in this direction lately. And holy cow, 5 min. is more like 50. Which is why I often have to turn off the Internet completely.

    Thanks for stopping by! See ya in the Twitter sphere. :)

    Julia-
    So true. As you say, that approach works for more than just piano, and I try to remember that when I’m facing the blank page (and every other daunting task in my life). I’m not super musical, but I am glad my parents made me take lessons as a kid, because I think that gave me a good foundation for a lot of things.

    Sarah-
    :D

    Carol-
    Thanks! I think all the great comments have made it truly worthwhile.

  12. What a thoughtful email from your friend! Thank you for sharing this! It’s a great reminder, especially for me right now because I’ve been reconsidering some aspects of my life and how I use my time now, and to be honest, I don’t really feel like I’m making the most of it. I think I have to figure out what things I can let go, and what I should be really focusing on.

  13. :D I added piano back into my life too; funny how you CAN add more in, as long as you cut out the less important stuff.

  14. I think Aisha is very wise

  15. Krispy-
    Glad it resonated with you too!

    Aisha-
    Yup. It’s a paradox.

    Angie-
    Hehe, she has her moments. ;)

  16. This post resonates with me, too, because I’ve overcommitted myself to the point that I’m not getting much writing OR blogging done. I read about these writers who don’t have websites and don’t tweet and don’t blog and just write all day every day, and I feel envious.

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