There was a time a few years ago when I was somewhat infatuated with going to a monastery. It wasn’t a serious consideration, mind you, but there was something appealing about seeking a higher plane by gardening, sweeping floors, tending to a library, and generally doing whatever it is that monks do.
I realize now that what I was really seeking was a way of living. I have always been drawn to rituals and habits. In my adult life, the direction has been toward habits which would make me evolve into something better.
Consider two scenarios: You have an important presentation in two months. Because you aren’t ready, you dread it and this dread makes you procrastinate anything having to do with it. You find it more attractive to watch “This is Us”, play on social media, and go out to eat. In the days before the presentation, your fear motivates you to make up for lost time and you cram to the best of your ability. When the presentation comes, you do a passable job, though your primary emotion is one of relief when it’s done.
Second scenario: You have an important presentation in two months. Because you aren’t ready, you kick off your preparation by putting a 1.5 hour appointment on your calendar to scope out a plan to prepare. Each of the following days, you do some understanding, memorization, and visualization. With three days to go, you are ready, and by the time the day arrives, you can’t wait to execute. When it’s over, you’ve learned a few things to do better. Generally, you knocked it out of the park.
For the most part, our lives are not about the outcome. We have little control over how we are received, the weather, the economy, politics, or much else. If you’ve ever taught a class of children, you realize that even one misbehaving child can dictate the tenor of the class, at least until you can remove that child for the sake of the others.
What we can control is the process. My friends have heard me quote snowboarder Kelly Clark, who said, “To me, success looks like faithfulness.” Your faithfulness to doing the little things in your day-to-day life are what will make the difference. Any big accomplishment will require the application of effort over a long period of time. When the accomplishment is done, people may be amazed. What they may not immediately realize is how long you’ve been working on it.
In my spare time where I mentor runners, many of whom are doing their first marathon, I remind them to enjoy the way. While almost all of them are successful in their actual event, they know that on that day, they may face heat, cold, stomach difficulties, an injury, or any number of other things. One of our runners actually had her marathon interrupted by a train crossing which took ten minutes! Thankfully, by the time of their event, they also realize that the journey they have been on is actually the most important aspect, as they have grown to know others and know more about themselves.
I have a friend who picked up a guitar a few months ago and has been teaching herself to play it with YouTube videos. The oft-cited figure of 10,000 hours to master something (perhaps apocryphal, from Malcolm Galdwell’s book “Outliers”) is daunting. My friend, Jamie, on the other hand, is making progress and enjoying her time along the way. I can see the way it’s taken root. If she were only concerned about the outcome, perhaps she, too, would be daunted. While she can play some songs and entertain herself, what’s really important are the changes no one (including myself) can see. When we work on difficult things, we nurture our soul and change our brains. We are living in a way that transcends mere existence.
And the best part of living this way, trusting the process: no monastery required!