There is a saying “may you live in interesting times.” It is erroneously attributed to being an ancient Chinese proverb. However, a little bit of research will quickly reveal that the purported Chinese origin of this saying is totally apocryphal.
With that said, this phrase has gained a place in American culture. Whether this saying is intended to be a blessing or a curse is up to you.
I’m a big believer in the idea that your attitude determines your reality. I’ve known people who were materially wealthy and professionally successful and absolutely miserable people to be around because they hated their lives. There are people in precisely the opposite circumstance – flat broke by modern society’s standards – who are engaging and happy, fully realized people.
Earlier this week, I had an interesting time that could have been catastrophic. I was driving into the office on a country road that cut through farmland and small towns and rolling hills. Parts of that two lane road wind around curves and over hills where you can’t see where you are going to land.
As I passed the speed limit sign indicating 55 miles per hour, I sped up to 65, as I always do at that spot. That morning there was great visibility and the road was dry and straight.
Ahead of me in the lane, a white pickup truck was stopped and was about to turn left. I applied the brakes, whereupon there was an audible pop from underneath the car. The brake pedal immediately went all the way to the car floor without resistance.
Fortunately, I could avoid the pickup truck by driving on the shoulder of the road. From there, I coasted to a stop into an empty parking lot.t
Disaster avoided. Had one or two facts been different, like a parked car where I needed to go to avoid the white pickup truck, that would have been a head on collision at 60 miles per hour.
My truck coasted to a stop.
After taking stock of what just happened, I called roadside assistance, and they arrived and towed me to a garage. While I waited, I had a personal hotspot running from my mobile phone so I could use MacBook and advance my tasks for the day.
All the while I thought about how things could have been different. What am I planning to do that I haven’t done yet?
How intensely do I need to focus to bring those projects to life?
Your focus determines your progress.
We live in a fascinating world. Stay curious about the things that excite you. Then engage with others and pass on what you’ve learned.
There are an endless number of stories to read and write and tell. There is a universe of music to write and record.
If you are a foodie and into baking or cooking, there’s an endless number of ingredient combinations to experiment with, and new recipes to discover.
With all this possibility, the trick is not to take everything in, but rather to know what to exclude from your attention to increase your effectiveness. In other words, the ability to focus is more important now than ever.
Think about how much choice is presented to media consumers today. Even though I have 500 cable channels available to me, I still choose Netflix. Even though I have almost the entirety of all recorded music available to me, I still choose the things that I’m interested in, or that have been referred to me by someone I know and trust. I’ll probably never listen to 99% of what’s available.
It is like being blinded by choice.
In the face of endless possibilities, one has to focus.
Your ability – and my ability – to bring creative ideas to reality depends on our ability to focus on the task at hand.
There are many forces out in the world that will knock you off of your path if you allow it. It could take any form, including a lack of discipline, an unhealthy personal relationship, or an auto breakdown on a freezing cold Thursday morning.
In years past, the main distractions seemed to be television or surfing the internet.
Today, I think that social media in particular, now that the novelty has worn off, is something of a trap. It’s a trap for your attention. It’s a trap for your focus. And most importantly, it is a trap for your time.
How many hours a week do you spend without intention on Facebook or Instagram? Are they tools to advance your business or project?
Are you actively advancing your knowledge or creation or are you being passive, watching content that belongs to someone you knew from junior high but haven’t spoken to in real life in over 20 years?
If you use these tools with intention, with purpose, then they can become powerful ways to interact with family, old friends, your target audience, and your customers.
If you use these tools without intention, then a quick 15 minute session can turn into hours that have just evaporated and that you won’t ever get back.
What did you gain during that time?
Time is something that grows more valuable each passing day. Why? Because with each passing day, you have less and less time left on this earth. That’s true no matter what your belief system is. I tell the people around me but they can always make more money tomorrow but they can never make more time. You never get more time.
This is especially true for the creators. If you are a creator and want to produce creative work that is artistically valid, a near complete immersion in your work is required. In today’s society of near chronic distraction, total focus on your creative work requires and almost superhuman level of determination, focus and persistence.
Now I’m not saying that you should avoid social media altogether, and I’m also not saying that you have to have every moment of every day of your life scripted and blocked out on a schedule. The reality is however that there are now more ways than ever for you to squander your time that you could use to build your business, write that screenplay, record that album or prepare for that gig.
If you are sufficiently intense when you apply yourself to your work, you will never have an unfinished project.
So in conclusion, dear reader and listener, may we indeed live in interesting times.
Focus, purpose, and intensity: these are three themes that I mention to you as we begin 2017.
Best wishes for a safe and happy year end, and I hope 2017 is everything you want it to be.
Until next time… Stay determined and build the future.