One of my favorite stories comes from Taoism. There was a young man walking by and he saw an old monk planting a seed. The young man asked the monk why he was planting that particular seed as it would take several decades to mature. The monk replied:
“I live my life with these 2 thoughts in the foreground at all times. One, I think I am going to live forever. Two, I think this will be my last day on earth.”
I absolutely love the response and have made it a personal motto and do my best to keep it in the foreground at all times. As such I take every opportunity to do the activities that deeply speak to me, the ones that matter in my life. There are many — marathoning, teaching and training in Systema (Russian martial art), Shodo (Japanese calligraphy), learning Japanese and fencing. Tomorrow, I am taking my first Iaido (sword) class. Add to the list — running a successful Internet business, writing (including a book), composing Haiku, going to the gym and probably a few others that escape me at the moment.
I am very often asked 2 questions:
1. How? As in, how are you able to do so many activities. I’ll get to this.
2. Why? This is really not a question, as in seeking an answer. Rather it is an accusatory word, translated into “What would you want to do all those things for? I don’t.” I typically do not answer this question. If you live with fire and passion, you would never ask it. If you do not have the fire and passion, you would not understand the answer anyway.
From years of doing multiple activities, I have discovered a series of guidelines for the adventurers or soon-to-be-adventurer-after-reading-this. They are as follows:
1. You only live Now. You are undoubtedly familiar with the phrase, “You only live once.” Half the world would argue this. Personally, I think the debate is irrelevant because all we have is now. The past and future are concepts humans have agreed upon to make a crazy world, slightly less crazy.
If you want to sky dive or swim with the whales, do it now. Tomorrow is like trying to grasp a cloud. Now is the only day of your life.
2. Failure is easy to deal with. Regret is not. So playing the flute did not work out as planned. Marathon running didn’t cut it for you. That is fine. You now know because you experienced. Few things are more emotionally grinding than missing out on something you want to experience. Or not doing because you intellectualized it, carrying on both sides of an internal dialogue and believing that your storied conclusions are real.
You do by experiencing. Run, sweat, get wet, sing or whatever lights you up. If is works out, great. If it doesn’t, no problem Now you know. Now you did. The gremlin of regret will never pay you another visit.
3. Prioritize. My martial art of Systema is the most important activity for me. As such, I devote the most time training, studying tapes, training, going to seminars, training and more training. For me, fencing is pure entertainment. I will not be on the Olympic fencing team, nor in the next Zorro movie. Fencing fills the need for pure physical fun and that is my approach.
If you have a list of 10, it is most likely that some are enjoyable, a few are really enjoyable and one or two create a foam at the mouth, must have it reaction. Arrange your time and energy according to your feelings, according to your passion(s). If it really means something, you will find the time.
4. Set specific goals. When I run marathons, my goal is to finish. Completion times means nothing to me. I want to experience the joys of living and moving in a healthy body, being able to run quietly in Nature, conversing with my Muse only and meeting people from all walks of life. For Japanese, I want to speak fluently. Read and writing kanji is not of importance. In the case of Systema, I narrowed it down to wanting to learn everything.
For each of your activities, set specific goals, ones that you will re-visit and adjust from time to time. Be truthful when writing them. Honesty is not good enough here. State what you want, straight from the heart. No editing.
5. Find the best teachers. . . for you. “The best” is obviously a highly subjective term when seeking a teacher. It is also an incomplete thought. Look for the best teacher FOR YOU; that is, one that fits your learning style. One that provides the technical aspects and also connects you to your golden tread of passion.
I look for a teacher that not only knows the subject very well, but provides the environment whereby I have the best chance at becoming a better person. Sport, music, art etc., are the means of providing lessons behind the lessons, the ones that I can apply to life as well as Japanese.
6. If you are not enjoying doing this, don’t. Find something else. This is an obvious one. . . sort of. I have seen a lot of people continue with their activity out of habit. They are doing it now, because they always have. This is not learning. It is filling in time with empty energy. There are thousands of activities available for most people in most areas.
Seek and ye really will find!
7. Don’t multi-task. When I am training in martial arts, I am not practicing Japanese. If I do this, my face becomes my primary blocking mechanism.
Focus. Do one thing at a time. Give all of your attention, energy and passion to it. If you only have 60% today, that is fine. Give every bit of the 60%.
Multi-tasking means you are using twice the energy and getting a tiny fraction of the results. Maximize your efforts, one step at a time.
These are the main methods that I have found as a Japanese speaking-writer-shodo writing-fencing-marathoner-martial artist. Bottom line – go for it! You are either living your dreams or wasting your life. A life without dreams is a sky without stars. Living your dreams brings color and excitement into your existence, whether you are washing the dishes or climbing a mountain.
Take the risk to become the person you are in your dreams.