“…but the mightiest among us is granted no more than 168 hours per week…”

before-breakfastFrom Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast:

As with money, we have a tendency to fritter away the time in front of us as if it were infinite. For some of us, that’s because our hours are sucked into the Reply All maw of an in-box. Others, perhaps, can see that the customer who wandered into their store left with her real need unaddressed and won’t be coming back. A dentist sees that a patient didn’t absorb her halfhearted pep talk on flossing and knows that the patient will be back soon for more fillings and another tepid pep talk. We find ourselves counting minutes and wishing ourselves elsewhere. These hours pass, inexorably, with little promise of leading to much that matters. They are spent and the transaction is done, like paying a late fee on a cell phone bill or buying a sweater that you never wind up wearing.

But as with money, people who build wealth take some chunk of what is coming in and invest it in ways that generate returns. Successful people know that hours, like capital can be consciously allocated with the goal of creating riches–in the form of a changed world, a life’s work–over time. Indeed, successful people understand that work hours must be more carefully stewarded than capital because time is absolutely limited. You can earn more money, but the mightiest among us is granted no more than 168 hours per week, and it is physically impossible to work for all of them.

“A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find.”

gritI just finished reading  Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. It was recommended to me by a dear friend, and the subject matter is right up my alley. I’ve often wondered what makes some people able to weather adversity while others wilt and give up under it. And I’ve wondered if this mental toughness — or grit — is something you’re simply born with. Duckworth is convincing me that grit can be encouraged and developed, and that is some very good news if it’s true.

We all know that talent matters, but that’s only one ingredient of success. Even more important (we all know talented people who just can’t seem to get it going) is effort. And gritty folks make the effort — over and over again. Gritty people have passion and perseverance, and Duckworth argues that these traits aren’t fixed. We can learn them.

Which is very good news for younger folks, if they’ll just pay attention. And it’s very good news for older people who may be discouraged about their own progress or frustrated by what they see in millennials.

The instant success story is exceedingly rare, and I’ll bet that when we hear of one, we’re only hearing a tiny piece of that story. Yes, some people — very few people — seem to “luck” into something great. But that’s the exception and not the rule. The more likely scenario is putting in time, effort, figuring out how to bounce back after failure, and eventually creating a rewarding career or calling or hobby out of all of that.

Actually becoming good at something doesn’t often look like much at the beginning, and sometimes we don’t even know we’re beginning something. But if we stick with it, over time, we see nuances and get interested enough to pursue more. Here’s Duckworth’s colleague Barry Schwartz:

“There are a lot of things where the subtleties and exhilarations come with sticking with it for a while, getting elbow-deep into something. A lot of things seem uninteresting and superficial until you start doing them and, after a while, you realize that there are so many facets you didn’t know at the start, and you never can fully solve the problem, or fully understand it, or what have you. Well, that requires that you stick with it.”

Duckworth contends that “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” Just think how much time all of that takes! I think we all have a romantic aha! moment picture of passion, and we impatient humans don’t make the time to develop interests and cultivate passion. We think that just because we have an interest in something, we’ll naturally be good at it  and love every part  and will see instant success. That reminds me of a quote from this “literary perfectionist” (I love that description!):

“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.”

Drudgery. Time. Effort. Perseverance. Work. Development. Learning. Failure. Pursuit. Patience. 

Dirty words. But true, time-tested ingredients of getting good at something.

Unlike Duckworth, I’m no expert here. I came to my current career only in the past few years (although it is a return to my field of study in college) through a series of events that turned my world upside down. And I feel like there’s just not enough time to learn all I want to learn about it. But I do know that the more I learn, the more I want to learn. I feel a sense of urgency. But there is no substitute for time and picking up new things every day, trying to figure out how the parts fit into the whole, asking questions, messing up and determining not to make that same mistake again, and, yes, drudgery.

More from Duckworth:

“What do you tell people,” I recently asked Amy [Wrzesniewski, a management professor], “when they ask you for advice?”

“A lot of people assume that what they need to do is find their calling,” she said. “I think a lot of anxiety comes from the assumption that your calling is like a magical entity that exists in the world, waiting to be discovered.”

That’s also how people mistakenly think about interests, I pointed out. They don’t realize they need to play an active role in developing and deepening their interests.

“A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find,” she tells advice seekers. “It’s much more dynamic. Whatever you do–whether you’re a janitor or the CEO–you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.”

“A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find.” Amen.

And as a side note, I think these ideas apply to hobbies as well as vocations. My first knitting project is embarrassing to look at, but now over two years in, I’m able to make pieces worthy of wearing and giving as gifts. And I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I want to learn and make. Time, practice, watching You Tube knitting tutorials over and over again, asking questions, getting stuck, messing up, ripping out, and starting over. This is the stuff of knitting. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it.

I usually fly through a book like this one, but I’ve taken my time and thought a lot about it. And I’ll keep thinking about it after I return it to my local library. Have you read it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

goodbye 2015

I’m not sad to see it go, but I’m grateful for all the ways God showed Himself faithful to me. He’s good.  All the time.

I love fresh starts: new planners, new projects, and new habits to acquire. And I love that although I can’t begin to guess all of the unexpected things that will happen in the coming year, my faithful God is Lord of all.

Happy New Year to you and yours,
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random thoughts: year-end edition

~ Lately I’ve been thinking about making some changes to simplify my life. I’m not sure exactly what those changes will be, but I’m feeling the need to declutter and cast off burdens. We’ve likely got another move during 2016, and that’s good motivation to get rid of stuff.

~ I’m not big on new year’s resolutions, but in 2016 I am planning to do another 365 photo project (actually a 366 because 2016 is a leap year) — this time via instagram. It will be my third 365 (a photo a day for a year).

~ I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of intentional reading project, too. Still mulling that one over. I definitely want to read more fiction from my own shelves.

~ Since sleep remains elusive, I should be making better use of that time from around 3 to when my alarm goes off at 5:30. I try to pray, and then I end up thinking about all kinds of things (work, relationships, the fact that I should be sleeping…). I “take [myself ]in hand” and try to pray again and then my mind wanders. It’s really sad. Eventually I pick up my phone or iPad and check emails, social media, and the news. Then I drag myself out of bed and get on with the day. There has to be a better way.

~ I’m amazed that anyone could choose a design or saying to be emblazoned on their flesh forever. It’s a major decision for me to pick out my yearly planner/calendar! This year I went with Moleskine again. Tried and true.

~ It was a rather pitiful reading year for me, but I’ll try to do a round up of my favorite books of 2015 before the new year rolls ’round.

Happy New Year, y’all,

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…finitum non capax infiniti.”

bestillFrom R.C. Sproul in Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain):

Things may appear to be without purpose or meaning. Their ultimate purpose might elude us for the present. Yet if we fail to see purpose in what happens, we must remember that our view of things is limited by our earthly perspective.

An important slogan in theology is finitum non capax infiniti. This means, “the finite cannot grasp the infinite.” The limit of our comprehension is the earthly perspective. We do not have the ability to see things sub specie aeternitatis — “from the eternal perspective.”

The eternal perspective belongs to God.

“Let history finish.”

bestillFrom Philip Yancey in Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain):

In seventy years we can develop a host of ideas about how indifferent God appears to be about suffering. But is it reasonable to judge God and his plan for the universe by the swatch of time we spend on earth? Have we missed the perspective of the timelessness of the universe?

Who would complain if God allowed one hour of suffering in an entire lifetime of comfort? Yet we bitterly complain about a lifetime that includes suffering when that lifetime is a mere hour of eternity.

In the Christian scheme of things, this world and the time spent here are not all there is. Earth is a proving ground; a dot in eternity–but a very important dot, for Jesus said our destiny depends on our obedience here. Next time you want to cry out to God in anguished despair, blaming him for a miserable world, remember: less than one-millionth of the evidence has been presented, and that is being worked out under a rebel flag.

God is not deaf. God is as grieved by the world’s trauma as you are. His only son died here. But God has promised to set things right.

Let history finish. Let the orchestra scratch out its last mournful warm-up note of discord before it bursts into the symphony.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

writinglifeFrom The Writing Life by Annie Dillard:

I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order–willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time.”

showyourworkFrom Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon:

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for all this?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies. You find it in the cracks between the big stuff–your commute, your lunch break, the few hours after your kids go to bed. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time if you look for it.