I’d meant to get this out before the New Year, even to the point of getting a draft going days ago. (By getting a draft going, I mean that I came up with a concept in my head, and put a sentence into ecto.) And it kind of died there.
But, I’ll resurrect it here, as 43folders is back with good stuff that sums up a couple of other bits that have really resonated with me lately:
Even (or especially) for people with a notional gift for their chosen field, talent — like luck, rich parents, and unmined gold — is just a raw material. It’s not the one-bit switch that determines artistic success. And, any “talent” one theoretically possesses is likely to stay stuck under a layer of river rock unless and until its claim-holder learns to repeatedly pan, sluice, or dredge it into something that can be refined, polished, and, in most cases, vended. Fancy ladies buy gold jewelry; not drawings of mining equipment.
Even closer to my own state of mind was O’Reilly writer Simon St. Laurent’s resolution to practice:
I don’t expect to become a master at either of these things. Frankly, I think that “mastery” is usually the wrong goal, a strange habit in our culture of setting ourselves up to fail. Mastery happens, but we need to remember – and value – the intermediate steps.
Even closer to home for me has been getting to know a couple of musician friends up here a little bit better. Missy and I went to our first live show together in, well, like forever a couple of nights ago to see Ben and Nancy play, and, man, did it bring together a bunch of thoughts that have been rambling about my head for a while.
Practice and Train
The first is just the unabashed joy of DOING something WELL. What I captured at the San Antonio Marathon, and what I’m beginning to recapture through my coursework at the War College is that half-assing things, while sometimes the right thing to do, is ultimately a method of last resort. Quality comes from repetition/practice/drills. My first two marathons were matters of survival. My MBA was getting a box checked off. San Antonio was the first marathon I did after committing to being a runner, being (relatively) consistent about training, and really doing the groundwork.
My kid brother’s a real inspiration here. He took up the violin last spring, and got to the point where he played Christmas carols for the family this year over the holiday. I want to do that. But I picked up the guitar maybe a dozen times in the whole year, and the piano even fewer. No wonder I can’t play.
It’s kind of important here to discriminate between doing something WELL and in achieving excellence or being the best. 30,000 people ran the San Antonio Marathon with me; only Meschack Kirwa won the race. I finished in the middle of the pack, but I’m completely satisfied with that result. My point, here, is not to necessarily settle for mediocrity, but to realize that a lot of things are still worth doing. And that the more you do them, the further along the distribution curve of results you’ll get.
We did “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas” as the church’s pageant this year, and filled out the list of kids who wanted to participate beyond what we needed for speaking parts by letting some of the musically talented kids play christmas carols. And, man, was I happy we did. It wasn’t perfect, but it really helped set the mood. There had been a brief motion early on in November when we started practicing to use a CD for the songs, but I put the kaibosh on that. Vince Guaraldi’s album is as close to perfect as a Christmas album can be, but that wasn’t what we were after. We wanted the kids to think about Christmas, and to celebrate Christ’s birth using their own talents. In the end, we had a couple of kids show talent even their parents hadn’t realized. No one’s going to take our show to Broadway, but we didn’t want them to.
What I’m saying here, I guess, is that unless you’re Usain Bolt, or Michael Phelps, there’s always someone better, and it’s always easier not to use a talent. But that’s the wrong answer.
I finally understand what people mean when they’ve been telling me to “get help.” It means that I should actually go out and talk to people who know what the heck they’re doing. (My wife’s yelling at me that, no, it means I ought to go see a shrink)
Again, coming back to the church’s Pageant. We hatched the idea, coordination kind of fell to me, since, well, I am the elder for Christian Education. So, I went out and watched the TV show, we bought the screenplay, and I adopted it for the Church. Then, when we started rehearsals, one of the other teachers was helping out tremendously, and had a much better talent for getting the kids to move around the stage than I did. Another teacher took the kids without speaking parts, and did a tremendous job arranging a chorus around the show. I took the kids who didn’t want to be on stage at all, and we built stuff. My initial concept had been that I’d do the directing; but others were stronger at that. Help offered itself, and I had the good sense to say “yes”.
So, I’m going to adopt that attitude elsewhere. I’m going to actually discuss essays with my professors. I’ll get career advice from folks I work with and follow through. I’m going to take “Triathlon Swim Training” classes at the Mystic Y.
Another thing people have continually told me is that “you can’t do everything”. While I’d like to think I’ve proven them wrong, I’ve realized that what they were really trying to say was “you can’t do everything WELL.”
And it turns out that they were right.
I’ve already kind of started to put this into practice. If something isn’t important to me, it’s gone. I gave a pretty major project for which I’d won a big proposal to another engineer at the office so that I could concentrate on the work I really want to do. I’m paring down my RSS feeds (as useful as he was earlier today, 43folders and almost all the tech rumor sites are gone), and I plan on being quicker to “mark all read” when I haven’t had the chance to read news in a couple of days. And I think I’m pretty much done with television. I’ll watch the conclusion to Battlestar Galactica and this season of 24 on Hulu, and maybe catch Headlines once in a while with the wife.
Cub Scouts? I’ll help out where asked, but am not really moved by the whole scouting thing. If things don’t improve with the pack we’re with, we’ll do Webelos with a different pack in the area that has some super dig-it parents.
I’ve cleaned my spaces in the house – they’re filled with stuff I want to do, and I may cut up the credit card so that i can’t buy new stuff with which to distract myself.
Alright already, enough with the preaching
So, what do I want to do? (Husbanding and fathering are, as always, above everything)
First, while I’m committed to the fleet seminar program at the War College, I really want to go back for a technical masters’ (or PhD groundwork) in Computer Science, specifically state processing or digital signals processing as applied to software defined radio. To support this, I need to:
- Brush up on programming and working with hardware; and
- Brush up on Math.
- Finish one of the projects I’m facilitating at work on time, on budget, and on spec.
- Get my ham license
Not necessarily less important is that I want to continue to contribute at church. There’s a bunch of projects cooking, and a bunch of talent newly inspired and some new arrivals. Good times.
I also want to write more, and write better. My plan for this is:
- Purge NewsGator/NetNewsWire
- Paper journal as first priority
- Write first, browse second
- Revive the sandbox.
Music’s on my mind. Action items here are:
- Resume playing while putting the children to bed every evening. It’s much more interactive with them than my recent routine (following FaceBook on the iPod Touch)
- Play the darn guitar rather than looking for new “how-to” books or vieos
- Possibly take a few lessons this summer, once I’m done with Swim Class at the Y and on summer vacation from NWC.
Become more accomplished as a geek.
- Move my iTunes into a Zen virtual machine on an XP instance inside of Ubuntu on the MacBook. Then, I can still sync the heck out of my Touch, but get some Linux loving.
- Finish working through the Python books, and move on to C
- Run my own server. So I can get my stuff from anywhere. (I dug this podcast; sad to see it go)
Hey, isn’t this a running blog?
It just hit me that this went way, way longer than I’d planned. I’m putting the fitness stuff in another post.
2009 ought to be good. My predictions:
- Gen X becomes, as mid-30s types, neo-hippies, fulfilling the promises that the boomers squandered once they realized that love and nature didn’t pay for shag carpet and coke in the ’70s. Gen X, on the other hand, will realize that community doesn’t show up on anyone’s balance sheet, and that productivity improvements mean missed soccer games, missed meals, and midnight oil.
- Apple releases something cool, sorely tempting my resolution to avoid Tech Rumor sites.
- The BCS gets even more frustrating.
Thoughts I want to explore in 2009
- Things that ought to be “Amateur”, or that ought to have lots of non-professional participation (arts and sport spring immediately to mind)
- Things that ought to be handled at a community level
All right. Enough.
Happy New Year, y’all.