Monday 3 November 2014

Where is thine own self?

A few years ago, I signed up for a feed from Quora.  This is a Q&A site founded five years ago by two Facebookies.  The population seems a bit top heavy with contributors from the Indian subcontinent, but heck, why not? there are a billion people there, and it's not healthy to get all your opinions from your local newspapers.  The questions tend to be geeky and/or blokey. They use some sort of algorithm to float the "best" answers to top of the thread, but it can be worthwhile to scoot down the responses for an alternative view or another dimension to the discussion.  So today, the question is:
"How can I, as a teen, improve my life the most in a single day?"
which is typical of Quora in its assumptions that there might be an easy answer to such an existential question; and one that can be grasped and implemented before tea-time.  A couple of useful answers advise
  1. go intern for free at some place which is doing what you're interested in: it's cheaper than college and you'll learn more in 6-9 months in the real world, than the same amount of time being given a parcel of theory by a witter of academics (I've just coined a new collective noun). Other views on working for free.
  2. learn to dance (!?)  which obviously worked for the suggester who notes that dancers are inclusive and welcoming , the basics are open to anyone with two legs, you'll meet others adults . . . in a social setting . . . especially women. Drumming is like dancing: the sex ratio is 5F:1M or higher and many of the women are both young and fit. In my Samba days, I was sitting next to the other silver-back during one of the rests: looking round with quiet appreciation he said "I don't know why more young men don't come here".
But the top answer is by Nicolas Cole, "Writer, Creative Strategist, Bodybuilder", who asserts that the answer lies in "discipline".  In his teens, Cole got World of Warcraft under his skin and spent 95% of his available time playing this MMORPG. Everyone around him said it was a waste of his time and talents but he made it his life for a while and got really good at it as he devoted yet more time and energy to his craft.  He suggests that you acquire "discipline" by 'take what you love, do it relentlessly'.   Clearly, IMO, the problem is not take what you love, but find what you love. When I was four and eating stewed plums, the options were "tinker, tailor, soldier or sailor".  As a navy-brat the only option really open was 'sailor' and, like Nelson and my own father I suffered from sea-sickness but lacked the bottle to roll through the nausea to a life at sea.  A little later, the options were picture-book careers like doctor (as a boy I couldn't be a nurse), fireman, engine-driver.  It was all just wrong for me to imagine doing any of those relentlessly.  But I did eventually find things to which  I gave approaching 95% of available time: drumming, cat population genetics, newslettering, even book-binding to a certain extent. and of course bloggin'. I would never have used the word [self] discipline applied to me but I did get better as I practiced my craft. There is an oft-trotted rule that parents have to apply external pressure to supply an energy of activation - all those efforts [coin-collecting; reading; Latin; sailing; piano; carpentry] to encourage me in desirable and useful directions just wound me up with nowhere to go.

Somewhere about our person, we have our true selves but we are surrounded by people who can't see that and we are awash with suggestions about what we should do. That doesn't make it any easier to see who we really are. I guess, in analogy with Linus Pauling's quip "The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas", we should advise youngsters to try a lot of options.  Further sunshiney advice to young men about drugs and other things.

The last word to Nicolas Cole " Discipline is a practice.  It is an art.  It is not a talent, it is not something you're born with.  It is a piece of wood meant for you to whittle . . . Get to whittling."

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