The Purpose of Life

I spoke with a friend on Sunday about art (drawing, specifically). We both used to draw in high school, were in art class together, and we both eventually quit.

We quit for the same reasons, mostly, boredom. I never had the attention span or passion to dedicate the required time to patiently make a piece of pencil art come to life. My friend moved on to photography and I moved on to writing.

During our conversation I said, “I like writing better because I can quit for six months and not have to worry about having to relearn it.” This wasn't planned, it was quite spontaneous, but it seemed to get right at the heart of why I had quit drawing.

I don't get rusty when I stop writing for an extended period of time. I can quit for months and jump back in like I had never stopped, and am usually better for it. I've done this with my guitar playing as well, where I've quit for a year, but when I started playing again I had a better understanding of what I was doing. The time off helps me organize all that I had already learned.

With art I never felt like I could do that. I was pretty good once, and I lamented Sunday that if I had drawn an hour or two a day for the last ten years I'd be really good. And I would be. My dad is a fantastic artist, but he put years into it. The ability runs in the family, but I chose at a young age to dedicate my creative talents to something else.

If I would take a week or two off from drawing, when I started again it always felt like I was starting over. This may be why I finally quit, because getting back into it was just too daunting. I had missed too much time, was too far off track. Partly this is due to a lack of passion. I don't doubt that for people who really love drawing, they can jump right back in no matter how much time has passed and it is probably for them what it was like for me with writing and guitar playing.

But the thing that really bugs me about all of this is that, in my opinion, I had, at least at one time, more potential for pencil art than I did for writing. Even today I think if I quit writing forever and started drawing again and put the time in, twenty years from now I would show more talent as an artist than I could ever dream of showing as a writer.

But I just hate drawing. I can leave off in the middle of a sentence when writing, eat lunch, and come back to it, but I never felt like I could do that with drawing. I couldn't take my time, I couldn't see what I was doing, I rushed myself always. If I screwed up I had to start over from the beginning. This was, looking back, obviously due to my own inexperience. I had a lot of raw talent but no skill. When I started writing, I enjoyed it too much to notice such things, and the skill came largely on its own, unforced.

If I screw up a word I can delete it. It's painless, and in fact cutting words out of a draft is, for me, more fun than putting them down in the first place.

I say all of this to point out a simple truth of human nature. Some of us are incredibly talented and gifted in certain areas, but that's not where we're meant to be. Our passions and talents don't always line up. It's like they say about politicians—the best man for the job would never take the job in the first place. And that analogy can be carried over into creativity. There have been really talented artists, writers, musicians, etc., who could have made it if they had given their lives over to their art, but instead decided to be doctors or pilots or whatever. And there are people who could have made the best doctors and pilots who decided to give up a steady paycheck and a stable lifestyle to paint, write, and make music.

Now isn't that strange? It's a good thing that, when we're born, we're not told what we'll grow up to be. A lot of people already hate what they're doing with their lives, how they're spending their time, because they don't have the courage or knowledge to get out and do exactly what they want to do, or they haven't allowed themselves the time to discover who they are, If our lives were determined arbitrarily or even genetically, I think there'd be even more misery in the world.

I could have been chosen to be anything, and I would despised it just for having to do it.

Which may be the main reason that I quit almost anything I start, for the simple fact that once I'm doing it for a while I almost feel like I have to keep doing it. If I don't have an appropriate level of passion to keep my interest, I'm gone. I go, not to greener pastures, but to different pastures.

And so I respect people who can focus on just one thing in life, and do that one thing year after year after year, but I don't envy them. I respect them because it's something I cannot do. I don't envy them what they've gained from it because I know I could never live such a focused life, and wouldn't deserve what a focused life offers.

There does seem to be a correlation between focus and success. Because I must live for me, I've done a lot to limit how success-oriented I am, for the simple fact that I know I'm never going to be able to work hard enough on just one thing. (So why torture myself for failing?)

That does not mean that I can't work hard on something I really love, but that I love far too many things to just pick the one. I've tied my own noose in a way, but I don't have to hang myself with it.

There's plenty in life an unfocused punk like me can achieve!

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2 Responses to The Purpose of Life

  1. Nice and interesting post! I'm trying to find what my kids are passionate about. A bit worried. They do have lots of talent in different areas. But it is true that it is better to love what you do. Unfortunately that is not possible for all people. And it does help to force ourselves to focus sometimes because if we didn't then we cannot keep up our responsibilities. In the US, people are priviliged in so many ways and grow up usually studying and doing what they like. In some parts of the world, whatever grade one graduates with will determine what they study in university (which really sucks)! There is some logic to it I suppose. However, these people who don't make above let us say a 92 cannot study medicine or engineering in some countries. They are pushed into other fields that may not even interest them. Otherwise they can just give up and not study at all. Which is not an option for those who want a decent job. Life sometimes tends to suck the creativity out of people. And that is a shame. And as far as education, I think the wrong approach has been taken. Students have not been taught to love learning and laboring at a young age. One can be passionate about it, but sometimes the wrong teacher or environment just crushes the young child and makes him hate learning. I actually love learning new information. And I think that if people enjoy something (even several activities, then they should go for them. I also multi-task! But things like piano, if one wants to perfect it and be the best in it, then it does take hours of practice. Anything of value, can always be improved with more hard work. Thanks for sharing and take care!


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