Saturday, October 29, 2016

Words with Friends and Purpose

            I play an on-line word game called Words with Friends. It’s a lot like Scrabble. There are probably better ways of using my time, but it’s a fun way to connect with other people. I also learn new words. I’ve been playing for about three years, but this morning I realized a new strategy that might improve my game. It’s fascinating that we can learn to get better at something, how we can improve, even when it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. How does this improvement happen?
It happens through time. The more time one puts into something the more possibilities one can see. But time involves two things: study and application. When I read or learn something new, I feel the presence of my Muse. I feel peaceful. I think this is why I spend so much time reading (and why I resist reading when self-sabotage kicks in).  Study is not just about learning; it’s about preparation and training for dealing with life’s challenges. Yes, I study for pleasure, but mostly I study for preparation. All that knowledge comes in handy and it opens new horizons and new possibilities.
But study is only useful if I apply it in some way, to make life better for me or others.  It’s been said that knowledge is power, but it’s also been said, more accurately, that applied knowledge is power. Practice and application are what validate the study. One version of St. Paul’s admonition to Timothy is, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Other versions say, “apply yourself,” “work,” “make an effort,” or “give diligence.” (2 Timothy 2:15).  These concepts are about being prepared for life’s inevitable challenges. And when we fail, as we often do, we can go back, study more, so we can improve.
Improvement happens also by being open to those new possibilities. A pastor once said, “The seven last words of a church are, ‘It’s never been done that way before.’” I think those are the last words of a lot of organizations, and maybe the last words of a lot of people who hope to live a fuller life. I admit to my own self-imposed limitations. The first time I thought of on-line classes or video teaching, I balked. I thought that the teacher needs to be physically present to be the most effective. But recently I just finished an on-line Master’s degree in American history and I had minimal contact with most of my teachers. Now I’m open to the possibility of teaching on-line. More recently I was invited to do a Skype presentation for about sixty students in Georgia in a few weeks.  So, the field of possibilities has opened. I can learn new ways and I can improve.
Here’s the better news: if I can improve in an on-line word game, then I can improve at anything. I can become a better writer. I can get better with money. I can learn more about history or be a better motivational speaker.
It goes even deeper: I can become more loving. I can be a better father, teacher, friend, or neighbor. I can learn how to be kinder, more patient, more peaceful. I can learn how to take better care of myself and others. I can learn develop myself spiritually, physically, morally, emotionally, and financially.

Best of all, I can learn how to give more attention to my Muse, so that I can do any or all, of the above. Many, most, maybe all my limits are self-imposed. I’m not saying I can play for the NFL or be a brain surgeon, but I don’t want to do those things anyway. What I want to do is Get Started and Keep Going, get better at Words with Friends, and maybe at everything else that is in my life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ready for History

I was sitting alone ready to read a book about making money. I’ve finished a Master’s degree in history and now it’s time to move on to the next phase of life. My biggest challenge is a lack of money. If I had significantly more money, I could change a lot of things. So I looked at the money books section of my bookshelf and picked one. As I started reading it, I realized that I really didn’t want to read it. It’s not that I don’t want to read or study or learn; it’s just that I didn’t want to read a book about money.  It was making me tense. I sat quietly trying to understand what was happening and I realized I felt this feeling before. Years ago I was reading a book on teaching and I felt the same discomfort. I wanted to throw the book on the floor…hard. There was nothing wrong with the book or the subject; it just wasn’t what I wanted.  Eventually, too many years later, despite reading several books on education I finally changed careers because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It never had been.
Becoming an expert on money is not what I want to do either. I want to make money, of course. I want to be knowledgeable and wise and informed. What I do not want to do is spend the next several hours, days, and weeks reading on the subject.
I stayed quiet as I continued hearing my heart. Mariachi music was playing on a neighbor’s radio. Seagulls were squawking over the dumpsters. I barely heard any of that. All I could hear was the message of my heart. “Study U.S. Presidents. Read about what you love. Life is so precious and short. Do what you love. Be with the people you love. Read what you love. Learn what you love.”
Now I try to not be impulsive because that trait has often led me to make bad decisions. But this time I was impulsive and I went back to that bookshelf and took almost all of the money books about thinking like a millionaire and living like a millionaire and having the bank account of a millionaire and I put them in the closet. Then I filled the empty space with books on Watergate and the Nixon era. I did, however, leave a few money books there, because I’m not giving up the subject entirely. I’m just not giving it precedence.
Where will this all lead me? I still want enough wealth to send my kids and grandkids to college and I still want a house on the beach and I don’t know a lot of rich historians. But I’ve spent most of my life not following my heart and I caused myself and others a lot of pain. And on top of all that, I’m broke trying to undo the mess I’ve made by not following my heart. So I don’t know where this will lead me, but I know I immediately felt happier and lighter and more energetic and enthusiastic. I felt my Muse smiling approvingly. I feel like I’m ready to Get Started and Keep Going again. And I feel ready for history.