Thoughts for a New Year - Make Time, Defy Expectations, Consider Limits

Birds
I stumbled across a few articles this week that offer some helpful thoughts on the New Year.

Anne Lamott offers some good advice at Sunset Magazine where she implores us to find time for creative expression. Lamott is one of my writing inspirations. I just love her playfully profound "voice" in the written word. She sums up her writing advice, which is good advice for most things worth doing in life:

I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

Lamott's book Bird by Bird was the inspiration for me to make more time for creative expression through writing which, in part, led to the adventure of writing a book. 

She says the key is to make time:

This is what I say: First of all, no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy! That is half an hour, a few days a week, I tell my students. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book.

If they have to get up early for work and can’t stay up late, I ask them if they are willing NOT to do one thing every day, that otherwise they were going to try and cram into their schedule.

Another interesting article is from a palliative care nurse reflecting on the most common regrets expressed by people who are at the end of their lives.

Number 1 on her list is that people said, "I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." She writes:

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. 

It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

The last article I'll reference is one I wrote a couple months back on Steve Jobs' advice to not settle for anything less than doing what you love. It serves as a counterbalance to the advice above that is wonderful, but can degenerate into narcissism and shallow selfishness. This post was one of the most read and most shared from this blog during the last year. I wrote at the time:

The passing of Steve Jobs last week combined with the amazing current success of Apple has created a firestorm or adoration and accolades that I have been as much a part of as anyone.

I was especially moved by Steve Jobs' often referenced 2005 commencement address at Stanford in which he lays out a vision for passionately pursuing what you love in life. He says:

You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

He concludes the address by saying:

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

After a week of adoring Steve Jobs and his advice to make the most of life, my attention today has turned to the Apple supply chain and the thousands of primarily Chinese low-income workers who have literally built the Apple empire. I'm struck this morning by the meaninglessness of Jobs' advice to the majority of the people who have worked to build Apple products all these years. If Jobs had delivered his Stanford commencement address to the morning work shift at one of Apple's factories in Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, or Czech Republic, how would they have responded? What kind of sense would it make in their lives to hear the admonition to not "settle." I have a hunch that the advice to "stay hungry" would confuse these workers who are all too familiar with a very different kind of hunger than the metaphorical variety Jobs was promoting....

I still appreciate the amazing design and efficiency of my apple products this morning, but I'm restless to find out more about their journey to my desk in Spokane, Washington. I'm reminded that I can't just enjoy this technology as an end-product, but there is a story that accompanies these items that is important to know about and that impacts the way I experience them. There are dozens of other hands that touched this computer in a far off place and that truth brings with it some accountability to those workers.

And I find this morning that I have a growing skepticism of Jobs' advice. None of us are superman or superwoman. We all "settle" in a thousand different ways in life. We all come up against limits -- even Steve Jobs, which he speaks to in his commencement address:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 

That's advice that stands up better to scrutiny. It might even resonate on the Foxconn factory floor. Life is fleshed out not so much in the often narcissistic pursuit of what we love, but more so in our grappling with human limits.

I had better stop here because my preacher's voice is about to kick in with a message about how we are all like grass, but the word of the Lord endures forever. I generally try to save my sermons for Sunday mornings. :)

Photo: Saw these birds along the Centennial Trail in Spokane. Finches?