Day 71: Keeping Things Simple

I once heard someone say, “You can do ANYTHING in life… but you can’t do everything.” I have quoted this numerous times in my conversations over the years, to the point where it has become a mantra embedded in the back of my brain.  I don’t even remember who said it, to be honest, but it carries weight in my head like a tried-and-true personal philosophy, and it has aided me repeatedly when I needed clarity in life.

I believe that people are extraordinarily capable.  Anybody is capable of achieving extraordinary feats, even multiple extraordinary feats.  Whether your focus is athletic, creative, personal, social, financial, romantic, spiritual, scientific, professional, political, or otherwise, such is our potential power that I believe intense desire backed by committed action can accomplish wonders.  Look at the accomplishments of great men and women in any of the aforementioned fields and you will know what I mean.

At the same time, you can’t do EVERYTHING.  How could you?  If you ask a five year old what they want to be when they grow up, they may say (or at least might have said when I was a kid, I’m not sure what five-year olds say now), “I want to be an astronaut, and the President of the United States, and a major league baseball player, and a fireman!” As a wisened adult, you nod your head and smirk knowingly, for you know the child still exists in the magic fairy tale land of infinite possibilities, where our minds can form a wish and instantly achieve it in any and all directions.   Such is the power of the imagination, and it is truly a marvelous thing.

However, when you grow up, I think there comes a point where you realize that your options in this life you have been given are, not limited, but finite.  Let’s look at a hypothetical example.  When it comes to choosing a career, you may go to law school, but that probably will eliminate the possibility of dentistry.  And even if you choose to change directions in the middle of law school and switch to dentistry school, then you have to make up for lost time and in some way compensate for your change of mind.  And once you become that dentist, you learn to specialize in that trade, and you grow your reputation as a dentist, and hopefully you prosper.  The more you learn that trade, the more invested in it you are, and the more you are seen as a dentist by the world, the less likely you are going to change and become an accountant.

If you were to change your mind and decide to become an accountant anyway, you will have to go back to school in some way, give up your lucrative dentistry practice, and build a new business and a new reputation in an entirely new field where you lack the expertise and renown you enjoyed as a dentist.  By that time, years have passed, you aren’t as young as you used to be, and you feel like you are starting over.  And what for? Such a career change, the third in your career, into a completely unrelated field will probably set you back professionally, mentally, emotionally, socially and of course financially, and you may never achieve the same levels of comfort or success you achieved as a dentist.

But let’s say you do achieve a similar or even higher level of success as an accountant.  You are unusually canny at learning new things, with an extraordinary amount of self-trust and belief in following your own intuition to perform a complete right-turn in the middle of your career.   I’m sure there are people who have succeeded both as dentists and as accountants… and even as lawyers too, while we’re at it.  Think about amazing renaissance men such as Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci, and superior minds such as Alexander Hamilton.  I’m currently reading the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  Hamilton helped build our American government: he was one of the Founding Fathers who not only signed but helped establish the legitimacy of the Constitution, helped to establish the U.S. mint and the Coast Guard, served as Secretary of the Treasury to George Washington, served as Major General in the army, ran a successful law practice, and was a mostly good family man (despite a glaring blunder in having an affair with another woman) and father of six.  His accomplishments are extraordinary, and seeing how mentally astute and passionate about his causes he was, I’m not surprised.

Yet, think about it.  Even in the hypothetical example of the lawyer-turned-dentist-turned-accountant, we are talking about 2 or 3 careers.. at most!  Even the most brilliant minds in history did not do EVERYTHING!   Experts in any field become experts because they specialize.  Sure, they may specialize in multiple areas, but they don’t specialize in ALL AREAS OF LIFE.   Who can?  I don’t think it’s possible in one lifetime.  That’s just not how life works.  “There isn’t enough time in the day,” as they say.

What’s my point here?  Since you can’t do everything in life, in my opinion you ought to pick the top things that matter to you most, perhaps the 3 or 4 or 5 things, and do those.  You could decide that your vision are committed to being a great father, the best plumber in town, and the best amateur golfer in the region.  This sounds like a very fine life!  But you are not going to do those three things, AND be the best engineer in the state, AND the best chess player in the country, AND start a new business that revolutionizes the world, AND serve as governor, AND write a best-selling novel.  Even the most extraordinarily gifted, productive, and blessed people in the world will tend to excel in only a few areas.

What I’m saying ultimately is, keep things simple.  If you want a great life, discover what you are most committed to be, and be that.  My commitments in life are these:  great husband, great teacher, fully-expressed artist, with an ongoing commitment to self-betterment.  Through being a husband, being a pianist and a teacher, and being an expressive being doing things like this blog project and other creative activities, I aim to have a great life.  Add to that the gratification that comes from a few other activites, namely:  reading, running, watching movies, and being there for extended family and friends anyway I can, and you have my life.  It is not complicated, it allows me to be highly functioning, because I know what I’m committed to, and I keep things simple.

You can too!  But you are not likely to do it all, unless by “it all” you actually mean a limited number of magnificent goals that you are truly passionate about.  You can accomplish those… if you focus, specialize, and commit to them whole-heartedly.   Instead of trying to be and do everything, you might as well specialize in the things you most love, because surely that will actually be enough!  🙂


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