Another ‘Rona Silver Lining

People are learning maybe ‘less is more’ isn’t a mindless cliché. Maybe less long distance travel, means more appreciation for one’s local ecology. Maybe less cluttered calendars and fewer obligatory activities, means more stillness and thinking and personal change. In that spirit, maybe less concern for outward appearances, means more self acceptance. And maybe less certainty about one’s health, means more appreciation for one’s health.

A pastor friend created this Christmas banner for his church this year. I hope he displays it for many more to come.

There’s an exception to every rule, as the Los Angeles Lakers’ new diamond encrusted championship ring, poignantly illustrates.

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“I Often Look Down On Myself”

Despite all the distancing, I’ve had many more meaningful interactions with my students this semester than I anticipated. Interactions that have left me feeling sublimely aligned with my life purpose.

I regularly challenge students to focus more on learning processes than outcomes. More specifically, I advise them not to focus on grades too intensely.  I’m not naive as to why so many of them do exactly that—scholarship requirements, good driving discounts, graduate school applications, and parents’ expectations for starters.

And yet, deep down they know their intense focus on grades often compromises their learning. Many still can’t help themselves.

“Why, do you place so much importance on your grades?” I gently probed with one of my first year writers last week during a one-on-one conference. I don’t remember what she said, but I’ll never forget her follow up e-mail.

“You asked me when we last met why I focus so much on my grades. I gave you the first answer to come to mind. I have put a lot of thought into it. I often look down on myself. I have a hard time telling myself, that I’m smart or interesting or pretty. I have a hard time accepting it when others say it’s true. Grades are the way, I can look at myself and say, ‘here in front of you is proof that you are smart, or at least smart enough, and that you can succeed.’ That’s all. Thank you for everything professor.”

I’m the one who should be thanking her for the single most honest, heartfelt explanation for grade anxiety I’ve ever heard.

What We Get Wrong About Honesty

That it’s mostly telling the truth to others. But being honest with one’s self is a more essential starting point, and because we lack any semblance of objectivity, far more difficult.

None of us are ever completely honest with ourselves. Meaning we are loathe to accept our differences which makes self acceptance a constant struggle.

Case in point. I loved, loved, loved this short essay titled “An Emotional Reunion Between Cello and Cellist”. Russell had me after her opening paragraph:

“On a recent Thursday, Matt Haimovitz, the forty-seven-year-old virtuoso cellist, packed an empty instrument case into the back of his car and drove from his home, in Montreal, to a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side, where he’d be crashing. The case was for Haimovitz’s rare, multimillion-dollar cello, which he calls Matteo—after Matteo Goffriller, the seventeenth-century Venetian luthier who built it. He had played it for thirty years, until, fifteen months earlier, while giving a lesson to a promising Canadian student, he dropped it, and the cello’s neck snapped. Since then, the instrument had been undergoing extensive repairs by a team of five luthiers at Reed Yeboah Fine Violins, near Columbus Circle. Now the shop had called to say that Matteo was ready for release.”

If I’m honest with myself, I want something resembling what those six people have—Haimovitz and the five luthiers—a singleminded focus on one thing that animates their lives. One thing that gives them an overwhelming purpose for being. Even a little bit of flow.

Put differently, I want to love something the way Haimovitz loves his cello. I am fascinated by people with distinct passions, often wishing I was one of them. It doesn’t matter how esoteric or far removed the passions are from my life; interior design, locomotive trains, the Spanish language; I still look on with envy.

This year I’ll cycle somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 miles. Friends ride 10,000-12,000. I like cycling, they love it. Some people read a book or more a week. I like reading, they love it. Some commit 60+ hours a week to their jobs because they like their work so much they often loose track of time. I prefer being on sabbatical. Some bloggers have huge readerships in part because they are laser focused on a particular topic. In contrast, the Humble Blog, a reflection of my continuously distracted pea brain, is all over the place.

Hiking Burroughs Mountain Trail last weekend, I listened to my friends excitedly discuss plant nomenclature and geology and wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” By which I meant, “Why aren’t I equally curious? Why am I content not knowing the name of the beautiful flower or understanding how the awe-inspiring landscape was formed? Why aren’t I similarly passionate about labeling and understanding the natural world?”

But then I stop to think that my cycling obsessed friends don’t run and swim. And maybe it’s okay that my interests are more disparate, and therefore, less intensive. Wide-ranging interests enable me to ask more questions, connect with more people, create a relatively diverse and interesting social network.

How fortunate that everyone is wired differently. Maybe the singleminded people of the world, the Haimovitz’s, would tell me sometimes there are downsides to being obsessively focused on one thing.

Maybe I’m okay and you’re okay.