There’s a widespread infection striking American minds, leeching our enjoyment of life. Well,
there’s more than one such illness…but there is one in particular that’s on my heart right now.
I was recently talking with a piano-playing friend of mine and told him how I like that on the
piano one can play the melody, harmony, and sing at the same time. He asked if I could sing,
and was surprised and mildly envious when I told him I wasn’t half bad when I practiced. I let
him know I had no natural talent for it, but simply developed it over time through karaoke and
the occasional shower. I encouraged him to develop his voice, and suggested that if it was
important to him, he might take lessons. My friend wasn’t convinced. He basically said, “well, I’d
never be really great at it, so there’d be no point.” No matter what I said, he wouldn’t change his
I don’t want to sound like I’m simply dumping on my friend, who is a good-hearted, service-oriented
and intelligent person. He is, unfortunately, similar to the majority of people in this
This attitude is the illness–the nagging, draining voice that warps our mind into believing that
if we can’t be the best in the world at something (which is sometimes the case), it’s a waste of
time to get into. We can’t be Michael Jordan or Bill Gates, can we, and since you either have it
or you don’t, why even try…anything? It’s not worth it. There’s better uses of time. Besides, you
might look foolish if you flop. And hobbies? My schedule’s packed! Who has time for those?
(OH MY GOD! AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE MARATHON! Everybody come over!)
Why tinker away at impractical hobbies? What’s the use? Why take singing lessons? I’d never
make it on American Idol. I’d never make a dime, and would only be singing for myself.
Who said we had to be anything but what we are? Where did this idea of best or last come
from? (It’s been around long before Ricky Bobby’s dad visited his class.) Can’t we allow
ourselves to enjoy working on whatever we choose in our free time, regardless of how much
talent aids us? I imagine that few things delight God more than a person who reaches out and
exercises their freedom in life in a new way–especially when it’s an uphill battle–and with their
scarce, sacred spare time, gradually toil, sweat, fumble, mumble, and grow…until eventually
they experience the satisfaction and triumph of having forged a new outlet through which their
soul can joyfully express itself.
It is in this kind of effort that, in our own way, on our own scale, we get to share in the universal
process of creation, using nothing except pure will and old, OLD-fashioned work–truly chip off
the old block.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine there’s too many things that puts sorrow in His heart more
so than when he sees a person give up on something that would give them joy, simply because
they don’t have the natural gifts that some others have.
A person afflicted with this mentality might ask, “What would be the point, if I can’t be great?
Why would I even be doing it?”
Why not for yourself, because you choose to? How about for the people who know and love
you, and would enjoy seeing you grow? Don’t they count?
Besides, just because you may not be God’s gift to Earth at something, you can still get good at
it. There are very few things that strengthen my faith more than the universal fact that anyone,
anywhere, at any time who works on anything…automatically, unavoidably, inevitably gets better
at it, 100% of the time.
Isn’t that interesting? It’s inescapable–provided we’re practicing correctly, of course. This effect
doesn’t apply only to positive improvements, however. Just as easily, we can practice and
reinforce bad habits that work against us. So, if we take on a task we are serious about, we’d
better commit to seeking out good models to emulate, if we sincerely want to improve. But it’s a
universal law that anyone can get better at anything.
Not only that, but under most circumstances, I believe that anyone can practice any skill and
develop it to a level they can be proud of (even if it’s only because they’re better than most of
their friends). And they can keep on developing that skill as long as they wish, so long as their
mind, body, and willingness to seek out proper guidance allow.
So let’s not make excuses. When it comes down to it, we need to realize and be grateful for the
fact that we’ve been blessed–among countless other everyday miracles we take for granted–
with the ability to grow and flourish in any endeavor we consistently sow our effort into.
Because of this, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this ubiquitous, unfaithful, growthsquelching,
self-abasing mentality is an unnecessary, quack-prescribed tourniquet, that only
serves to hinder our lifeblood from flowing into the infinitude of possible vessels of our mental
and spiritual body.
This illness in thought-process twists our minds to believe that our own individual flame is
insignificant, useless, pitiful–even contemptible–if its blaze can’t be seen from outer space.
So these sad, unfulfilled souls sullenly avert their eyes from their own light, unwilling to
acknowledge the fact there is brightness and heat radiating from their soul’s flickering match.
Instead, they merely shake it out and toss it aside before it burns their fingers.
From a technical, pessimistic standpoint, their thoughts are accurate: that flame never would
have been able to be seen from space. On the other hand that low self-image person probably
doesn’t personally know too many “astronauts” either, who regardless, probably wouldn’t have
even noticed another glint on Earth, or given it more than a passing thought if they did.
Who does lose out, however, person after person, self-denial after self-denial, are those
misguided souls’ families and friends, whose teeth will chatter in colder homes at night. Even
though that match’s flame was relatively small, it would have been more than enough to light a
So let’s not deny ourselves and those who care about us the joy of experiencing our day-by-day
development and sharing of whatever benign pursuits make us smile.
Instead, let us boldly gather our jigsaws, our garden spades, and our deadliest collections of
rare Burmese stamps, and arm ourselves for battle. Let us proclaim and defend our right to live
a life of joy and personal balance.
While we each have our duties and responsibilities, we need to be able to step back to sigh,
diffusing the pent-up pressures generated by our hectic daily millings. And since our day-today
errands claim so much of our life, we should have no guilt–but instead be proud–to break
the routine. Is it our duty to live a life of monotony? Should we limit ourselves to being defined
merely by our jobs, duties…and talents?
There is peace in the knowledge that in an alternative expression of ourselves–an exercise of
personal freedom, by which we seize and demonstrate true gratitude for the gift of a day–in
which we can lose ourselves and can lay aside our stresses for the moment–that that flame is
here, real, and valuable…and matters more than the money we might have earned in that same
window of time–because it unshackles the soul and lets the spirit breathe freely.
So you’d never become an American Idol? Well I believe it takes far more bravery and character
to cultivate a talent that won’t click right away. And it reveals a far greater soul when one is
happy in laboring to warm the lives of “merely” those who would love us, regardless of our
It is necessary and right that we sell our time so we can put money into our families, into our
possessions, into our basic survival, and hopefully into our communities–but let’s not neglect
ourselves in the process. There is purpose in the impractical hobby. Through it the soul
recharges and flourishes, leaving us refreshed and primed to attack the rest of our duties.
It may be a tough pill to swallow that in setting out to develop a skill, not only might we have
to deal with the burden of not having any talent, but on top of that we might eventually have
to come to grips, somehow, with the absurd and maddening fact that we probably don’t suck
enough to get famous for it.
We’ll just have to bear this disappointment.
If nothing else eases our disappointment and confusion, we should remember that it’s OK to
spend free time working at something simply because we derive joy and satisfaction from it.
So let’s feel free to indulge in our favorite impracticalities from time to time. In reality, it’s one of
the most important things we can do for ourselves.
Now excuse me, my friend–I’ve some serious yodeling to do.
You might want to plug your ears.