My six year old has the most difficult time making choices. Once when we were out eating lunch, he was offered the chance to have ice cream, but only if he traded in the toy that came with his kid’s meal (the restaurant offered a trade for those who would rather have dessert than a toy.) The decision was momentous. He held the trinket in his hand, staring at it, but unwilling to give up the prospect of an ice cream cone. After a good fifteen minutes of debating, he finally decided to trade it. When he walked up to the counter, the cashier thought he was so cute that the man gave him dessert but let him keep the toy. While it was a sweet sentiment, the result did little to expand his ability to make decisions.
Every day we make choices. Decisions that will impact our future in some way. Some seem momentous, like what career path to follow or what job to take. Others feel trivial, like whether to watch TV tonight or spend time working on a novel (or other work-in-progress). But all too quickly one little choice turns into a string of them and suddenly that innocent decision is a pattern – a lifestyle.
When deciding what to do with my free time, I am often caught between two choices, one of which is usually some type of entertainment – catching up on a television show, zoning into a movie, surfing Twitter/Facebook/other attention-grabbing site. The alternative is either a necessity (like housework), or a current project. And here, disguised in an innocent quandary, lies a pivotal decision.
If I’m at this point, it means that whatever project I’m debating ignoring doesn’t interest me at the moment (otherwise I wouldn’t be considering housework). Maybe I’m bored with it or (more likely) it just sounds like too much work and I just want to chill out. I’ve worked hard all day – I’ve earned the right to take a night off – right?
A Culture of Entertainment
Our culture (propelled by technology) has taught (programmed) us to seek what is immediately enjoyable. I recently had a conversation with my cousin about how so many kids (and adults) today are unable to self-entertain. From infancy, we are exposed to television, the epitome of mindless entertainment. Soon after, comes the movies, video games and online diversions. And technology equips us with portable devices that give us all of this, anytime, anyplace. This pattern catapults us into adulthood leaving our imaginations under-developed, our need for constant amusement incredibly high and our ability to self-entertain almost non-existent.
Think about it. Any place where people are stuck in a seat waiting (the doctor’s office, the playground, the soccer field, church – heaven forbid!), a good many of them are entertaining themselves with media of some sort. Smartphones with unlimited internet abound. People walk around with earbuds in their ears and Bluetooth devices stuck to their heads.
Easy versus Rewarding
The fact that I am afflicted by the need for constant amusement as much as the rest of society is what causes me so much anxiety. It’s why, after I’ve put the kids to bed, deciding what to do with my few free hours is so difficult. But I’ve realized something. The nights when I’m too tired to think about my novel, when I decide to veg out and watch television instead of writing, I may gain amusement but I never gain fulfillment. I get up from the couch thinking, “Well, that was a waste of my evening.”
And that’s because what’s easy in life is rarely rewarding. What’s fulfilling is not always enjoyable at the time. Cranking out words may require blood, sweat and tears, not to mention a great deal of initiative. Sometimes it’s no fun at all. But finishing my first novel was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Graduating college (be it magna cum laude) doesn’t hold a candle to it.
So when a minor choice like what to do with your evening presents itself, remember that it might be the decision between just being entertained and being fulfilled. Don’t take the easy way out.
You might also be interested in:
Dedication and Perseverance: Discovering Inspiration: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Part 2
Making Goals: Commit or Be Committed
How to Love Being Miserable : The War of Art, Part 2: Becoming a Professional