Entertained or Fulfilled?


Photo credit: Shiv Shankar Menon Palat

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.

Decisions…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

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  1. #1 by Joshua Unruh on September 8, 2011 - 7:41 am

    So this is absolutely not an argument with your thesis. I agree a lot and its one reason I’m thankful I became interested in tabletop roleplaying games. They require other humans and imagination, both very important.

    That said, how does this issue fit in with a writer’s need to recharge the fiction batteries? For instance, if I’m careful to only watch or read things that are of great quality or particular interest, am I always wasting my time?

    • #2 by Becca Campbell on September 8, 2011 - 1:51 pm

      Josh,

      I definitely agree that writers need free time, and many good ideas can come from watching movies and television. What I was really getting at here was the HABIT of regularly putting things off because of the desire for entertainment, falling into a routine of taking the easy route.

      The bottom line is, are you entertained or fulfilled by your activities? If watching a movie recharges your battery so you can write, then it is fulfilling your needs on that level.

  2. #3 by Trish Pogue on September 8, 2011 - 11:01 am

    I too am struggling with this decision. My 4 year old daughter wants to watch tv all the time and has a hard time entertaining herself even though she has tons of toys. I need to be her example and not only set up tv watching boundaries but carry out those rules. She, and I, will be a better person for it.

    • #4 by Becca Campbell on September 8, 2011 - 1:53 pm

      I feel the same way. You’re right; teaching by example is the best way.

  3. #5 by Amanda Jump on September 8, 2011 - 11:39 am

    I share the struggle of your six year old and often waste much time deliberating. I spent the better part of my twenties trying to talk my ex into throwing the TV out completely – without success.

    That being said, my only caution to other Christians would be in the extreme of this need for fulfillment in productivity, creativity, or work. In my own life, that desire sometimes lords over my attitudes, emotions, and even other areas of my life where I am called to do my work as unto the Lord (the work of a wife and mother). Often, I am so obsessed with toiling over the soil of my plot that my part as Mary at Jesus’ feet is also overshadowed, neglected.

    I agree enthusiastically with your challenge to make more quality decisions – decisions that seem to run completely counter-culture. I only wanted to highlight my own pitfalls in this realm of thought….

    Nevertheless, and no doubt, I for one could stand to benefit from less Facebook time! ;-) Enjoyed this post, Becca. Thanks for sharing.

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