From “The Builders” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our todays and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.
I turn twenty-eight today. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what’s really important to me as far as daily habits moving forward.
Here it is: to spend my life and time so that I would be proud to share it if I was traveling around with a cameraman.
The tiny private victories that will likely remain private are the foundations of an extraordinary life.
Every hour of deliberate practice on technical competence that no one will ever notice as such; will – over time – allow me to get lost in the heart and emotion of a song… that would otherwise require focus on technique during performance. Every daily action that I take from the time I get out of bed is a pre-cursor to the habit patterns my children will have as an example.
I’ve been focused on this mindset for about a month, and it’s amazing how challenging it is to embrace. It’s just natural to get lazy about the sharpness of my efforts in private. I’m used to dividing up my life and caring a lot more about something when it’s going to be noticed. I’m used to checking facebook and email in the middle of a writing session because it’s easy distraction. I’m used to shortening my run when I promised myself I’d take a longer one because “I have so much to do today and I got started late” (as though the extra eighteen minutes to run five miles instead of three would make or break my schedule.) I’m used to setting a goal for the day, then skimping a little because no one else knows about it. And I’m totally certain that if someone did know about it and could measure it, I would absolutely find a way.
Why should that make a difference? Why should I respect a commitment more just because I’ve shared it with others? Why not pour myself into the things I do on my own and start to make it clear in my own mind, that I respect myself as much as I respect anyone else? Why not step up even more because I made a commitment to myself?
What I want out of life is mastery… and mastery requires dedication and deliberate attention… even to the unseen details. Mastery requires taking two steps back sometimes, to open the way to take ten steps forward. Mastery requires persistence (often in spite of evidence) and patience that I’m only beginning to possess.
The irony is: I think the confidence I gain from mastering the parts of my life that no one ever knows about, will become a part of who I am and become quite apparent in the quality of my work and my ability to congruently communicate with and inspire others.
And that’s really why I do what I do – to inspire.