To know the right means of getting something done is virtually to have done it. – Mark Caine
Do you ever wonder what you would do if you weren’t able to do the things you take for granted that you can do? If you lost the use of your dominant hand, or couldn’t see – do you ever wonder how you would respond and what you would do?
We know from books like Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on happiness that people generally overestimate how much of an effect this will have on them in the long term. Human beings are surprisingly resilient at coping with the things an indifferent fate throws at them. But what it would be like if you were proactive – if you thought through what you might do if the worst came to be?
I don’t think this can be dismissed as morbidity or pessimism. The idea of facing one’s own fears can help put things in perspective and show you what is important and what is not. Some thing as simple as being concerned about repetitive strain injury, something that I, as someone who tries to write every day, am starting to experience myself. What should I do, stop writing – take a break? Go on medication, surgery even? Perhaps the answer is in strength training. But what if that doesn’t help – what if I can’t write at all?
I find that when you think such thoughts it’s worth starting to consider what the worst case might be and what you might do. And you might find inspiration in the life of John Callahan who was paralyzed after an accident at age 21 but eventually created a career as a cartoonist and was the subject of the film Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot. And if you’ve ever come across the application Dasher it’s a very good example of what technology can do to support people that have special needs.
The challenge, for most of us, is finding the right balance between the effort it takes to learn how to do something, the amount we have to do every day to keep the momentum going and what we’re trying to produce as a result of the work that we do. It’s easy to end up wishing we could do what someone else does. I watched a YouTube video today of an artist painstakingly crafting a Chinese bow using mostly hand tools – and while it’s beautifully made and the artist is elegantly pictured throughout – there must have been some sweat and swearing involved as well. We like the results that we see – but not all of us are prepared to put in the work needed to replicate someone else’s results.
That’s why it’s important that we find the thing that works for us – the particular way in which we can contribute. It takes time and patience to do that but you have to put in the time to find your way. You can’t do it all so you do have to try and select and work and stick at something and eventually you’ll work it out. It probably helps to have the chance to do an apprenticeship or craft your own apprentice journey. But when you do find it you’ll find that it asks a lot of you – especially of your body. There’s a scene in the series Mozart in the jungle where musicians talk about how they devote years to their art, pushing their bodies to the limit, and how much strength it takes to do that day after day.
But sometimes just being strong isn’t enough and if you can’t keep doing what you love to do in the way you love to do it what options do you have left? There’s always teaching – help others to learn how to do the thing that you care about – create an apprenticeship, a learning experience for others.
When it comes down to it – working out the options is really not that hard. It’s the fear of the unknown that stops us. Once the thing has happened we deal with it – that’s what our brains evolved to do – to help us survive. To carry on. It’s not over until it’s over.