I have come upon a key to what motivates me at this stage of my life—retired, going on 77, and not wanting to struggle too hard against whatever resistances remain in my psyche after a lifetime of conscious living. It is that I now direct my limited energy and put my focused effort into things that are some combination of what I love, what I am good at, and what seems important.
Not everything I do ticks all three boxes. Very few things do, In fact. But two of the three can also be good and call forth some effort though I don’t like hard work, which I define as doing things I am not inclined to do.
My involvement in Congo over the last decade, recorded in this blog, ticked all the boxes. Shepherding the asylum seekers with whom I’ve been involved in the past two years, also recorded here, ticks all the boxes. Hosting family, being with family, and navigating family challenges ticks all the boxes.
Such trifectas are wonderful but rare. More instructive are the two-out-of-threes. For example, over the last month I’ve been relearning Japanese through the online Rosetta Stone program. Is this important? I do want to take my daughter and granddaughter to Japan if and when things open up again but recovering my fluency in the language isn’t essential for that. Rather, this exercise ticks the “love” and “good at” boxes. I loved and was very good at learning languages when I was young. Age sharply diminishes the ability to learn a new language, but relearning and improving are skills that are enhanced by experience. I’m loving it.
Gardening ticks two—love and importance, because I love beauty and attach great importance to creating it. I am not particularly good at gardening but I am happy working to become better at it.
I recently noticed that leading worship in church ticks two boxes for me—I am good at it and I consider it important. I don’t exactly love doing it but I get asked and it is fine.
Writing varies. Sometimes it ticks three, sometimes only two. It is always important (though I seldom understand why) and I am always good at it. I don’t always love it. Right now I am loving going back to journaling basics, just as I went back to Japanese basics. I am doing morning pages à la Julia Cameron.
I could say, with the Apostle Paul, the greatest of these is love. Love will cause me to put effort into getting better at something I’m not good at—like gardening. It will tempt me to do things without judging how important they are, like relearning Japanese. And I certainly spend a lot of time doing things such as reading novels and doing hard crosswords that are purely entertainment, which is a form of love. It is that category of activity, however, that I would like to shrink (though self-care is always important) in favor of more directed love. Love is the least variable of the three qualities. It indicates something innate. You can become good at something with practice, and you don’t always know how important something is though these qualities can become clearer over a lifetime. But love is the most reliable starting point.
Love can also be harnessed in the service of the other qualities. For example, I need to get out to walk more. This is very important for my wellbeing and longevity. But since my knee problems and surgery five years ago it is not something I do well. It is a chore and very hard to love. I seduce myself to do it by taking pictures and reporting on my walks in facebook posts, which links it to something I love–communicating beauty–so that ticks two boxes (love and important) and it helps.
Then there are things I know are important, like political activism: phone calling, organizing, demonstrating, persuasion, and all manner of political work, but I do not love these things and I am not good at them, after years of experimenting and admiring others who do them. So I am finally letting myself off the hook and leaving them to others. I just can’t get that second box ticked.
Maintaining a house, cooking, entertaining are activities that tick varying boxes. I usually consider them important (if only for my own wellbeing), I don’t always love them and I’m not always good at them but usually I am one or the other or both. However, I know people for whom they tick no boxes at all, or only the “important” box, and thus they are drudgery. Someone like that would have to find ways to link them to one of the other boxes or leave them to others.
I love analyzing myself and I am good at it. Is it important? For me it is. The responses to this blog show that it is important to a handful of other people as well.
What ticks your boxes?