Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Wisdom of the ages: ancient advice on an age-old obstacle
When I find myself waiting for inspiration before writing or painting I think of a favorite quote: "The muse comes to the moving pen."
In other words, don’t wait for inspiration; begin, and inspiration will follow. A guarantee of sorts... action brings inspiration.
In practice, the quote appears to hit the mark. I’ve noticed more times than one, as I sit expectantly at my computer staring at an empty white page, a kernel of an article does indeed present itself to me. Then, as I make a tentative beginning, somehow, from somewhere, the first few words are joined by others until, to my surprise, a full article appears.
This makes me wonder: how many articles have I not written, and how many pictures have I not painted because logic would seem to dictate that inspiration must come first and the beginning second. And why did I have to grow as old as I am now for this to sink in? (I hope I’m not the only one who’s taken their sweet time assimilating this little gem of truth). So now, after following the advice of this quote, I not only have a subject for my column (which Gary, my always time-conscious editor, will surely appreciate) but also a new truth to ponder.
Of course this is not, by a long shot, the first time I’ve heard this principle. Taped to my monitor is an impressive quote that reads, " Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed." This comes from a gentleman named Goethe who lived from 1749 to 1832. If Mr. Goethe knew this truth a couple of centuries ago, why do I, and apparently many others, still wrestle with its implementation today? Continuing on the same subject comes another quote: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." (Chinese philosopher, around 531 B.C.).
So, here we have Mr. Goethe, from a couple of hundred years ago, and an ancient Chinese philosopher from a couple of thousand years ago telling us the same thing: Don’t wait for inspiration! Get off your butt and get started! Do something! Modern day psychologists and those in the success coaching industry agree that if there is one universal human failing it’s procrastination. And procrastinate we do, on the stuff of our dreams, the implementing of our goals, because, at least in part, in the back of our minds many of us still think we don’t have the green light until we get that heady rush of inspiration.
Part and package of the begin now, don’t procrastinate doctrine is the underlying idea of a deadline. A literal deadline. At some point we will be exactly that: dead. Dust, kaput, finished, done for, pushing up daisies, kicked the bucket (whether we finished The List or not), curled up our toes, bought the farm, and all of the other euphemisms that tell us the deadline has arrived, we have run out of time. Not the most enjoyable or pleasant of subjects, but realistic and potentially motivating: Time is limited! Get started!
Think of the Biblical parable of the landowner who, before leaving for a long journey, gave out talents (money) to his servants, various amounts according to their ability. Each man used his money differently, and each made a profit, except one, who, afraid, buried it. Today we’d say that he let fear of failure keep him from taking the first step. So the talent remained unused. A sad waste. Better a failed attempt than no attempt.
A can-do approach, like that of past president Theodore Roosevelt (someone well worth reading about) could be our most valuable asset.
Among the quotes Roosevelt left us is this jewel:
"Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘certainly I can!’ - and get busy and find out how to do it."
This no-procrastinate, get-started-now approach is also backed up by the renowned philosopher Aristotle who said, "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."
That’s all the green light we need.
Copyright Teresa Houston, March 2009.