Ask anyone you meet what they do and what they want to be good at, and you’ll probably hear phrases like these: “I’m a student at such and such a university,” “I work for so and so at his firm,” “I aspire to be a doctor,” “I want to be good at painting,” “someday, I aim to be great in the field of law,” etc. It’s just a fact that everyone wants to be good at something and that something generally takes the form of a career/profession or, at the very least, some material activity or goal. To put it in a personal context, as a student of two schools, I certainly have the ambition to be good at English (my degree at Regent University) and music (my focus at a ministry school), as well as several other lesser hobbies. However, it wasn’t until the past year that I discovered I wanted to be good at something else in addition to just what I was doing with my life: I wanted to be good at life. “What’s the use of being successful at managing my time and expending enough mental energy to be proficient in all of these areas, yet miss being successful at living?” This is what I asked myself, and I want to share, as a student and single young person to others like me, some of the ways I think we can challenge ourselves to be good at living and not just at doing life.
Be Yourself: Ok, yes, go and ahead and let out a little groan at this one, I understand. After all, our culture is saturated with self-worth clichés and “you’re enough” mantras that have come to signal more of a trend in and of themselves than anything meaningful for our society. However, I say it here because I actually believe in it and have found that it is essential to life itself. I’m more used to facades, dissociation and pretenses than I like to admit as the girl who took Shakespeare’s famous “all the world’s a stage” a little too seriously in her personal life, and it was when I began to relax and allow my personality to let her hair down that I realized I had been cheating myself of the ability to really live at all. Unless we go through life as ourselves we’re not really experiencing the world around us in an accurate way because our perceptions are not real, starting with those we have of ourselves.
Engage: This word, used just by itself, reminds me of a General’s command in battle when all of his troops have their guns in position and are set in formation (something like a “release hell” moment from "Gladiator"). “Ready, set….engage!” Now, I’m no General, but I do think we have to make some war on the passivity our culture allows when it comes to choosing whether or not to actively engage; everything is so easy for us here in the States (as a friend from a foreign country once lamented to me) and it’s easy to check out of a real, vulnerable, committed relationship with life to have an affair with an iPhone or virtual reality.
Even beyond cultural pressures, there’s also simply the tendency to check out what we’re doing, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of passivity. How many times have I read my portion of the required textbook in college, wrote my assessment of it and went on with my life without even caring or fully grasping what I had just done? The answer is, unfortunately, too many to count, and it’s often because the task becomes more important than its meaning, and I find at the end of the day that there is nothing of me in what I did. That’s all I mean here: just put something of yourself (or, if you're brave enough, you're whole self) into what you do.
Don’t Be a Slave to Time: I don’t know about you, but when I think about my day, it’s not a fluid 24-hour experience but an organized structure of boxes, each containing the appropriate amount of time to be given to every activity. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this and, honestly, schedules are man’s best friends (you may have always thought dogs fit that description but open your mind….unless we’re speaking of adorable puppies…in that case, feel free to close it). However, I do think (as I mentioned in an earlier article on cultural awareness) that we in the U.S. are often overly obsessed with time, and I believe there must be a way to strike a balance between valuing it and cherishing how we actually use it. One key might be to remind ourselves to value what we actually do with time rather than simply congratulating ourselves that we spent it efficiently; instead of thinking in terms of how much time we can spend on one thing, maybe we could orient ourselves around the value of our task and how it impacts our lives?
Love: This is, as they say, the last item but certainly not the least. I thought about doing a separate section on “giving” or “investing” in addition to this final one on “love,” but, honestly, I think they are the same thing in the end. Our culture is all about receiving, especially when it comes to love. How many songs or chick flicks portray love in the context of one person feeling fulfilled because another does this and that for them, makes them feel such and such a way, or compliments/completes them in some fashion? (By the way, I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with that portion of a relationship, but it's not, as our culture would have us believe the whole picture).
Love, however, is not about getting, and if we want to live fully we have to care selflessly and deeply about something and someone. We’re only operating on a surface level and reducing ourselves to emotional zombies if we don’t open ourselves up to the risk that is loving. Plus, we get plain bored if we don't. Selfishness is certainly safe (trust me, I know) but it pales in comparison to the wildest adventure of all: loving people without holding anything back, especially ourselves.