Improve. Expand. Grow.

Tedium and repetition are the single-handed killers of my dreams and productivity. There are many times that I have yielded to boredom and let monotony run my life. Call it “The Curse of the Digital Age” or “The Millenial Struggle of Indifference”; there is an epidemic of apathy, especially in modern young adults, to strive for success, but only within a certain body of knowledge. Why do something a different way or try something new if the process has already been perfected to maximize efficiency and effectiveness? Why study fine art or practice an instrument when there is neither immediate use for the knowledge nor foreseeable performance opportunities? There seems to be an extraordinary societal emphasis on perfecting existing competencies, rather than on diversifying capabilities.

Sometimes I pine for the archaic days when women were expected and required to constantly improve themselves through the refinement of domestic competencies, the exposure to cultural phenomena, and the acquiring of talents and skills. Today’s modern woman (or man for that matter) is simply expected to go to school, pick an occupation, and retire only when their minds and bodies give out. Hobbies are only for the scarce afternoon of free time and new skills are only valuable if developed for college applications or career advancement. These new-ish societal expectations that put money and jobs ahead of personal fulfillment frustrate me to no end.

Perhaps this outlook is a product of the classic British and American literature (along the lines of Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder) that I grew up reading. These authors described characters that were strong, empowered women who happened to have skills that not only prepared them for practical success in the world, but also set them apart as talented individuals whose lives were enriched by their extracurricular activities.

When my to-do list is completed and social media gets stale, I rarely remember the endless list of betterment activities that are available at my fingertips. However, there are always opportunities for me to practice painting, knitting, photo-editing, sewing, singing, baking, writing, carpentering, etc. even though I have never had formal training for any of those skills. Not to mention there are thousands of other skills that not only expose me to new challenges, but also activate my brain in different ways.

For example, in seventh grade I had no choice but to learn to write with my non-dominant left hand when I broke my right elbow. Despite the inconvenience, I enjoyed the challenge and continued to practice left-handed penmanship long after my cast was removed. This acquired skill proved extremely helpful years later when I needed surgery on my right shoulder. I had no difficulty taking notes in class, applying make-up, or cutting my food because my unnecessary skill refining prepared me to easily adapt to new circumstances. Now, although my shoulder has recovered, I continue to write, curl hair, pour juice, text, hammer nails, and stir my coffee with my left hand in order to continually improve myself (bonus: self-taught ambidexterity is a great random fact for ice breaker games).

I have always been interested in being as well-rounded as possible. Sometimes that means taking advantage of one-in-a-lifetime experiences. But more often than not, it simply means putting time and energy into practicing (and occasionally perfecting) random, seemingly pointless skills. Of course life gets hectic and sometimes my unnecessary skill-refinement gets put on the backburner for a few weeks, months, or even years as other tasks take precedence. However, the joy and fulfillment that I discover when I resume my improvement activities motivates and inspires me to continually experiment and try new things.

Significant Challenge: Next time life gives you some extra free time, take full advantage of the opportunity to improve, whether that means practicing a hidden talent, reading a new genre, exploring a different neighborhood, visiting a museum, building a shelf, painting with watercolors, pulling out an old musical instrument, or baking a fancy cake. The important thing is not to find immediate success, but rather to expand horizons and leave comfort zones in favor of achieving a greater degree of excellence, adaptability, and value in life.


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