Our youngest son is usually my buddy for the occasional “star walks”: we stroll through the park after dark, chat about life, look up at the stars to see which ones we can identify, and discuss star names that fit for naming our imaginary (for now) dog. A few days ago, I invited our little one to go on a star walk with me. He responded: “I don’t want to go. I’ve already seen the stars before.” His attention must have been absorbed by a game he was playing, and the stars – the stars will always be there if he wants to see them again.
The stars are familiar. They don’t demand attention. There is no urgency to watch them. The stars are there whether or not they are being watched. It’s easy to blow off the beauty of watching the stars when the timing seems inconvenient; there will always be another time for it.
So, do you choose to let the stars feel like an old news, or do you choose to look at them with a sense of awe?
Neither answer is better than the other, but it is worth to approach the question mindfully.
As you know, some people and activities can keep you engaged for hours, days, years, and others feel like a passing fad. Why? How do your job, people in your life, your hobbies, and your art end up in the zone of desensitized familiarity, or of awe-inspiring familiarity?
Familiarity develops with exposure, time together, and the depth of the engagement. It can stem from a simple brush against something in a passing encounter, or from a more engaged experience of “I came, I saw, I conquered”. Familiarity can stem from a deep, on-going, intimate, ever-developing relationship, the kind that Sherpas have with Mount Everest. At any level of depth, familiarity can either pull you in, or make you feel like you’ve had enough to not need any more.
Sometimes, this choice is made for you: you simply must continue practicing your art in order to feel alive, as if an invisible force is making you work on it. Or, you viscerally cannot tolerate doing a familiar task anymore unless you do it on auto-pilot while your attention is elsewhere.
When you feel you’re falling into the trap of desensitized familiarity in your relationship, career, practice, or physical space, how can you decide whether you can move into awe-inspiring familiarity, or let go and start something new?
Ask yourself the following:
- Do I believe there’s more depth and room for creativity in this relationship/career/practice than I have seen? If no, move on or continue on auto-pilot, saving your energy for something that truly matters. If yes, consider the next question:
- Is it worth my time and energy to immerse deeper into the situation?
- Have I already explored enough to know that I don’t want more of it?
- Does learning more about the person/job/craft make me respect it more? (If you experience increasing contempt rather than increasing awe as you learn about something, you’re in a wrong place.)
- Do I allow a possibility of being surprised here, or are things consistently predictable?
- Am I approaching this situation mindfully or dismissively? Is this how I want to approach the situation?
- Does the person/job/situation feel like a chore? Can I , and do I want to change this?
- Can I approach the situation playfully, without trivializing it?
With your craft, if the better you get, the better you want to get, if the more you learn, the more you want to learn, if you want to play and delight as you experience your craft, you’ve found The One. When deep, intimate knowledge of someone is combined with awe and respect you continue to develop for the person, when you believe in infinite new layers and possibilities within your shared experience, when you allow a possibility of being surprised by this person, fear not: this kind of familiarity will get you through a lifetime together. In this set-up, even if once in a while you need a break from the intensity, you will return with fresh eyes to learn more.
If your heart is in the sky, the stars will wait for you, even if you skip a day here and there. If your heart is not in the sky, the stars, as awe-inspiring as they are considered to be, will not matter. Your answer is inside, not in the stars, and you are the only one who can unlock it.
(Let me know if you want to talk about this!)
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Thank you to all of you who participated in the Magic2018 project, where I invited you to start the year with an intensive, personalized strategic planning session to figure out your next moves in your career and life. All the spots were filled, and the money has been delivered to the music programs at the local middle and elementary schools. Together, we made a huge difference!