You will get good at anything you spend time on
And once I realised and internalised that, my world changed.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, I used to be a World of Warcraft gamer. I started in high school and kept it up on and off through university and graduate school. Whenever times got tough and depression showed its face, I turned to WoW like a clockwork addict.
Then one day, I had this epiphany. It will seem ridiculous to anyone who has always considered it obvious, but it was revolutionary to me. The Hobbit
I still remember when the first of the trilogy came out. I was with some of my best friends in a city north of the Arctic circle, and of course we were cooperating with the cinema and dressing up and having a blast.
I had not been on board in the same way for the Lord of the Rings movies. Oh, I enjoy the movies, don’t get me wrong. But I was one of those kids who couldn’t really afford to splurge on cinema and the bus to town. I was vaguely aware that there was a hype about the movies, but wen’t on reading my books instead.
But not so with the Hobbit. This time I was surrounded by friends and ardent followers of the cult of “You have to watch extended”. My good friend and landlady at the time even has a habit of purchasing the art books.
And it was during our stints in watching the behind the scenes appendices of the Hobbit and leafing through the gorgeous artwork that I realised I want something that feels like a hobbit house.
I also realised that my several-hour-a-week (a day more like during the worst period) WoW habit would have to kick the bucket. It was in no way contributing to my dream.
Instead of earning points in tailoring in a digital fantasy game, I could, say, actually learn tailoring better than I had up until that point!
It sounds so banal and obvious when I write it like that, but trust me when I say the realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. I could live a life of adventure online, or I could create a life of adventure and joy in my own, very real, life.
(Please don’t think that I am saying playing games is wrong or bad, I grew a lot of great friendships online. I just came to realise that it was not what I, personally, wanted to focus my life on.)
Was I good at playing WoW? Yes, I dare say that after several hundred hours spent, I was.
I had also picked up a hobby of weaving narrow decorative bands for viking and medieval reenactment. It was the sort of hobby that was time consuming but cheap, ideal for a student.
As my skills grew, it was encouraging to get positive feedback from my friends. There was a great sense of achievement in making something tangible and detailed with my own hands, different from cooking or knitting from my childhood.
I spent time playing WoW, so I got good at playing WoW. I spent time weaving, so I got good at weaving.
There is a great deal of wisdom in the words “Life is what happens when you’re not paying attention”.
I had not been conscious of the consequences when I started playing WoW. My friend played, so I started playing too. But as I grew more aware of what I was sacrificing for the habit, it became less attractive. The same is true for just slouching down in front of the TV as soon as you come home. You’re sacrificing enormous amounts of time. And for what?
After all, time is all we have.
When I say you’ll get good at anything you spend time on, I mean it. And not just positive things like learning a new language, an instrument, learning to cook or getting our personal finances in order.
We also get increasingly good at negative things we spend time on, like complaining, eating unhealthy, wasting time online and avoiding truths we would rather not see.
That is why I think it is so important to be aware and conscious of what we choose to spend our time on.
I used to be one of those whom life just happened to. Something would happen and I would just go with the flow, only vaguely aware of the consequences. My career was one of those things that just happened. Had I been more self-aware, perhaps I would have chosen differently? Difficult to know when you’re only 15.
Becoming aware can be painful. Especially if you feel like you’ve steered your ship of life so far astray from where you really wanted to go that you just see an endless expanse of open ocean to get there. If I had just done X, Y and Z instead, that shore would be so much closer, you might think.
Don’t fall into that trap. Regret does little but waste precious time. Just do your best to change the course and set sail. It will be slow in the beginning.
So what was the consequence of realising what sort of life I want? Well, trying to pick up new skills that would benefit such a life, first of all. I had already started to sew and weave, courtesy of viking reenactment groups I joined in university. I also try to learn more wild plants, their uses, names and edibility. History too, while I’m at it, if I am able.
We are trying to learn to garden, even if it is just a windowsill garden at the moment. And then the personal finance blogging world came along, and taught me exactly how to achieve it.
Do I still get bouts of desire to play WoW again? You bet. If I am depressed, the urge to play will come creeping through the woodwork and infest my thoughts. One season in London, it was so bad that I even tried to convince Mr. E. to play with me. Mind you, the man has been avoiding that game ever since it came out, knowing he has an addictive personality. And there I was, pestering him and pretty much shoving it down his throat.
Not my greatest moment.
But that was also the moment that I realised that I only get a strong urge to play when I am depressed and want to run away from everything. Again, this is not a picture of all gamers, simply how it was for me.
Once I realised that, it became easier to resist it. Finding the cause for the symptom made it a whole lot easier to deal with.
Do you have anything you want to get better at?
You’ll have to prioritise it. Carve time for it in your schedule and make it happen. Please let us know in the comments!