The best answer I know to that question comes from a ten-year-old:
“I want to be everything.”
We can resonate with that. Being everything sounds so rad. It’s also a recurrent theme in the now choice-y world. Having spent some time in that world, I am coming to a slow and painful realization: You can be anything, just not everything.
I am sorry kid.
Leonardo Da Vinci was an engineer, a doctor, a military strategist, a scientist, a geologist, a botanist, a mathematician, an architect, a cartographer, a teacher, a sculptor, and when bored, a painter. Yawn!
Polymaths like Da Vinci seem to have a rare combination of inexplicable talent, a deep if not weird curiosity, and a rare comfort with indulging in seemingly pointless activities. Da Vinci is the closest we get to someone who was, by definition, everything.
We, on the other hand, are still trying to balance work and life.
For us, the idea of everything has turned into more of an escape than an exploration. Everything has become a lazy excuse to abandon things as soon as soon as they get boring. It’s become our greatest distraction.
While this kind of a distraction aided Da Vinci to some extent, it also left him constantly questioning what he was doing with his life. *Facepalm*
What really helped Da Vinci was the absence of the gazillion other choices and distractions we have now. When he was distracted or bored, he would just go back to painting or drawing, instead of leveling up at candy crush.
Being everything is turning into a heart-breaking pipedream; a runaround in the inevitable boredom of everyday life.
I spent a fair amount of time in the everything world: playing chess, solving Rubik cubes, public speaking, pulling off magic tricks and other everything’s I’d rather not talk about (okay, here’s one more: I once tried to memorize Pi to the first 100 digits). It was cool while it lasted. My friends think it was definitely much cooler than this writing thing I am doing now.
What they didn’t realize however is that in this attempt to be everything, I was too afraid to be anything. The sweet onion-ring of irony. I was constantly escaping the monotony that comes with sticking to something. This isn’t bad, just addictive. It’s taking a break from taking a break ad infinitum.
Now, there are days I wake up and the thought of writing makes me cower under the blanket. This is the longest I have done something and it hurts to be missing out on so many other everything’s. A small crowd doesn’t gather around to watch me anymore.
For the first time, it’s not about the crowd.
We all want to be more like Da Vinci rather than live the life he lived to become who became. Da Vinci’s days were often sad, difficult, and muddled with insignificant problems. With his manifold interests, Da Vinci also had to make time for everyday crap. Because apparently, besides everything he already was, Da Vinci was also busy being a sentient human being and we know how frustrating and banal that can be.
Most often, it’s the idea of external genius that we fall in love with in our attempt to be everything. And that prevents us from seeing the real truth: the real struggle happens inside. Or as Da Vinci regularly quipped, “Tell me. Tell me if ever I did a thing.”
The solution to finding something is trying a wide variety of things, the breadth as it’s now called. The problem is when the breadth becomes the end goal in itself. The real end is in trying something.
If you think it’s the finding that’s hard, wait until you find.
Boredom is at the heart of trying something. Some days, it will give you a deep unsullied joy. Some days, it will be painful and tedious. Abandoning something because it didn’t wake you up or energize your soul is an asinine way to let go. The paradox with being everything is that as close as it brings us to the something, it also becomes an easy escape from the very thing that could’ve become something truly special.
There’s are only a handful of stuff you will truly really enjoy doing. Finding that takes work – traversing the breadth takes time. You will go through some deadening jobs, your something’s will be met with clumsy callousness and you will constantly wonder if this was all a mistake. That’s just another day in the world of something.
We often miss out on this something because we don’t give it a home in our heart. We are afraid it will take up all the space. And it will. The more you try to do something, the greater will be the boredom, fear and potential regret. Because in the depths of joy also lies suffering. The applause in that depth may be faint. But it’s the only place where you hear the echo of your heartbeat.
What do you want to be when you grow up?