Friday, April 26, 2013

The secret of my un-success, or great advice I won't be following

I caught this inspiring passage in The Greenhorns' New Farmer's Almanac last night:
In whatever you engage, pursue it with a steadiness of purpose, as though you were determined to succeed. A vacillating mind never accomplished anything worth naming. There is nothing like a fixed, steady aim. It dignifies your nature, and insures your success.
This sounds about right, and it is a variant of great advice I've heard--but not heeded--my entire life. If wisdom comes with age, and wisdom has anything to do with accepting that which we cannot change, then I am wising up to my nature. I can't take advice that is at odds with who I am fundamentally.

This is not to say that while I garden, or play piano or guitar, or write poetry, or take an online class on complexity, or make home movies on my iMac--or any of a great number of other things I do with a sometimes moderate level of proficiency--that I won't be attentive and present and pursue excellence in that moment. But I am a generalist, and I don't want to change that. My attentions drift and dart and as long as I keep moving, I'll pick up some things.

The line I take issue with from The New Farmer's Almanac, then, is "A vacillating mind never accomplished anything worth naming." I've heard (and I'll buy it) that the days of true Renaissance people are gone.

There is simply too much to know in the 21st century, too much information, too much specialization is possible, for any [normal] person to be an expert in more than a few pursuits. Excellence takes practice. It takes time. It takes exclusive devotion. So much for expertise in my own life.

I guess my response now has to be, oh well. Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man, and I've always been amused by this lamenting biographical note of Giorgio Vasari's:

He might have been a scientist if he had not been so versatile. But the instability of his character caused him to take up and abandon many things.
Oh well! Here's to instability of character. Besides, I've got loads to do today.