A childhood memory stirs in me as I search frantically through a page of Google results.
In the memory, I’m about 12 and practicing throwing a baseball in the backyard. I had one of those nets that bounces the ball back to you so you can just keep practicing. I run off to get the ball after missing the net and it rolling up against the shed.
“I know what you’re doing wrong.” said my Dad contemplatively
“You’re trying to aim the ball instead of throw it.”
“What do you mean? How can I throw without aiming?” I asked
“The ball is going to go where you want it to if your throwing motion is correct. Concentrate on your motion and you won’t miss the net. It’s kind of subconscious, I guess.”
The lesson actually helped. After this, I remember being told by the second basemen on my team that he noticed my throws into the infield being much more accurate and forceful.
That said, my problem with sports was always that I didn’t care about sports. I started playing late in age, didn’t care about winning, and was always way more interested in what was happening in my head then on the field.
But anyway, back to my Google search.
As an adult, I have often found myself very preoccupied with what I want to ‘be’. In this moment, I was researching what it takes to be an epidemiologist. Frantically thinking, “Cool, I’ll go back to school for an MPH degree. My computer programming skill will still be useful and I’ll be working towards solving really interesting problems.”
But that’s where I always go wrong. I always love planning out what I’m going to learn, but I spend more time doing that than actually learning anything.
The one exception to that behavior was studying Philosophy at CSU. I took classes in the evening after work. For some reason, I didn’t get stuck in a loop of thinking about what I could be learning or planning the future. I’d go to class, focus on the lecture, go to the library, study, and then in the last hour before the library closed, I’d write. That’s when I started this blog. I’m not sure what was different, but I was throwing, not aiming. Studying the thing that was in front of me, not thinking about what I could study.
That was a year ago or so. I never realized that I was doing something different for me. I just thought I was becoming a better student as I got older.
But now, as I daydream about all the things I need to do to become an epidemiologist, I realize what the difference really is.
It’s obviously important to aim your life from time to time. But it’s a balancing act. You might be a person who has the opposite problem as me. You might always be focusing on the thing that’s in front of you and never thinking about what you could be doing. I might guess that more common. But for me it’s about remembering to stay in the moment and let the path unfold because of what you do. If what you actually do with your time is daydream about what you could be, you’ll never be anything more than a daydreamer. I need to be sure to spend the moments on the clock really doing something. Instead of planning out a path to epidemiologist, I should just be doing what’s interesting to me at the time. Which in this case is studying math. Maybe that will lead me to a new career one day. Maybe it will lead me somewhere else entirely. But I’m quite sure it will work out better than endlessly trying to plan some major change.
I never hit the net when the net was my focus. I hit the net when I focused on throwing the ball.
It’s the same lesson. What do you want to do with your day? The answer is probably never “daydream about being something else”. For me the answer was “Do some complex analysis” Great! That’s what I should do then.
And in the end, maybe that’s how I’ll learn where I really want the ball to go.