Means of Expression

Being different

What does it mean to be different? Is anyone really different? We're all the same in essence, aren't we?

We all share over 99% of our DNA. We are all of the same stuff. All that makes us different, aside from the obvious determined by that <1% (voice, appearance), are our behaviors. How we dress, how we talk, our habits, the ways we express ourselves.

It seems that everyone has a means of expression that just works for them. Does it matter how we choose to express ourselves? Does it really make a difference? Why can't we all use the same mode? How do we come to find that mode that just works?

Easy. It happens by chance-- right? But how is it that one mode may work for me but not for someone else? Is it pre-destiny? Genetics? Are most people just good at something they start on with a fair amount of commitment somewhat early in life-- say, early adolescence? Is there a magic age for starting an activity?

I started running when I was 12. The first year went like this: for two months I ran five days a week, then for 4 months I barely ran, then for about another two months I ran five days a week once again. I never ran more than 5 miles in one day, for a total of 2-5 hours of running per week.

I started playing the viola when I was eight. I had a 30-40 minute lesson with my teacher once a week, maybe once every other week. Things stayed this way until I joined the school orchestra after two years, in which I moved up to two hours of playing time a week.

At the start of both running and playing music, I was simply awful. 6 years after I started running, I ran my first ultramarathon-- and I loved the heck out of it. At the end of 10 years of playing the viola, on the other hand, I basically stunk. I didn't even understand vibratto until my senior year of high school. Most kids were doing that in junior high.

Certainly there is more to this game than sheer number of years.

How Now, Brown Cow?

It may seem the how of this matter- as in, how we come to find our magic means of expression- isn't really important, but it is. Look around you, and you might just find people who don't seem to do a lot of creating. Or do they? Can I really say they don't?

Everyone is always creating. That's what it means to live life as a human-- to create. We are always molding, shaping, maybe even destroying our lives, but as the creators of our lives we must always be creating something (even if it appears that we are destroying). So can we say that the main mode of expression for some people is by drinking alcohol? What does “creative means of expression” even mean?

How do you know what you should be doing? Should you do that thing you enjoy even if you're really bad at it, and have been for more than maybe five years? Should you do that thing you hate even if you're really good at it, and could have a significant positive impact on others by doing it? Does it really matter that you enjoy it?

What matters most-- how an activity makes you feel, your skill level, or the impact it has on others? Something that causes you to emanate joy has the potential to have a significant positive impact on others-- maybe even if they just benefit from your joy, and not necessarily the activity itself.

Once you become more competent, however, the activity itself can have an impact, too. Something which you feel excited about is something you are likely to spend a lot of time with, and commitment and time used wisely will build skill and yield a high degree of competence.

Skill Leads to Impact

Does the potential range of skill of an activity equate to the impact it can have? In other words, are more difficult skills more valuable? As a general rule, I'd say yes.

Some activities require a lot of skill-building to reach even basic competence, such as playing music.

However, "easy" activities can have a high potential for impact-- right? Let's see.

Let's say you watch TV 24 hours a day, and you get really good at it after your first five hours of watching. All you have to do is sit there and pay attention. Not a lot of skill to build on or build up to, correct? So what's the potential?

The potential lies in what the TV programs you watch may inspire or teach you to do. Negative potential is present too, however. There is the potential to lose all your material possessions, your job (if you had one to begin with), and everyone you love. Ouch. Big negative impact on you and the others around you: because the only positive comes from what the television may inspire you to do, the value does not come from television-watching itself. So here the rule that skill --> impact seems to stand.

But do things have to be so hard? After some time activities become automatic to us, even if they were extremely difficult and effort-consuming at first. Perhaps becoming fairly competent at the activity isn't so hard-- it's mastering the highest levels that is. It's those high levels that make the most difference in the lives of others.

Do what you love, get good at it, and at least half the time, do so in a way that serves other people. You couldn't ask much more of yourself than that.