What do you spend your spare time and money on? That decision, it turns out, is a pretty reliable guide to how you have stacked your wider life priorities. When people say they have no idea what they want to do with their lives, I always ask them to examine how they spend their spare time and money. This is obligation-free, discretionary spending of both. What you decide to devote your resources to, when there are other options available, is a pretty good guide to who you are and what you value most.
This isn’t the same as what you need to spend your money and time on, to survive. Rather, it’s about self-actualisation. If you happen to obtain a windfall, do you travel, buy books, have an expensive meal, donate it all to charity? What do you do?
In my case, it’s paradoxical. I most often spend windfalls on furthering my abilities on the guitar. Sometimes, that’s through new equipment that enables or supports new techniques that I have not yet mastered. At other times, it’s educational materials. Oddly, though, the way I tend to spend my time has changed. As a teenager, the first thing I would do is pick up a guitar and play it, whenever there was time available. These days, I tend to write (for example, this blog) or interact with other people electronically. I reach out more. Guitar playing is more of an insular, solitary activity. At present, I feel a stronger need for connectedness and inclusion. Now, if only I could join the dots and marry my need for connectedness with my improved guitar playing!
The other aspect to this is how you choose not to spend your spare time and money. As much as I enjoy repairing things when I do it, I don’t prioritise it. There are things I’d rather be doing. I have to schedule repairs and be very deliberate about sticking to the agenda, when I do so. Consequently, the house still needs much more work done on it, there are electronic gadgets that need attention and so on. I have literally hundreds of unfinished and not-yet-started repair jobs awaiting me. The more you own; the more things you have to take care of. Eventually, those unattended-to tasks become a stone around your neck. I know I have to knock a few more of them over, to feel peace. That will mean diverting money and time away from things that I value more.
I also tend to invest in the creativity of my family members. When I can, I like to support their creative endeavours, as far as possible. I’d rather do that than squirrel away a nest egg for security. It seems to me that whenever my parents were able and willing to support my creativity, as a younger person, I flourished and blossomed. When they weren’t supportive, I really struggled. I’d rather my children had help in removing some of their obstacles to creativity.
Creating is a struggle in itself, so if you can help eliminate some of the material issues, leaving only the inner drive and focus issues, then creativity comes down to working against your own internal limitations and a process of self-improvement, as a human being, not a scramble to amass the resources. That’s not to say that everything should just be thrown at them and placed in their laps, in the hope they will create. There is satisfaction in working for and finally obtaining one’s own artistic material needs too. It’s vital to respect that.
My parents’ priorities for my life were not always aligned with my own and that conflict led to pressures that I wish I hadn’t had, in some ways. While it’s true to say that I am a much better and more accomplished engineer than Joe Satriani can ever hope to be (a fact that gives me some considerable satisfaction, it has to be said), in prioritising that over my guitar playing, I feel the loss acutely. Joe and I have been playing guitar for nearly the same amount of time (give or take a month or so), but I feel far behind. Guitar playing is the closest thing to the essence of my soul. It needed more nurturing and support.
The ambitions you articulate are not very reliable. Talk is cheap. Lots of people say they want to write a novel, take up oil painting or learn to play an instrument, but the ones that get the job done are the people that make it a priority. They pick up the instrument, the paintbrush or write, whenever there is a moment to do so. That drive, coupled with how they direct their discretionary spending, is more effective than any number of longing wishes, however articulated.
It’s worth noticing and very interesting to honestly and objectively evaluate how you spend your free time and money. If you are an artist, you will observe that you spend your time and money mostly on furthering your art. You’ll be routinely investing in your artistic capabilities and creativity. If you don’t do that, but think you’re an artist nevertheless, then I am afraid you are merely posturing and pretending. That may be a painful realisation. What you do is what counts.
Actions really do speak louder than words.