Last night, I was in the bathtub, reading Good Housekeeping and drinking wine (because apparently I’m making the leap from my 20s straight to middle age), when I had one of those moments of sudden clarity. I realize that this is a conclusion that everyone eventually comes to, or in fact may be sheer common sense, but it hit me like a ton of bricks:
If you do something for long enough, you will eventually start to take on characteristics of that activity.
I realized last night that I’d over-subscribed to magazines. This is much like my habit of signing up for Cousera.org classes thinking I can find the ten hours a week I’ll need for the class. “Of all the people I know, you’re the person with the least time. You should not be signing up for classes,” someone told me, laughing when I tried to rationalize my class-taking habit. “But I just want to learn!” I countered. “Even if I only do half the readings, or a third of them, I may learn something valuable.”
As a kid, I absorbed everything I could get my hands on. Now, with less time to spend absorbing knowledge, I’ve had to make conscientious efforts to maximize my exposure to valuable information. To be a fully conversational adult – and if you want to go even further and become a master of trivial knowledge – you need to be well-versed in most topics: money, politics, fashion, pop culture, business, science, etc.
Since I rather enjoy being right – one of my favorite aphorisms is “I’m not wrong” – I would prefer to be knowledgeable about a subject going into a conversation about it. It helps me to form arguments (not in the sense of altercations, but for debates), but more than that, if I’m unsure, it helps me ask good questions that will help me learn or clarify any confusion I may have about the subject.
But mostly, I just want to know everything about everything and be really good at everything. Right now. But holy shit, that’s harder than it looks. (That’s also a lesson I should have learned many times during the course of my childhood: climbing ropes, doing pull-ups, overhand serves at volleyball, piano playing, running….)
A few months ago, I was thinking about all of the changes I wanted to make, and instead of leaping directly into them, I wanted to slowly expose myself over time, hoping that certain things would rub off on me. Then, seemingly fortuitously, there was a magazine sale. $5 for each subscription? Sign me up! (My bank account cringed and rolled its eyes when it saw $30 in silly purchases.)
As a result, in addition to my regularly scheduled Economist, Esquire, and Elle, I now receive: Popular Mechanics, Town & Country, Redbook, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan (just to be clear, I’m well aware that this is nothing more than a good mental break), Good Housekeeping, and Elle Home. It might be Elle Design, Elle Decor, whatever, I don’t know. But it’s not important.
Obviously you can see that I intend to do: get better at knowing how to differentiate between whiskeys and how to wear a men’s suit, housekeeping and maintenance, decorating, science, cars, world affairs and politics, and girl stuff: fashion, accessorizing, food, makeup, etc.
The girl world is far more terrifying to me than politics. I will always choose to talk Benghazi before Burberry. But….there are moments when you can see that movement has occurred, that you are further down the path that you set yourself on. On Tuesday night, I had a dinner thing. I had found a dress that I liked at the Nord Rack (seriously, their selection of $20 – $25 dresses is unmatched) so I knew I wanted to wear that. I accessorized it without even thinking. I added a belt, something I never would have done in the past. I wore different colored accessories. Mindful of the fact that it might rain, I wore my blue trench coat. I looked fabulous.
Not my best picture, and I wish you could see the whole thing — my point is sort of moot without a full picture, I guess — but here’s me and my partner in crime for sushi devouring. We’re adorable:
It’s happening. Without realizing it, I’m starting to take on the characteristics of the media I’m taking in (for both better and worse). I consciously hoped that exposure would start to produce results, and it has. Granted, I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be, but these baby steps are the steps that move us forward without us even realizing how far we have come.
Study something (like the news) for ten minutes a day, every day, and after a year, you’ve ended up studying it for about 61 hours (if my math is correct). 61 hours! Imagine how much time you spend doing negative things or engaging in bad habits. Granted, this is an overly simplistic and optimistic view of productivity – but after reading about a dude who spends just 15 minutes per day cleaning, I was inspired to spend 15 minutes a day thinking about spending 15 minutes a day cleaning, which may eventually translate into actual cleaning.
The other night, I spent two hours cleaning. Not rushed, hurried, “they’ll be here in ten minutes for the party!” cleaning, but slow, careful cleaning. It was magic. It was amazing how much better I felt and how much I wanted to continue – just for the sake of continuing the progress. Baby steps.
Baby steps for everything. This weekend, I’m baby-stepping into gardening. Keep your fingers crossed. This will be a disaster, but hopefully the kind that comes with the “I’ll do better next year” conclusions.
Now I realize that it seems simple. And it is. “You are what you eat.” “Kindness is as kindness does.” It’s all exposure – who and what you are exposed to shapes you.
But it’s interesting, because I argue that that’s not always entirely the case. My grandfather always says that you are who you associate with (which mostly likely means I’m a gay hipster), and to a certain extent, he’s not wrong. It’s like people who start to look alike after years together, or people who start to look like their pets.
I hung out with a certain group of people in high school. I took on certain characteristics and behaviors, but I was never fully absorbed. I think I do the same things now, even though my groups of friends are vastly different, I fit in with them due my ability to adapt to them or perhaps it’s how my characteristics fit into different groups.
My friends now are super into electronic music. I like it; I’ll dance to it; it’s not my life. I still prefer hip hop. It’s funny how that works as we grow into adulthood – we don’t know everything about our friends anymore. But that’s cool, because what they’re into exposes us to such different experiences and we get to have adventures that we’d never otherwise have.
I always joke that when I got diagnosed with ADHD, I imagined that the medication would turn me into Monica from Friends – she’s obsessive about neatness and order. (That’s actually not a joke. I was crushed when I realized that wasn’t how it worked.) Apparently, organization did not come pre-programmed with my particular model. Damn. Even when I make conscious choices to be neater, I can’t. So perhaps I’ll have to spend some time around super neat people in an attempt to gain neatness through osmosis. Either that, or I’ll have to spend 15 minutes a day cleaning until it’s just part of my routine.
Do we get to make conscious choices about the habits that we pick up? Or is it luck of the draw? Are our proclivities merely the products of our cumulative experiences or are they more than that, innate but dormant until we happen upon them circumstantially? Do the attributes that we grow into stem from our intentions?
I’m still left with questions, and a stack of magazines I need to read. But at the end of the day, I’m confident that all of this exploration will lead me in the right direction – and eventually, gradually, I’ll be the person I set out to become. Not that the person I am now is all that bad, of course. It’s just that she can’t manage to hang her clothes up or remember to pick up all the lip gloss — but on the plus side, her brother now knows the difference between lipstick and lip gloss, a very important distinction. See, he’s learning new things, too! Just think – some day I’ll be in my backyard, reading magazines in my hammock, drinking a mojito made with mint that I grew. Ah, life will be just as beautiful then as it is now.