#9 for the New Year: To Develop the Personal “You”


Today, let’s talk about the personal “you.” The “you” that you are when no one is looking. The person you turn into when you are by yourself. Who is that person — and, more importantly, who do you want that person to be? Let’s make some resolutions about that part of you — the intellectual . . . artistic . . . athletic . . . creative . . . scientific . . . poetic . . . lazy . . . useless . . . perverted whatever you are when you are alone. And let’s find things that you can do to know more, care more, discover more, and enjoy more.

Goethe said that the perfect day is one that includes (1) contemplating a work of art, (2) carefully reading a poem, and (3) engaging in good conversation. I like that idea — and if you have my sort of Weltanschauung, this may be a very good place to start. Imagine a day in which you actually accomplish these three things. You take time out of your stressful morning to pick up a book of poetry and read something that slows you down and reminds you of what is important to you.

I do this with a tome of collected poems by Robert Penn Warren — in my opinion, one of the best modern American poets. I like him because he writes about the passages of life and reminds me that before too long I’ll be gone. His poems stir resolutions to pay attention to the important things and fret less about those things that will be gone the moment I am. You may have other poets you prefer. Or you may want to open yourself up to discovering a good voice by reading poetry collections or subscribing to a journal of poetry.

You can get a great deal of satisfaction by contemplating a work of art. My list of favorite artists includes Edward Hopper, Francis Bacon, Rufino Tamayo, and Henry Moore. But art is very personal. If you don’t have favorites now, go to a bookstore and/or library and find some. It won’t take very long. You’ll be able to find a half-dozen artists you like in about 15 minutes. Then, you might want to buy a book of colorplates by one of them and try looking at one every day for a while. Again, it takes only a few minutes to look at a painting with attention. The rewards can be great. Who doesn’t value a good conversation?

This is surely the most difficult of Goethe’s three recommendations, because it is something you can’t do by yourself. Having a good conversation starts with good intentions. It’s not about the topic, I’ve found, so much as the energy and good feelings you put into the conversation. A good conversation is heartfelt and brave. You know that already. Challenge yourself. But these are Goethe’s recommendations.

You may have other ideas about how to stimulate the personal part of you. Good music is an obvious choice. Make it part of your daily life. Keep music by you at all times — all kinds of music: the kind that stimulates you to work and/or think harder, the kind that slows you down, the kind that makes you feel kind, and the kind that makes you want to get up and dance. There is something else you can do to make your life richer: pursue a hobby.

A good hobby, as I pointed out in the past, will improve you by: stimulating your imagination satisfying your curiosity giving you a sense of peace sharpening your senses broadening your knowledge Having at least one challenging and/or stimulating hobby will make your life infinitely better. It will make rainy days something to look forward to. It will fill up your spare moments. It will keep you feeling alive. And it will keep you from getting lonely. People who have interesting hobbies are themselves more interesting. They tend to have broad and active intellects, spirited hearts, and youthful souls.

In thinking about what you are going to do to develop the personal side of you, consider some advice I read this week in Gary North’s Reality Check: “When you are motivated to make a change in your life, don’t ignore it. That’s why I’m not opposed to using the New Year as a time to think about where you’re headed and what it’s costing you. . . . But I am not in favor of adding to your burden, net. The risk is too great that you will quit before 2004 is half gone. That’s why I recommend New Year’s substitutions over resolutions. Don’t add a burden to your schedule, your budget, or your family.

Get rid of something you really don’t need to offset any addition. “If you think you should devote more time to improving your job skills — a wise decision — cut out some television time. The average American household now watches over seven hours of TV a day. If you can cut back by one hour a night, you can add to your self-improvement program.” That makes perfect sense to me. If you agree, spend some time today figuring out how much time you waste every week watching television, reading mindless books, or fiddling around with some other such junk activity. Then promise yourself that you’ll devote at least half that time to the pursuit of a hobby that will improve you.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]