A couple of years ago, I started taking piano lessons. Ignited by my desire to become at least a semi-competent amateur, I hired a teacher who led me through the ins and outs of chords and scales and style, and almost immediately my skills began to show marked improvement. It wasn’t the instructor alone that had an impact on my abilities, but my determination to practice, practice, practice. At some point every day, my butt found its way to that piano bench where I repeatedly banged out that week’s homework assignment until I could practically play it with my eyes closed.
Three months later, for reasons I no longer recall, I suddenly decided I didn’t have sufficient time to practice. Not wanting to waste my teacher’s time or my money, I stopped the lessons with the notion that I could continue on my own. As you might imagine, I didn’t. It wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I realized how much I missed playing the piano—an activity that is, to me, almost meditative—and so resolved to resume my self-led sessions.
Did something change, freeing me up for a set block of time on a daily basis? No. And in fact, my schedule is fuller now than it was back when I determined myself to be too busy for professional instruction. If my schedule didn’t change, you might be wondering what did. Well, it was simply a matter of Owning Opportunities.
There’s no doubt that becoming purposeful with our goals and intentional with our self-growth and development requires an investment of time. There’s also no doubt that in the midst of our often overwhelmed, overcommitted, overstuffed lives, time is a precious commodity of which there never seems to be enough. But how much time does it really take to pursue a goal? How many sixty-second increments do we really need to devote to an activity in order to make progress?
While my available free time didn’t change, my answers to these questions did. Initially, I thought honing my piano-playing skills required the dedication of at least a full hour every night. But then I asked myself what it would look like if I just owned every opportunity I had to practice. Some days that might be twenty minutes. Some days it’s only long enough to get through my warm-ups. But embracing even the smallest slices of time with focused attention can lead to maximum growth.
And so I ask you, how much time do you need to take a step in the direction of your own goals? Are you writing a novel, but only have fifteen minutes a day to devote to it? Then do it. Want to create a gym habit, pick up a new hobby, start a business, read more books, but can only spare your one-hour lunch break? Use it.
It might also be beneficial to revisit your essentials. Are you saying yes to things that don’t align with your priorities simply to avoid feelings of guilt or maybe even to avoid stepping out of your comfort zone to do something new? Review your calendar with a fine-tooth comb. Is it really a lack of time that’s holding you back or something else? Substituting the excuse of being too busy is much easier than naming the underlying cause for complacency. Like fear. In our society, busyness is often viewed as honorable, whereas fear is not. And if we continue cramming our schedules full of nonessentials, we can remain safe behind the barrier of our time-limitation justifications. We say things like, “I’ll go after that big dream after: the kids are in school, the kids are out of school, I retire, etc., etc.”
But time does not just magically appear, my friends. We are each given twenty-four hours in a day and that will not change tomorrow or next week or ten years from the present. Right now, this moment, is all that’s promised to us. We need to use it wisely. We need to learn to say yes to our essentials. We need to own each and every opportunity we’re given to be our best selves and live our best lives.