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In the early hours, the birds by my window drown the skies with their dawn chorus, a daily ritual which regularly lures me from the sanctuary of sleep. Their morning call is an essential part of their existence, which mostly comprise of males who sing to compete and attract partners, as well as stake their territory. Those that sing the loudest have higher chances of procreation and therefore continuation of their species, which we can empathise with as the human race is built on the same motivation: survival.

We have come a long way from the mastery of hunting and gathering, with skill-sets now ranging from mixing an incredible cocktail to coding software. Our children have access to educational systems that enables them to learn how to communicate with computers well before hitting puberty. Curiously a recent article in The Guardian highlighted that with the roll-out of further accessible broadband, there have been tenuous links with internet usage and the decline of teenage pregnancies. A preference to trawl videos on YouTube rather than copulate might be a welcome diversion for some parents, but it leads me to contemplate the question of how do we regain focus when we are surrounded by so much content in the first place?

The internet has made so much accessible in the eternal quest for knowledge. It has shown as new worlds where culture knows no boundaries, with no need for passport or immigration concerns to gaze upon a country landscapes or learn their customs. Do you know how to tie a head-scarf? If not, you just have to research ‘How-To’ clips in order to educate yourself from the privacy of your bedroom. Musicians teach cookery skills, comedians debate their political stance and colleagues write blogs to externalize the wealth of knowledge they continue to accrue. If not a blog post, perhaps a Facebook status update will keep you informed on all the multiple achievements your circle of friends have amassed so far (although this outward dialogue varies significantly based on geographical location and personality type). We know what IS available out there because our friends are doing it, therefore WE want to do it and businesses are learning our behaviours to ensure we CAN do it.  It is infinite possibility that has made us now so overwhelmed with what can be attained in one’s lifetime.

So how do we refine our decision-making? Should we take that course to increase our project management skills or should we learn the piano?  I am sure a time will come when we rely on crowdsourcing to make our choices as the exhaustion of it can sometimes be so arduous, however before that app gets created, it’s worth pondering why we race so hard to pick up new hobbies or learn new trades. It’s because the majority of us want to better ourselves in one way or another. Sometimes learning a new skill increases our job prospects, sometimes they make us appear more attractive. Whether we consciously acknowledge these reasons or not, they all contribute to our need for survival.   Even skills that could be considered hobbies such as martial arts or wine-tasting placate our dopamine levels, allowing us to regain balance and march forward with vigour. The old adage of ‘working to live’ should still be considered as ultimately even sleep is a payoff from exercising our brains.

A skill that we should strive for though is contentment. How is this a skill? You would be surprised. The zeal of youth makes us scramble actively for the next new experience, to meet the next potential friend or taste the next cuisine on everyone’s lips (all of which is necessary to feed our inquisitiveness), however with further enlightenment, the desire to stop and F-O-C-U-S on one thing at a time is a skill worth mastering.  Whilst we better ourselves in the effort to hone character and improve ability, these efforts must also be looked upon outwardly, such as how they may also be of benefit to the communities around us. Of late I have found myself writing less, not from of lack of ideas but due to my desire to hone skills and the need to socially connect with the world to learn from it. This in turn stimulates the mind-wandering mode, which enables oneself to really reflect upon who we are and what we do, as well as what we do it for. Altruism is a trait that I personally want to concentrate upon, as it really is essential for survival. There comes a point when ‘What do I want?’ become ‘What do they want?’. This is a moment of clarity that comes with time and experience, with the corresponding contentment coming from what our actions do as a whole that truly matter. My own network of family are far away, in various different continents and not immediately accessible. The same applies to many beloved friends and my own beloved partner. But this simply spurs the need for connection, building networks and experiencing the world in immediate grasp. It is satisfying to call upon friends for help, however the need to help others outweighs personal want now. We need each other in order to shape more of an understanding of our purpose, which shifts and evolves as much as we do.  Bill Withers is a fondly admired musician for me, and this quote he shared is something I adhere to:

“I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you.”

Preach on Bill, we’re all still learning.