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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Using Enforced Idleness to Change the World

Since I've been idle, which is now much longer than just the coronavirus pandemic, I've been trying to create. I looked at my severance and subsequent free agency as the sabbatical my company was never cool enough to offer as an employee benefit.

I had a plan. I would read, I would write, I would go places, I would engage people, I would address some of my myriad flaws. I would emerge a more well-rounded and accomplished person. I would evolve faster because the burden of full-time employment had been removed from the equation. And I'd have fewer things to distract me.

This is harder than it sounds, but I am happy to say that I have had some success. I haven't cured any diseases, climbed any mountains or swam any seas. But I have been able to lose some weight, be more active, address some nagging injuries, organize my basement and garage, and write this blog at least once a week. I also finished a book I have been working on and it's ready for a publisher (message me if you're looking for a book to promote.)

Since the bizarre coronavirus era started a month or two ago, and many more people became idle just as I already was, I've been thinking about how much could happen with all this brainpower now looking for a place to play.

I've read about how Bill Gates used to spend his summers. He would get 20 or 30 books about all sorts of varied topics that he wanted to learn, and he would read them. This was while he was the head of Microsoft, so not during the nerd years of his youth. More often than not, the subjects had little or nothing to do with computer software. This visionary, one of the smartest people around, never sat back and said, 'I know enough. I'm done.'

When he was a player, Larry Bird left Boston for Southern Indiana at the end of every season with the goal of adding at least one new wrinkle to his already-elite game. Something to make him even harder to deal with the following season. This was true every season, whether the Celtics won the championship or not. One of the greatest of all time always found the need and desire to improve.

Are you Bill Gates? No. That particular package of skills and traits is taken.

Are you Larry Bird? No, there is definitely only one of those guys.

You're not Larry, or Bill or Michael Jordan or Whitney Houston or Richard Russo or Margaret Atwood or Prince or Andrew Lloyd Webber or Jeff Bezos or anyone else you might consider the greatest ever at what they do.

Then again, they're not you.

Because just as you do not possess the unique blend of talents of any of these people, you do possess a unique set of skills that set you apart from everyone else.

This is true now and it's always been true. Many of us struggle to fully utilize those talents because we work in jobs that don't utilize them, for companies that don't value them, or organizations that take no responsibility for the growth and development of their people.

Well if you are like me or the 24 million+ other people who recently became or were already unemployed, that excuse no longer works.

Further, because of social distancing requirements and the genuine pain-in-the-neck of going out wearing gloves, masks, a snorkel, and swim fins, our options for how we spend our days are limited.

Many will catch up on TV and movies. Others may play video games or even old school board games or puzzles and the like. Many, apparently, have taken to baking bread.

Unlike Larry Bird's off-seasons and Bill Gates' summer sabbaticals, we don't know how long this COVID-19 matter is going to keep us home. After that, how long it might take to find a job is another question. That's another stressor but it also presents an opportunity, since we know it's not going to end tomorrow.

Take some time and inventory your skills. Be fair with yourself. You have skills and some of them are really strong. Maybe they're business skills like problem solving or communication. Maybe they are technical skills like fixing car engines or computers. Maybe you have an artistic bent, and write stories, plays, movies, comedy sketches and the like. Or you paint. Or sculpt. Or you would love to learn to play music or sing.

Maybe you've always been interested in wine or renaissance art or travel to faraway places. Or you can't get enough of BBQ Pitmasters.

The good news for us is that it's the 21st century and we have the means to pull all of this information into our homes at the click of a mouse. You can investigate, communicate, interrogate, and pontificate night and day and never run out of content. And you can set your own time table.

You can learn. Read. Create. Do. Think. Pray. Ponder. Plan. Strategize. Pray some more.

Find a solution to a problem. Write a song. Invent something. Be funny or scary or romantic. Make a video showing how to do something and post it on YouTube or Facebook or Instagram. Fix something in your house. Plant a garden. Build something in your yard. Paint a room. Or a deck. Clean your garage or your basement.

Take your time. You're in no rush. Chip away at it. If we wake up tomorrow morning and find that it's all been a very weird dream, you will be better off than you would be having binge-watched all six seasons of 'Third Rock From the Sun.'

Deepen your faith. Take an open-minded look at the Bible. Start with the Gospel of John or Luke, or start with Genesis. Just remember it's 66 books, not just one, so you can bounce around.

Prayer is just talking to God, so you don't need to overcomplicate it. Go someplace quiet and say your piece. Nothing you say will surprise or offend Him. And He'll be glad to hear from you! In my opinion, this is the single most powerful thing you can do for yourself or anyone else. If you give it a chance, it will enrich your life.

Imagine this: 24 million people doing just 3 things during the duration of this crisis:

  • Learn something new,

  • create something, and

  • deepen their faith.

Imagine the impact! Imagine the power! Imagine the innovation! Imagine the new ideas! Imagine the changes that would be possible!

Everyone has the ability to think, meet, commiserate, collaborate, and learn from one another no matter where in the world they are. Access to information and genius has never been so easy.

Before I get too carried away, remember that the collaboration piece just creates leverage and community and move things along faster.

But if you're an introvert like me, even if you learn, create, and deepen your faith completely on your own, you will reap incredible satisfaction and maybe for the first time in your life, really call your own shots.

At the absolute worst, you will grow your talent (by using it) and your confidence (by realizing or confirming that you're really good).

If that is all you were promised, I bet you'd take it. Happily.

God bless you.

Jim Donaher is a writer, blogger, and author of the soon to be published, "Call Him, He's Home: Learning Prayer to Start and Grow Your Relationship with God" Click the title to read an excerpt.

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