Make sure you sleep well - just not on your talents. Welcome to this blog!
Once upon a modern time there was a girl who suffered a fatigued existence. She wasn’t tired of her life, but she was tired in her life. Every morning that she walked through the office doors, exchanging pleasantries with her colleagues, she’d hide her exhaustion behind a smile. But her exhaustion was there at her desk; it showed itself in her morning work. Only a bit before lunch did her eyes start seeing more clearly, and only then did the quality of her output rise. Back home, at the end of the day, she’d have trouble falling asleep. She’d incorporated some tips - a cool, dark room, no phone before bed-time, and it’d helped - but still she was awake until late. She usually only felt tiredness drawing down her eyelids quite some time after midnight. Then she’d sleep too short, wake too early, and she’d be tired the following day, too. Not enough rinse, too much repeat. The reason: our protagonist is a night-owl. The way she’s living doesn’t align with her natural rhythm.
The protagonist of that story may be fictional, her challenge is not. Every human being has their own needs and characteristics. The people who learn to play into what comes natural to them are the ones who draw out most of their potential. Those refrained from living according to their idiosyncrasies (which may be due to choices, habits or environmental factors) are less able to live fully. It may not be possible to change everything in your life to suit your preferences, but if you don’t give it a shot, you’ll never know how far you can get.
Learning about existence and how to improve it can be done in various ways, as life can be understood on different levels, ranging from general to specific. For example, the need for sleep is general, while the inclination to sleep at certain times (known as one’s ‘chronotype’) is more specific. Most specific are the things unique to you, such as your DNA, your personality and the kind of face you make when you’re asleep. All those levels of understanding have value and can be used to your benefit. For today, though, let’s get specific - and zoom in on you.
The book Now, Discover Your Strengths depicts a tendency for people to focus on improving their weak points. That practise does have its value, the authors explain, however if you wish to increase your ability to make an impact, most is gained if you develop your strengths. The book defines ‘strengths’ as ‘the ability to consistently produce near-perfect results in a certain activity’. You may understand it as ‘talent’ - a natural savvy for something. This comes from the structure of your individual mind and body. Take basketball as an example: if you’re on the shorter side, you won’t reach the NBA-level. But you’d need more than just length. You’d need a good ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle (those are for explosive strength and endurance respectively), you’d need an interest in the sport and you’d need a mindset, perhaps an instinct, dedicated to winning - and who knows what else. Some of these things can be trained, to a point, while other things come natural to you or they don’t. People also have different personality traits, different levels of different kinds of intelligence… and that makes different people more naturally capable in different things. In other words: if you can discover your strengths and develop them, you can achieve things that not many can. It’s also usually more fun and interesting to advance upon your talents.
Now you are a combination of DNA and upbringing that never has and never will exist anywhere else. Your mixture of talents and needs is yours alone. You can learn from general patterns and inclinations in human life, but you’ll have to dive into your own existence to learn what’s most helpful for you. Cicero said “nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself”, and this links up with Henry Clark’s essay on finding meaning in life. Henry explains the personal nature of wisdom - it combines knowledge with individual experience. As such, an individual’s wisdom explains what works best for them, for living a meaning-full life. Similarly, your individual being knows what is optimal for it, and it will tell you if you’re able to listen.
Sometimes, learning from yourself takes a bit of prodding first. If you want indications about your aptitudes, try asking yourself the following questions:
What’s your automatic reaction to new situations?
What activities are you drawn to or do you have a strong desire for?
What things do you learn quickly, perhaps skipping steps in the learning process? Are there activities where you use tricks that no-one has taught you?
From what activities do you feel most satisfaction?
I’ll briefly explain the relevance of these questions. Firstly, your reactions indicate strong mental links you have. For example if during a time of chaos you lean towards awareness of those around you more than towards taking action, that shows you are observant of people (and might do well as a manager). Activities you are drawn to, especially when you were young, are signals as well. Maybe you liked to take things apart as a child, to see how they worked. That shows an analytical mind with its eventuating interests. Talent can be further gauged by learning speed. Although Picasso entered art school at 13 years of age, his contemporary, Henri Matisse, only held a brush for the first time at 21. However, trying painting touched Henri so profoundly that he immediately dove deep into the craft. In just a few years of practising and teaching himself, he was good enough to be admitted to the prestigious art school Académie Julian in Paris. Lastly, your strongest synaptic connections are so configured that you feel satisfaction when using them. As a personal example, I feel good most of the time when writing, and I thoroughly enjoy crafting texts. To get more of that, I’m looking for jobs where I can write, to improve myself while also having a good time.
A last reason to learn about your tendencies is that, for most activities, people function best on autopilot. In this state, most of one’s being is engaged (including one’s subconscious, memories and experience and training - and natural inclinations) rather than just the conscious mind, which is a lot slower and less effective in many things. An example of this is flow; a state where you ‘lose yourself’ in an activity and it seems to be effortless, like it ‘just comes from within you’. That’s your natural rhythm at work. A simpler example is walking. You don’t consciously think of every step and how to take it, yet it still comes from you, and you still arrive somewhere. Even sleeping, something you don’t consciously ‘do’, has a natural pattern emerging from you. If you want to live accordingly, Dr. Alex Bartle, director of the Sleep Well Clinic, recommends you start going to bed when you become sleepy. Sleepiness is a signal coming from your body’s needs, just like how reactions to new situations are indications of your individual inclinations.
With all that said, though, don’t get discouraged if you’re working at something that doesn’t come as easy to you. Your natural rhythm isn’t a totally unforgiving limit, and weaknesses can be improved upon. As a general rule, if you desire to work on your strengths or weaknesses, go for it! Just know that by choosing a path in life that suits you, you’ll be able to go further and higher in terms of developing your skill. If you want to be so good at something that the world can see it, you’ll have to look at yourself first. Like Henry illustrated, wisdom starts with yourself, and it shows you where to find meaning. If you don’t know what path to pick yet, don’t worry. For now, just keep learning and trying new things. You may just wake up a talent that’s still slumbering inside.
—to the Extraordinary, you