I've been seeing, in my own life and others, a powerful principal at work. It is extremely powerful, very well-known, and often forgotten. So in this blog post, I'm not trying to educate, but to remind.
"Use it or lose it" is a common saying. Whatever skills you value, from speaking a foreign language to creating art, you must exercise those skills to keep them in top shape. We know instinctively that if we stop lifting weights we lose some of our muscle's size quickly.
Unfortunately that's where most of us stop the thought process. If we don't exercise, we're not at our peak. We're still good though.. just not perfect. Right? Wrong.
We forget that an unused muscle begins to atrophy immediately and continues to wither. You know this if you've ever had your leg or arm in a cast. When the cast was finally removed, you were shocked at the size of your injured limb. The forced inaction had cost you more muscle than you realized was possible. But where does it end? How much damage do we pay for neglecting our skills?
It depends. The skills in our life are easier to ignore than muscles. We don't have to put them in a cast to have them slowly die. Muscles (usually) get a small amount of exercise when go through our daily routine, but we rarely practice forgotten skills as we move through a day.
Eventually a neglected arm atrophies to the point of no return. It becomes useless and can't be recovered. The same happens to our skills.
It's like the grass in our lawns or the vegetables in our gardens. If we don't water them, they die. If we water and fertilize them, they live.
At the end of the day, we all invest time into what we value. It's easy and cheap to plant a "seed," but it takes a great deal of the work to grow until it can be harvested. We all plant a lot of seeds in our life, but only the ones that we invest our time, and ultimately our lives, into are the ones that will ever come to fruition.
To put it another way, feed the seeds you value. Any seed you neglect will certainly atrophy, and probably die. Random time investments are usually feeding the weeds.
Here are a few ideas for us to consider watering in our own lives.
LOTY - Language of the year... are you learning a new programming language this year, or are you letting that part of your brain get weaker?
Get in shape. Run a 5k at a conference.
TOTY - Technology of the year. Still using last year's cool new tech? Pick up something new (like the hot new Java Rails clone, Play)
A new operating system. Between Virtual Box and Linux Mint, you've got no real excuse. (My Mother is a Mint user!!)
Write - Have you always wanted to write a book? Now's the time to start! Hit the Pragmatic Programmer's November Writing Challege
Obviously I could add to this list for a while... and we all need to pick what matters most to us.
The reminder I leave with you is simple. Pick your seeds carefully. Water them faithfully. Make sure you've got something worth the harvest.