Digging Holes

We were at the beach the other day and the kids were playing in the sand. It was a beautiful day -- the kind California is famous for -- clear blue sky, cool sea breeze, the ocean clean and crisp. I kept an eye on the girls as I watched surfers try and catch the tiny 2-3-foot waves, vying for corners that crumbled before peeling into a crash.

Eventually, Waverly walked up to me and asked, "Dad, how do I dig a hole?"

I'm not sure why she asked (she knows how to dig a hole), but without thinking, I replied, "Pick one spot and start digging. Stay in one spot though." Suddenly, it hit me that my emphasis on digging in only one spot was more profound than I intended.

This ledge provided hours of entertainment.
My thought process was this: If my child is working on something, I want her to focus on it and do well; and the way to do that was to pick one thing and give it her all. Starting a dozen holes wouldn't be as good as one or two really good, deep holes; and so that was my advice. Now I've expressed on this blog before my struggle with focusing on one thing, particularly when it comes to career aspirations. I love to do too many things that could be jobs: writing, music, camerawork, the movie business, the surfing and skateboarding industries -- they could all turn into jobs, but a widespread net has really kept me from getting very far in any one category. That's one reason I was drawn to the film industry: making movies involves so many things I love to do, that it felt like I could do them all and still have a job. Not so easy.

There are natural pitfalls to this type of thinking. I'm pretty good at a lot of things, but not exceptional at anything. So when it comes time to hire someone, wouldn't you want the guy who can do what you need well, not the guy who can do a lot of things just okay? And so I float by like a disconnected seaweed, catching little currents here and there but never finding a place to stay rooted.

This hit me so hard because it's been a years-long struggle for me, but when it came to my daughter asking for advice, my initial reaction was to steer her away from the thing that I've latched onto. I love that I love to do so many things. It's just been difficult. But if she can choose to do one thing well, how much easier will her life be? And so if I can guide her in that direction, I will. It just surprised me how quickly it came out.

Lessons in the sand.
As we continued to play, a couple other tips for digging a good hole came up. After picking one place to dig, I noticed they were using rocks as tools. A few minutes later, I found a nice little piece of driftwood that made a way better shovel. So principle number two is choose the right tool. 

After that I started digging my own hole, and naturally gravitated towards starting where there was a footprint, because the groundbreaking was already done -- I had a head start on my dig. That's principle number three: Utilize the space someone else left for you. There were folks ahead of you and me that paved the way for what we wanted to do. Teachers taught us things others had already discovered. Mentors guided us. Inventors found tools that helped make our paths easier. To ignore all of these advantages would be foolish, so don't.

It's always struck me how often these little daily interactions with the kids would teach me profound lessons. Now the true test is if I can listen to my own advice...