When I was in eighth grade, my very wise band director said to me, “You’re going to have to choose. You’re going to have to eventually choose to do one thing.”
At the time he gave me this advice, I was playing flute in the more advanced band and oboe the next hour in the secondary band. I was also taking piano and organ lessons. I do believe I was also going to school for other subjects, but my band director knew that, within the area of music, I was exploring (he let me try a bassoon and a saxophone that year, too!), but that my explorations needed to arrive… somewhere!
I think about his “do one thing” advice quite often. I think about it. And then I find myself doing 10 things instead. I am doing the figurative “10” things right now in my life (not a literal, but close!), and I want to ask a question before I cut out any of those things:
How many of these things are really one thing? One thing which is subdivided into many small routines or tasks, sort of like grocery shopping.
When I do my one task, called grocery shopping, I am really doing many tasks, like checking produce for the freshest pieces, selecting cheeses and meats based on both my family’s tastes and price, steering my cart carefully and not crashing into other shoppers, remembering the things I forgot to write on my list…
No one is counting my grocery shopping as all of those things. Grocery shopping gets a whopping “1” — one thing done on my checklist for the week.
If I think in those terms, then I have to be careful how I count what I do. I homeschool my kids. Weeelll… isn’t that a neat and tidy package?! I homeschool. We homeschool. But — what’s the word? — Unpack. We have to unpack that concept a bit for it to really have meaning. Because anyone who has homeschooled knows it is not “one thing.” But it is one overarching goal or lifestyle, and when the word is said, it communicates the sense of many tasks, but one thing. Home, the place where I am hidden from all the world except from those closest to me, and school, the place where I learn that I don’t know as much as I should know, and I am helped to learn more — together are they homeschool, the place where I learn to be a humble yet confident scholar? But that is a different subject, a second thing.
“To do two things at once is to do neither.” –Publilius Syrus
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul to the Philippians, Ch. 3:13b-14
In high school, I eventually concentrated the most on playing flute (with piccolo on the side for marching band season!). This led ultimately to the great blessings of traveling with my high school show choir as an instrumentalist and performing in some amazing places. I played only a little bit in college but found great joy in picking it up again in grad school and also in church settings.
In order to arrive at the next one thing, I need to tease apart, to unpack, to unblur the lines between my tasks, identify which of them are really only sub-tasks — “small, manageable tasks,” like steering my grocery cart — and which of them are the overarching tasks, the ones which are captured by a simple name: homeschool, work, family.
And this leads to a last question for myself as I ponder doing one thing:
Are homeschool, work, family staying in their places as sub-tasks themselves, subordinate to THE One Thing: “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”?