On September 3, 1783, the United States signed the peace agreement with Great Britain that recognized its independence from the British Crown.
Painter Benjamin West was commissioned to capture the moment on canvas, but after he sketched the American delegates, however, the British refused to pose. The painting remains, to this day, unfinished.
To paraphrase Leonardo Da Vinci, art is never finished, only abandoned. And our perception of what is finished or not relies solely on our thoughts.
Now, what does this have to do with us?
Well, we are all works of art. And we are never, ever, ever complete.
“I am still learning…”
Seneca, at the age of 70
One thing of extreme importance in life is never, ever to be complete. To always strive for more. To be able to reinvent yourself on a constant basis.
And I believe that we should keep in mind the fact that we are not nouns, but verbs.
Action is what defines us.
And we can change what we do as we learn and develop new skills.
After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder, then a business man, then an actor, and then a politician.
Paul Gauguin was a successful businessman before deciding to pursue painting full-time.
Actor Ronald Reagan was 54 when he announced he was running for governor of California in 1965.
Before being a famous poet, Allen Ginsberg worked as a dishwasher. Andrea Bocelli, the Italian singer, was a lawyer.
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
We often think that it’s desirable to work on just one thing, to put all our efforts and time into becoming great in one area.
But what happens if the industry you worked in all your life vanishes?
What happens if you’re made redundant, and you never worked at developing new skills or learn new languages?
I used to struggle with this one myself.
Ever since I was fourteen years old, I’ve wanted to be a published author. That was my dream, and I thought writing fiction was the one thing (and only thing) I was good at.
Somewhere along the line, I became interested in motivation, psychology, self-help, and personal development. This allowed me to be able to overcome the difficult moments in my life, to focus my energy on bettering myself, and on being able to work on becoming self-confident.
Then I became interested in health, fitness, nutrition. This allowed me to change my physique, to develop inner fortitude by working out my body.
And looking back, I don’t regret taking all that time away from writing. Not at all. I am a different human being because of my desire to change, to adapt to certain circumstances, to overcome certain limitations.
It seems to me that the truly successful among us have an innate desire to constantly reinvent themselves, because they are well aware of the fact that the future belongs to those who never, ever consider themselves as a complete work of art.
Yes, jack of all trades, master of none, but it’s sure better than being just the master of one.
Our Life-Long Obsession With Completion
We work all our lives, so we can retire. We go through school, so we can be rid of it once and for all. We live, so we can die and go to heaven.
We are always obsessed with completion.
After all, a couple thousand years ago, our idea of divine punishment was having to roll a boulder up a steep hill, over and over again.
The truth is, our job is never done.
We never reach the top of the hill, only to rest there forever.
But yet we still dream of it: of having enough money to never have to work again, of having to live a life of comfort.
Imagine if all you had to do was work out until you got in shape, and you could stay like that forever. Perhaps, a lot more people would be working out then.
But, no, we must do the work, over and over again, and the immutable law of progress is that it requires consistency, creativity, and an intense desire to overcome the urge of thinking of oneself as a noun.
Life is like that.
If we stop, we might as well be dead.
If we don’t aspire towards something anymore, that’s when everyone else start to surpass us.
No matter what we do, we’ll always be a work in progress. Once we accept it, we can focus our energy on developing new skills, on reinventing ourselves again and again, not because the circumstances demand it, but because it’s in our nature to strive for progress rather than perfection.