Sensei Blog #027 – The Rocking Chair Test
Over the years from a variety of sources I’ve heard sayings such as “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. I have certainly been guilty of self-inflicted anxiety over trivial matters. A close friend said to me once a similar thing along the lines of not worrying about what could possibly go wrong, because most of the time it won’t even happen. Another oft-stated rule of thumb is “Could you change it? Then do so. Is it something you can’t change? Then move on.” These kind of helpful statements address the idea of picking your battles; actively selecting what you will or will not engage your time in solving, managing or correcting.
The wonderful psychologist Howard Gardner in his 1983 book “Frames of Mind” describes a multiplicity of intelligences as a hypothesis, and then acknowledges that he simply does not have enough years in his life to explore them all. This gave me pause to consider, as the truth of it is that you have some years on this planet to do stuff, and you simply can’t do everything or pursue every rainbow you see to its end. So which rainbows to chase, which skills to master, which roads to follow? I sometimes ponder, as one does, what might have been had I followed the Civil Engineering path at Adelaide Uni in 1973, or stayed in Los Angeles to pursue my playing goals in 1978, or given up session work in 1981 to study jazz at the Conservatorium in Sydney, or to quit music altogether in 1996 after 8 years in Advertising.
Luckily, I don’t regret any of my major life decisions, and I was intrigued a few years ago when a speaker at a life management seminar described a method for making those critical choices when life presents a fork in the road. He called it the “Rocking Chair Test”, and basically the pertinent question he posited was to ask oneself, “When I’m 85 years old and sitting in my rocking chair on the porch, which of these two possibilities will I look back on and say I’m glad I chose that one”. I found that idea resonated strongly with a feeling I would get when faced with a life choice dilemma, the feeling that option A was attractive, but option B somehow would have long-term satisfaction as its outcome, or a deeper form of achievement at its core. So the idea of the Rocking Chair test seems to describe that sense of purpose or meaning, and helps the decision making process. Having made a choice, I feel emboldened to attack that fork in the road with vigor, confident that my choice is a strong one based on what I know at the time. (If you wait to get ALL the information necessary to eliminate any chance of failure whatsoever, I’m afraid you will never choose!) So when I decide to study something, my outcome is to OWN the knowledge to the point that I could teach it. When I learn a song, I need to understand it as well as be able to play it. Why did the composer chose that lyric, that chord, those voicings, that key?
That curiosity drives me to explore the ocean that is music; my only sadness is that I don’t have enough years to explore more than a tiny corner of its vastness. I expect though that by the time I collapse into my rocking chair I’ll be pretty happy with my choices…all things considered.