“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” ― John Wooden
My sister keeps two hummingbird feeders on her deck, and during the few days that I spent with her recently, I probably saw more hummingbirds than during the rest of life put together. They swarm around, off and on, for most of the day every day.
To watch them is to have a whole new perspective on words such as “energy”and “activity.” Not only are they never still for more than a second or two, but they keep interrupting each other, or being interrupted, and then flitting back to the very same thing they were doing before, taking small sips of nectar and then flitting around presumably in search of more– only to come right back to the same spot and take another quick sip before flitting off again.
I found myself wondering whether they just like to fly, or whether their wings need constant exercise. Is their work more like play to them? Why don’t they sit still for more than a second or two when feeding? Couldn’t they achieve the same end– nourishment– with far less expenditure of energy? Or can activity be an end in itself, contrary to what Wooden says in the quote above?
From the perspective of the past six years of my life (this blog will soon be SIX years old!) I am far more likely to see most of what humans do as ultimately futile, in the sense that so little of it will last. The failures or successes of the present, even toward noble goals such as saving or prolonging life, or improving schools, communities and nations, seem far more momentous in the moment than they will seem ten years hence, or in most cases, even five years or one year from now. Yet that does not mean that what we do has no purpose. And perhaps one of the biggest purposes is the preservation of our own mental health.
Have you ever noticed the therapeutic effect of activity? Whether it’s weeding in the yard, washing dishes, or finishing a report for work or school, directing our minds to a specific, focused task can chase away the blues as nothing else can. It’s why we have hobbies, and why we travel near and far before returning exhausted but grateful to be home.
Wooden makes a good point; activity is far more fulfilling if it results in a desired outcome. In that sense, achievement is far different from simply staying busy. But meaningful activity can be worthwhile even if the target is never quite reached, or if the process could have been hastened along and completed more quickly than we managed to do it. Sometimes the process itself is what brings us inner renewal, sharpening our minds and reassuring us that, despite how many of the world’s problems seem unsolvable, there are still ways we can take positive steps to improve our days, our homes and the lives of at least a few people around us.
The next time you feel lethargic, try watching (or imagining) the tireless hummingbirds. Their energy must be one reason we find them endlessly fascinating. Think of them as you flit about between whatever nectars are calling to you today, and consider that your efforts may be drawing nourishment for your heart and spirit as well as your body.