What Do You Pay Attention To?
“For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life: pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.” — Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I first heard the above quote a few weeks ago while listening to Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist audiobook trilogy on my drive home one day.
For whatever reason, Rosenthal’s words stood out to me, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. Her words have drifted through my mind several times, including this morning.
I was sitting on the floor in front of my vision board when I heard the words, Pay attention to what you pay attention to. I stopped for a moment, realizing that something had just become obvious to me that I’d never noticed before.
My vision board is a mixture of both pictures and quotes, and it represents the life I dream of living. I try to sit down in front of it every morning before I start writing, because it reminds me why I’m writing and inspires me to keep writing in order to create this life for myself.
Gazing at this dream collage for a few minutes every morning has become routine, but this morning, something was different. I became aware of the fact that my eyes instinctively look at the quotes before they look at the pictures.
I’m naturally drawn to words before I’m drawn to images.
I end up moving from quote to quote, reading each one and pausing for a moment to internalize it before I focus on any of the pictures. Even though the quotes are scattered throughout the board rather than clustered together, my mind unfailingly zeroes in on words first.
I even have a second vision board just for writing, and guess what it’s full of? Words! Only quotes — no images. It suddenly became extremely obvious what I pay attention to.
But why does it matter?
In book 3 of the trilogy, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, Kleon talks about the importance of your attention and the power it holds:
“Your attention is one of the most valuable things you possess, which is why everyone wants to steal it from you. First you must protect it, and then you must point it in the right direction.”
This makes sense, but how do we know what the “right direction” is?
Well, what do you care about? What’s important to you? What are you naturally drawn to?
If your answers to these questions don’t immediately lead you to an obvious conclusion about what to do with your life, don’t feel defeated. I’ve spent many years ignoring the clues my life was giving me, mainly because I couldn’t see them.
As Kleon says, “We pay attention to the things we really care about, but sometimes, what we really care about is hidden from us.”
Often, we know we like or dislike certain things, but we don’t read more into it than that. We cut out pictures of things that speak to us, we listen to music and artists we love, and we find hobbies that make us feel good, but we don’t spend much time contemplating why.
We don’t equate the things we pay attention to with any deeper meaning for our lives. But I’m starting to realize that they do have a deeper meaning.
There’s a reason my eyes are drawn to quotes before they’re drawn to pictures. There’s a reason half my bookshelf is full of books by Elizabeth Gilbert, Byron Katie, and J.K. Rowling. There’s a reason the other half consists of books about business, writing and personal development.
These things are not random; they show me who I am and what I love.
I believe the things that speak to your heart contain clues about what you’re meant to do.
If you feel completely lost, spend some time reflecting on what it is that lights you up. Who do you admire and want to be like, and what is it about these people that you’re drawn to?
For me, Byron Katie represents freedom and the spiritual growth that my soul longs for. J.K. Rowling represents the magic of words and stories, and the unlimited possibility and potential an idea can have. Elizabeth Gilbert represents the type of writer I want to be: versatile, intelligent, relatable, vulnerable, brave, and real. Her work gives people permission to be human, and this is what I am most drawn to.
By taking a closer look at my bookshelf and breaking down what these authors mean to me, I can begin to form a better understanding of what matters to me and what I want to do. My own values are mirrored back to me.
Many of the people I admire most are writers, whether they write songs or books. That’s another clue! Writing has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve always held writers on a pedestal, daydreaming about what it would be like to see my own book staring back at me from a shelf I wander past at the bookstore someday.
None of these realizations are insignificant. The trick is to become aware of just how much meaning they hold.
So start paying attention to the things you pay attention to today.
You may find that what you’re meant to do has been hiding in plain sight all along.
“You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.” — Austin Kleon