THE ATTIC, YOUR ATTIC
My all-time favorite fictional character is Sherlock Holmes. I think Arthur Conan Doyle created the most incredible thing in the master detective and I have the highest regard for his works. I have been reading Sherlock Holmes since I was a little boy and here’s one statement he made that I think has changed my life: “I consider that a man’s brain is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose…it is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it, there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge, you forget something that you knew before. It is of highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones”. In this statement from the very first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, (which was one of the very last I read, surprisingly) Conan Doyle sends a message that is of particular importance to everyone my age: Even though you feel infinite now, your resources WILL be exhausted.
A very notorious frame of mind in people is they think their brains are capable of everything and it has no limits. Now, I can’t exactly say that the human brain has a maximum limit of information it can store; I’ll leave that to the scientists. But Holmes’ theory isn’t really a bad way to look at it now, is it? The idea that we are indeed limitless and full of boundless opportunities we can succeed at is a great one, it has its advantages, but it comes with the greatest consequence; recklessness. Because we believe that the sky is the limit, we tend to think that we can fly all our jets there. Wrong, excessively wrong. A pilot cannot fly more than one plane simultaneously; therefore the sky is the limit for the plane he chooses to take to sky, any other plane that diminishes his attention to the one he’s on right now is nothing short of a liability. We cannot lead all the Israelites to the Promised Land, the Red sea would cover some, an earthquake would swallow some, and the snakes would poison others to their graves.
What then must we do? We must be focused. The universe has a constant supply of elaborate distractions that never runs dry but we must choose what we want to be and be just that. We have to decide what we want and go get it believing that what we want is enough to satisfy us and make our life worth it. Don’t overcrowd your brain with irrelevant things. In my dealings with technology, I have figured out that a gadget that tries to be too many things, does everything it tries to be inadequately. In other words, a “phablet” which is trying to be both a phone and a tablet, ends up being neither and it just winds up being too large to call a cellphone and too small to call a tablet (same applies to laptop hybrids). If you’re a medical student, you shouldn’t be interested in what’s going on in the CIA, if you want to be a musician, be a freaking musician, not a musician/engineer/entrepreneur/chef/chemist/designer. Concentrate all your energy on what you want to be and be that thing. Everything is possible, which is all the more reason why you have to choose. Guard your mind from being infiltrated by unimportant data, put all your effort in what you want and be the best at it. Employ, as David Acord calls it, a mental bouncer that prevents unwanted information from going in. The world of nowadays encourages us to have broad views. It tells us that we can have all we want, that it’s possible to be a great surgeon, have a large family, keep in touch with all your loved ones, spend a lot of time with your kids, engage in all your hobbies and still make mindless amounts of money while you’re at it, but that’s not true; life is way more complicated than that, sacrifices must be made. We have to choose. Choose what you want and let go of the rest, because we can’t have it all. No one can.
Your attic doesn’t have elastic walls, there will come a time when those song lyrics in your brain would be pushing out the relevant information you need on a daily basis, it is of highest importance to not let the useful stuff get kicked out by all the intellectual junk food you’ve been letting in. As my friend, Afoma put it, “be selfish with your resources; they aren’t permanent”.