Filling the Well, Drawing From the Well

By Bluemangoa2z at ml.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Most people spend the first part of their life preparing themselves for doing things in the next part. School is a great example. For the most part, going to school isn't intrinsically valuable. It's building up your mind, your habits, for what you will do after school. I call this kind of activity "filling the well." 

In contrast, doing productive things in your life is "drawing from the well." I have found that I'm reaching the point in my life where I need to focus on drawing from the well, and keep the activities that I'd classify as filling the well at bay. 

There are things I endeavor to do every day. 

1. Anki: This is a flashcard program to help me remember things.
2. Writing by book:  I try to work for half an hour on my current book.
3. Journaling: Basically the "morning pages" from "The Artist's Way," I use to try to write three pages every day.
4. Processing and Reading: I try to spend half an hour every day going over the notes of things I've read and incorporating them into new notes, papers, and books I'm working on. Leftover time I spend reading. 

Doing all of this takes two hours every morning (I used to meditate too, but stopped.) I can't always get to all of them, so I need to prioritize them. 

1 and 3 are filling the well, 2 is drawing from the well, and 4 is a bit of both. I was in formal education for 26 years. That's a whole lot of filling the well. It's time I started giving back to the world. The world has invested in me, and I need to contribute. 

I have always had the policy that it's always better to produce than to consume, but now I feel it has a bit more urgency. It makes one think differently about things like reading-- people seem to think reading is an intrinsic good, but I feel it's filling the well. If you're reading all the time but never doing anything valuable with the insight gained from the reading, then you're just filling the well and never drawing from it. It's like continuously raising money for charity but never spending it on actually helping anything. 

As you age, you should focus more on drawing from the well and less on filling it. Until you're 20 I think it's fine to focus entirely on filling the well. In your 30s you should have a mixture-- it's still early enough in your life that investing in your mind will have time to pay off. In your 40s you should be very focused on drawing from the well. After you retire, and you just want to rest and enjoy, it's time to focus your life on appreciation-- you can go back to reading now.

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Daniel said…
I think this is one of the most important entries on here. I absolutely love the metaphor of filling the well and drawing from the well, and the idea that yes, maybe reading is not as important later in life (though still important).

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