What J.R.R Tolkien Taught Me About Life
Before yesterday, I didn’t know who J.R.R Tolkien was. I had a half arsed attempt at watching Lord of the Rings a few years back but was never really that impressed. Not enough to see the whole thing through anyway.
But yesterday. Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching the Sky Premiere on Tolkien and the story of his life. I often think it is such a pleasure to understand the story of someone’s life. It is in many ways their lives work.
The story is of an ordinary boy, who had an extraordinary gift, who learnt to harness his gift, albeit over a fair amount of time. He had a mind for magic and imagination and a particular affinity for languages. It’s often that we think are gifts are limited to Maths, English or Science and it has to be that broad. But languages, specifically historic language, was Tolkien’s poison. It’s probably one of lives great gift to find your passion. To find something that truly takes your interest for no other reason than ‘it just does’. It’s quite wonderful really.
If you don’t know who J.R.R Tolkien was I’ll tell you. He was a devoted father and a passionate guy who ended up studying at Oxford and then became a professor for the majority of his life. Most famously he wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on the list of top 50 British writers since 1945. In summary, the boy done good.
Tolkien grew up in Birmingham, which is currently not far from where I am writing this. Perhaps that’s why the story has had such an impact on my thoughts today. I think it solidifies the power of a good story. Everyone has a story but being able to use your story to create another story, well that’s a touch of class.
Through Tolkien’s story I’ve learnt the importance of understanding what we are gifted at. It takes time and courage to understand what you are good at and to be aggressive in your pursuit of it. For a lot of us we are scared to pursuit talents that aren’t thought widely as ‘that impressive’. Having a passion and talent for language, doesn’t seem that sexy. Especially ancient language. Who cares about words that people used to use.
It’s about as anti-Instagram as you can get.
But he did. He wrote about it, taught about it and created a story that anchored around it. Whatever your thing is, if you embrace it as totally your thing — you can make a mastery of it. But secondary to this, and perhaps the bigger point, doing something because you love it, is just enough. The lack of expectation creates a sense of freedom that leads to your best work. No expectations sometimes leads to the greatest of results.
Tolkien has taught me that art, real art, takes time too curate but is timeless. He spent his life studying words, he spent time alongside his academic work writing. Writing a lot. It’s no secret that to become a master of something it takes a lot of time. To conquer something, it’s often cited that it takes ten thousand hours. Tolkien shows the proof of this. The Hobbit was published in 1937. It has not moved from the top 5,000 best selling books since 1998 when the Nielsen BookScan index began. A pretty wonderful thing really. And that’s how I feel about real art, it’s just pretty wonderful. Obviously it is totally timeless and took time and passion to create. But that’s real art.
Legacy makes us feel like there is a magic to life. Immortality through story. In 1911, Tolkien went to school with his three mates Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Wiseman. They created a society called the T.C.B.S. That was his fellowship. The brotherhood. Although I am yet to watch it, I’ve read that both films centre around friendship and story telling. The truth of this happening in his real life gives the story total conviction. A personality in fact. If I reflect on why legacy is so impactful, I think it’s because of the truth and honesty it reveals about people.
There is talent in making things up for sure, but forming a story around real things, that’s special.
The last point is something I’ve grew more passionate about. It’s about taking action and letting yourself curate as you go. We all overanalyse how we should go about doing certain things. Every decision for our whole day can be overanalysed if we want it to be. But how much further on would we be if we didn’t make any decisions and just thought about them. I would argue not very far. By doing and seeing what happens we can surprise ourselves. When I listen and read about Tolkien I’m struck by the importance of just doing. Just reading about things that interest you, just teaching and having a go. Just writing a language and seeing where it takes you. Pursuit is the joy.
Originally published at https://www.careerhealth.info on April 20, 2020.