When I traveled the world by exchanging my work for food and shelter, my day-to-day strategy was simple: Follow my curiosity, help someone, learn something, and share it with others. And still, it’s the reason I get out of bed every morning.
Following my curiosity is an exciting approach to life. You never know what happens next. There’s a thrill in not knowing. Actually no one knows what happens next. But by pretending you do, you come across as a responsible person. Others like that.
When curiosity guides you, you stop worrying about where you see yourself in five years. A question that’s impossible to answer anyway. Your curiosity will also lead you to do the things that interest you. Something I would suggest to everyone. In the end, it’s all about doing what excites you.
It’s not always easy to follow my curiosity. People frown, or there’s an awkward silence, when I can’t answer the ‘what do you do’ question properly. I can’t use my job description as a self description (this I like). It also requires a certain kind of confidence that you’ll figure things out along the way. Sometimes this is hard. But hey, things usually turn out fine, don’t they?
What I do find difficult at times, is that by doing different things all the time, I sometimes only do them superficially. Which isn’t always that fulfilling. Now, picture this drawing from the book Essentialism.
At times I’m the right circle: Laser focus and an unstoppable force moving forward. Most of the time, I’m the left circle, though: Moving a few centimeters in different directions. Which leads me to a story told by Derek Sivers, the fable of the donkey:
“Imagine a donkey standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. He keeps looking left to the hay, and right to the water, trying to decide. Hay or water, hay or water? He’s unable to decide, so he eventually falls over and dies of both hunger and thirst.”
To overstate the obvious, the moral of the story, a donkey can’t think of the future. If he did, he’d realize he could first drink the water, then go eat the hay. A human can think of the future. You can do everything you want to do. Just not at once.
Although the left circle is perceived as negative, I don’t want to be the right circle at all times. I get bored to tears when I only do one thing. I need variety. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a donkey. Because, well, I don’t want to be a donkey.
What to do? Look for a possible middle ground? Accept my short attention span for what it is? Or maybe even leverage the fact that I sometimes combine a lot of things of which some fail?
The idea I’ve come up with is this. A year of channeled curiosity.
The list of things I want to learn, do and research is long. Language learning, marketing, stoic philosophy, photography, cooking, space travel, scuba diving, psychology, writing, arts. The list goes on, and on, and on..
My year of channeled curiosity has — just like every other year — twelve months. What’s different, is this. I pick a theme every month. And I’ll channel my curiosity towards that theme. My assumption is this will give me a bit more focus. While still avoiding boredom. This won’t cover everything I want to learn. That’s fine. A month is probably too short to become a world class cook, or speak Spanish fluently. But it’s more than a few days. At least, this way I’m not a complete donkey.
The side benefits of this approach are:
– The ability to combine it with my desire to travel. Why wouldn’t I learn Spanish in Colombia?
– I can easily do this together with my freelance work for clients.
– And it gives me a perfect excuse to write more, and do public speaking.
Which leads me to a question. What’s the first month’s theme? Since all my experiments start with asking questions to test assumptions — usually some form of: What happens if I do “x”? — I’ll focus on asking better questions.
The fairly simple assumption that’s been running through my mind for the last few weeks is: If I ask better questions, I’ll find better answers, and therefore do better experiments. Also, I believe there’s a lot of value in asking good quality questions. But more on that later.
So, learning to ask better quality questions. That’s my focus for the first month. What will I learn and find out? I don’t know. But if you’re interested in finding out more, this blog is where I’ll share my learnings.