Curiosity and The Practice

All too often, people do good things for the wrong reasons, and find it’s not sustainable. Compare the differences between these statements:

I want to develop software.
I want to be a software developer.

I want to write a novel.
I want to be a novelist.

I want to do yoga.
I want to be a yogi.

The first statement is “I want to do a thing”, and the second is “I want to be a person who has done a thing”.

Once you’ve written your first story, or software program, or done to your first yoga session, that box is checked, and you’re done. Where is the motivation to continue The Practice?

There is no way to maintain velocity without lightness, and there is no way to maintain lightness without curiosity.

Curiosity is not a state of “wanting to be curious”, but rather a state of “wanting to find out”. There is a tremendous difference! “Wanting to be” is attainment of status, whereas “wanting to do” is desire and motion.

These days, I try to catch myself saying “I want to be XYZ”, and instead translate that into what it really means. Sometimes, I find that it quickly disabuses me of a mistaken desire.

If you want to be a writer, write. That’s all that it takes, but it takes that forever, so if you don’t want to write, perhaps reevaluate your desire to be a writer.

If you want to be a programmer, program. That’s all that it takes, but it takes that forever, so if you don’t want to program, perhaps reevaluate your desire to be a programmer.

If you want to be a yogi, do yoga. That’s all that it takes, but it takes that forever, so if you don’t want to do yoga, perhaps reevaluate your desire to be a yogi.

Often, when we say, “I want to be XYZ”, what we actually mean is not “I want to do the thing that XYZ does”, but rather, “I want the respect and self-esteem that comes with the skills that come from doing what XYZ does.” I want people to read something, and admire it, and then admire me because of it. I want people to use software, and recognize that I create it, and think I’m smart. I want people to think I’m spiritual and wise, and admire my healthy body and calmness.

I want other people to wish they could be me.

They all find the frightening reality that there is no end to be attained. You will never finish writing all the software, or all the words, or find that you’ve learned all that yoga practice can teach you. If your goal is at the end, you will find only discouragement and disappointment, and no amount of duty or discipline will keep you on the path.

So the writer buys a beret, and a moleskine, and sits in cafes sipping espresso. The programmer wears an appropriately nerdy T-shirt, and plays video games, and says snarky things on Hacker News. The yogi puts on stretchy pants and carries a rubber mat around. If any of them do attain some shred of the respect they crave, they know in their heart that it is empty, and it never satisfies the longing.

On the other hand, if your goal is the continual curious fire of “Oh, neat! What’s next!?”, then each challenge along the path only makes you hungrier for more, and every step is light. The challenge becomes not “How do I stay motivated?” but rather, “How do I keep my motivation in check, so that it does not consume me entirely?”

Even, upon reading this, if you find yourself thinking “I want to be curious”, stop and unpack that! Don’t just be a person who was curious once, and got the merit badge! Be actively curious right now, in the present, and let that fire keep you going!

So, what is it you’d like to learn?