“Why are you here?”
The question flew at me fast from across the room. I was sitting in a brown fold up chair, my hands clutching a black folder holding a resume and an application for an internship with the police department. I had just braved a forty minute drive through snow, slippery brakes, and a temporarily swerving car to sit here and answer this question. My mouth opened before I could even consider doubting myself and the room filled with the gentle rise and fall of my voice as I told them my story. Told them I was here because I was curious, that working in law enforcement seemed like a neat way to learn about cities.
That was it. I was curious. That isn’t much of a plan. But the guys who run the Freakonomics podcast think there’s a lot to be said for following one’s curiosities. In a podcast published last year, they interview a researcher who’s work shows that interest is actually essential to developing grit. Listen and read the transcript here.
I listened to that podcast the day after learning that I hadn’t earned a Fellowship I had applied for. I had been fighting hard since graduation to come up with a career “plan,” and I was convinced this Fellowship would be the perfect start. So getting that bad news sparked a bit of despair. Turns out, not earning that grant was good for me. It forced me to reexamine my priorities and my attitude toward vocation. Since then, I’ve actually stopped looking for big career breaks. I’m writing slowly and working steadily at one (soon two) jobs. I’m spending more time reading and cooking; lots of time just thinking. It’s unconventional, but I think this is part of what John O’Donohue calls the journey:
Classically, the understanding of life, the unfolding of identity and creativity, the notion of growth and discovery were articulated through the metaphor of the journey. The journey is the drama of the heart’s voyage into the tide of possibilities which open before it. Traditionally, a journey was a rhythm of three forces: time, self and space. Now the digital virus has truncated time and space. Marooned on each instant, we have forfeited the practice of patience, the attention to emergence and delight in the Eros of discovery.
The self has become anxious for the the next instant might bring. This greed for destination obliterates the journey. The digital desire for the single instant schools the mind in false priority […] But a great journey needs plenty of time. It should not be rushed. If it is, your life becomes a kind of abstract package tour devoid of beauty of meaning. There is such a constant whirr of moevement that you never know where you are. You have no time to give yourself to the present experience. When you accumulate experiences at such a tempo, everything becomes thin.
Perhaps you’re in a similar space, trying to figure out a well-fitting vocation, trying to sharpen your goals. Maybe you’re considering going off the beaten path to pursue some curiosities. Maybe you’re feeling pulled to small city life for a few months. Maybe you want to work part time jobs so you can read and learn new recipes instead of working forty hours in a cubicle? If you’re here or even if you’re not, here are ten questions about life passion that you should ask yourself anyway, among them:
What is true about you today that would make your 8-year-old self cry?
Finally, I love hearing how successful people found their “way.” In this interview, my former boss, Marvin Olasky, shares a bit of his story, much of which centers on his ability to discover his curiosities and focus on them early on in life.
What first interested me in words was letters: As a very small child I received the applause of aunts and uncles for being able to recite the alphabet backwards. Later, what interested me more than words was events: Nabbing a front row seat at the circus.
It’s now past midnight. This post is brought to you by trail mix from Trader Joe’s and the latest album fro Y La Bamba. Enjoy: