This started as a "Note to Self," so please excuse me if the frustration is all too evident and the writing is less than stellar...
Three major subjects I've had at the forefront of my mind lately:
- Learning (Curiosity)
- Doing (Making)
I've been studying motivation and incentives for months now. It seems there are an infinite number of different motivations that people might have for doing things (I realize that sounds trite but bear with me). I've been really drawn to it because I'm desperate to find out why I do the things I do and why I don't do the things that I want to do but don't do.
I'm in the midst of reading Paul Graham's excellent Hackers and Painters book. In it, he makes the case that hackers and painters are very similar because they are both "makers." Painters make paintings. Hackers make software. Painters don't necessarily need to understand the chemical composition of paint to make beautiful paintings. And hackers don't necessarily need to know 1's and 0's to make beautiful software.
Graham then draws the distinction between disparate computer science fields:
- some people seem to be studying mathematics
- some people seem to be studying the computers themselves
- the hackers are making software.
The difference is incredibly important. It seems the motivation for some is to make beautiful things. And the motivation for the others is to learn out of curiosity. Certain motivations seem obvious to me, but curiosity seems a bit less obvious. I would certainly consider myself as a curious person with a seemingly unquenchable thirst to learn just about everything I can. But this is exactly where the problem comes up.
The thing that scares me so much is that I desperately want to make things. I desperately want to do things. I want to write a book. I want to paint a painting. I want to compose a song. I want to do things like travel. But the strangeness is that I also want to learn things. I want to learn to play guitar. I want to learn about art history. I want to learn more about philosophy and literature.
The key seems to be the balance between learning and doing... between studying and making.
While I'm not sure how much one should learn about a given thing before doing it, I know for certain that I find myself constantly on one side rather than the other. As it stands now (and as far as I can tell I've always been this way), I am a learner and not a doer. I've read great books. I've practiced guitar for years. I've spent countless hours studying programming.
But I've written 0 books. I've composed 0 songs. I've coded 0 beautiful programs. I've painted 0 beautiful paintings. I've started 0 viable businesses.
The scary part of all this is that there are probably countless unfinished works of art in the world. Is this my misanthropic revenge against society and culture to never produce or finish any of the works of art that I start? Perhaps the worst part (aside from this being my natural inclination), is the fact that I f***ing know better. I just finished books like "Getting Things Done" and "Making Ideas Happen." I've aggregated and synthesized countless words of wisdom on how to do things and how to make things.
Imagine the horror of going through life without being able to do the things you want to do. If this is something you've struggled with (and hopefully overcome), please share. If not... perhaps some delicious pity would make me feel better.
[UPDATE: Just wanted to send a quick thanks to everyone that shared their thoughts. I deliberately left the question somewhat open-ended in hopes of encouraging discussion and having others refashion the central problem around their similar experience, and I think it worked out great... there's a lot of amazing insight here to work with and it was really helpful. Thanks again.]