Obsessive Curiosity & Uncompromising Idealism

Ingredients for making things that matter

Moments die quickly. So when something interesting floats by in the world or in my head, I like to write it down before it evaporates.

I recently found some interesting words scribbled in my notes, both written on different days:

  1. Obsessive curiosity
  2. Uncompromising idealism

I don’t know what prompted me to write either of these notes. Finding them was like stumbling into someone else’s journal.

These words—obsessive curiosity and uncompromising idealism—feel like most things in the universe: inexplicably interconnected. Linked. Interwoven. Tangled. They belong together and I need to explore how. But first, how do we define them?

Obsessive Curiosity: Not allowing your mind to release its grip from something it finds insatiably interesting. Like a rottweiler demolishing a flank steak.

Obsessive curiosity is often mischaracterized by language like:

  • “Falling down a rabbit hole.”
  • “Not letting go.”
  • “Asking too many questions.”
  • “Digging too deep.”
  • “Being overzealous.”

Obsessive curiosity happens when people allow themselves to get lost in the maze of their own mind.

Uncompromising Idealism: Not allowing extraordinarily challenging circumstances deflate you, punch after punch. Like a blow-up yard Santa standing its ground through a hurricane.

Uncompromising idealism is often mischaracterized by descriptors like:

  • “Being naive.”
  • “Disconnected from reality.”
  • “Unrealistic.”
  • “Silly.”
  • “Childish.”

Uncompromising idealism happens when people allow themselves to remember that their attitude and outlook are definitive choices.

Both obsessive curiosity and uncompromising idealism require the latent ability to refuse.

To refuse to:

  • Give up
  • Stop searching
  • Blend in
  • Be “normal”
  • Get over it
  • Let go
  • Or align your thinking to the masses

On the opposite end of refusal, they also give leeway to allow.

To allow for:

  • Time
  • Risk
  • Searching
  • Stamina
  • Loss
  • Blind confidence
  • And a dangerous helping of surrendering-control-to-the-unknown.
Both traits empower us to avoid the trap of living within the parameters of what’s already been defined by others.

Obsessive curiosity and uncompromising idealism fuel the enterprises, technology, industries, social movements and inventions that shape our word.

A statement by Hebert Boyer from the documentary Something Ventured shows us what an obsessively curious mind can accomplish. Boyer is a scientist and researcher at heart. During his unyielding hunt for answers to his questions, he just so happened to jumpstart the field of genetic engineering and co-found a little company named Genentech. Boyer said,

“It wasn’t my goal to start an industry. My goal was to make sure the science got translated into an endeavor that was useful for people.”

Then I think of Tim Hetherington, an accomplished photojournalist and uncompromising idealist. Tim devoted his life to bringing forward and understanding the humans in war-torn countries. In the documentary Which Way is The Front Line from Here you can see him running alongside 14 year-old boys toting machine guns and seeking shelter from gunfire during the Liberian civil war. Tim had a sincere fondness of humanity and a passion for helping the world see the people—the humans—behind the war headlines.

Tim was killed in 2011 during the Libyan conflict. He left behind a legacy of work and, to me, one of the most profound, simple statements I’ve ever heard…one that could only be spoken by an uncompromising idealist:

“Moral outrage is not a useful tool. Building bridges is.”

I’m drawn to people who bleed obsessive curiosity and uncompromising idealism. These folks have some important things figured out, whether or not they realize it. They’ve figured out how to make it through life without drowning in boredom and utter lack of purpose. And they’ve learned to curtail their disgust, disappointment or dissatisfaction with circumstance in order to apply their own passions and make an impact on the world.

So I’m raising my glass to all the obsessively curious, uncompromising idealists out there. The best part is, we can join them at anytime. It is not a closed club—we just have to choose. Who we were yesterday does not preclude us from becoming someone different going forward. As Kurt Vonnegut said in Breakfast of Champions:

“History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.”