Curiosity, Courage, Concentration

ABOUT A YEAR AGO I engaged in conversation with a university professor who sat next to me on the subway train. I don’t remember his name or what he taught and at which university. I don’t even remember what we talked about, really. But I remember him imparting these three words: Curiosity, Courage, Concentration. (Though in what context, I can’t quite recall even that.) What’s important is that those three words stayed with me.

I think the essence of what he tried to impart with those words has to do with an approach to Life and Learning. About how, if we want to make a mark in the world, we need to be open — to be Curious. And to follow our curiosity with Courage. Where will it lead? What will I find? And finally, to focus — Concentrate — on that which catches our attention and stirs our enthusiasm, as guided by our curiosity.

So, what catches your attention and stirs your enthusiasm?

The thing is, LOTS of things in this world are important. Urgent, even. But it’s the thing that draws You, speaks to You — personally, specifically — that matters most. Call it your cause, your calling, your mission in life. Whatever that thing is, you could have a profound impact if you have the Courage to follow your object of Curiosity with Concentration. Everything else is noise. Those other urgent, important things, well, those things draw other people. People with a different set of skills, a different calling, a different purpose in life. And those people will also have an impact on their chosen causes, the causes that speak to them personally, specifically. So don’t worry about it. Focus on Your thing. It may be innovating technology, or solving a medical mystery, or entertaining people and making them laugh, easing their pain or sparking their imagination. Or, perhaps you yearn to create a legacy of unique works of art. Whatever it is, give it your best shot. Make a difference there.

Must save whales, eliminate hunger, achieve world peace…

When your focus is pulled in different directions and on too many things — saving the whales, the elephants, the homeless, the refugees, fighting terrorism, fighting cancer, fighting for equality, taking down an autocratic ruler, cleaning up the ocean, rebuilding a war-torn country, discovering a new theorem — you make it very challenging for your scattered mind to successfully achieve any one goal. It’s too much. Too. Much. Scattered and unfocused, did you solve any one of your adopted dilemmas? Or markedly improve the plight of any one of your causes? Or master a single area of learning? Did you create or accomplish any one thing to your satisfaction?

Curiosity, Courage, Concentration.

The professor’s voice was kind of loud, and he laughed so wholeheartedly at the stories he told that I’m sure many people around us also heard him. Actually, I do remember one woman smiling our way when the professor had reached his stop; as he was getting up to leave, she said, “Curiosity, Courage, Concentration. I’ll remember that.”

I remember as well. Thank you, Professor.