Finding direction in a world inundated with information can be more far more challenging than it sounds. Not having a clear path for your exploration of life leaves you susceptible to the rapid and dynamic fluctuations of modern culture. Rapid changes in your direction can be detrimental to development because gaining mastery of any practice requires sustained and persistent effort and attention to that feature. You become great through the accumulation of thousands of individual actions not one event. Understanding how to work your way through the information and gain stability in your perspective and pursuits is the first step to mastery.
In an interview with Yuval Noah Harari, a student poses the question, “What suggestions do you have for individual learners to become better self-guided learners.” With a little bit of persuasion from Russell Brand, the moderator of the discussion, Harari concludes that his self-learning method was to; “Focus on the most important questions and allow the questions to lead him where ever they go.” I found this advice aligned directly with the idea that came out of my year-end planning. I’m making an effort here to explain the significance of this idea to me.
A method for making a big question into a guide
Start with a big question that is meaningful and relevant to you. Write it down. Come back to it. Try to formalize it into something real. Something this is within your reach and ready. A good question will rest well at the tip of your tongue.
As you work, be aware of when that question arises. What was the connection that brought your big question to mind? Realize that this question is significant for you to understand, so it is worth taking steps to follow up and gain some understanding from the new connection. This pursuit is not about finding the answer as much as observing and reflecting on where those steps take you. What experiences are leaving you breadcrumbs of an answer? Let this habit of recognition, pursuit, and reflection become part of your everyday life.
If it’s a big enough question, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to answer it by only evaluating a single discipline. You will have to chase the ideas that support the answer. Doing so will bring you to new places and new concepts that highlight elements of the world that may have been foreign to you. Engaging with a broad perspective on an idea can lead to the realization that the answer you seek is probably quite complex.
Complex things are a bit amorphous. Hard to defined and contain. Understanding the complex is about understanding the quality of the process. What goes into it, the initial conditions actively affect the results. It is unlikely you will find an answer to your big question that always works. Still, you can develop a sense of understanding of the actions that lead to the result. Real-life experience is what allows you to create this type of quality-focused knowledge.
Making my own
During my yearly reflection, I made an effort to formalize one of these big questions. How to live a life? I don’t know the answer to that question. In fact, I feel far from understanding what precisely I’m asking. Is this about personal character, the actions we take, the choices we make, or most likely all of these above and more? I like to think that chasing this question will help me build a philosophy of life. A well-founded rationale for being the person I am. I don’t want to let who I am just happen, I want to work toward it. To believe in it and struggle for it.
For as ambiguous as it is, I can feel the significance of approaching that idea with an open and reflective mind. Asking myself “how to live a life” has become a powerful personal driver for changing how I view myself and the subsequent actions that support my concept of self.
So far, two primary themes are developing in my search.
Experience is what matters.
Value creation over consumption.
These are not new ideas, but connecting them to my big question gives them a new priority. It moves them closer to my concept of self, or maybe I’m just moving closer to them. Whichever way it is, it feels good. It’s a self-defined movement based on an understanding of the structure of the world at hand. It is mine, and it started with a big question.