I was having a conversation with a friend the other week about a book I’m reading called Prisoners of Geography. At one point I said, “This book is eye-opening for me. Especially because I know next to nothing about geopolitics.”
A few years ago I never would’ve admitted this. There’s a certain pressure to know about a lot of subjects you’re ‘supposed’ to know. A pressure to always have something knowledgeable or cool to say about the current topic being discussed. To be well-rounded. In school, I remember when I was told I had to take a Geography class in addition to the other five classes I was already taking. Why? It’s a requirement. Why? Well, you just need to know geography. Why? You need to be well-rounded.
For a few years after that I allocated certain hours of my day to studying the things that every well-rounded person should know. I soon found that trying to learn certain things for the sake of being well-rounded is ineffective and boring. As T.K Coleman says on this episode of the Isaac Morehouse podcast:
“If you start off by saying, ‘I’m gonna study all the things I ought to study in order to be a well-rounded person’ you’ll study a lot of things, but you won’t have a lot of fun and who knows how much of that stuff you’ll remember, since you don’t really care about it and you’re just trying to be well-rounded.”
Instead of trying to be well-rounded, T.K suggests, follow your natural curiosity–and do so irresponsibly. He said, “The more irresponsibly curious you are about the pursuit of knowledge, the more everything becomes interesting. If you start with one set of questions that are intensely interesting, you’ll discover there are problems you can’t solve, questions you can’t answer, and avenues of thought you cannot traverse, if you don’t go outside of those questions and get other forms of knowledge. Your sense of curiosity eventually expands and you find more and more things interesting.”
A few months ago in an airport bookstore, I picked up a novel about a girl who travels to many countries with her lover, a man who can also turn into a tiger. After this, I couldn’t help but pick up books on the history of different countries and from there I started reading books on how geography affects history. I began to feel hooked on this subject, and it was because I allowed myself to be irresponsibily curious.
I followed my curiosity and it led me to a fascination with one of those subjects that I was once told a well-rounded person needed to study. Except I’ll never be well-roundeed, and I don’t study this subject. I devour it and I’m consumed by it. I don’t need to prove in a conversation that I know about this topic or any other. I don’t need to learn for anyone but me.
I don’t need to be well-rounded, and neither do you. Learn from others, be genuine about what you don’t know and share what you do.
Follow your curiosity and do so as irresponsibly as you can.