Idealism, Passion, Curiosity

Every so often, while listening to a podcast, an idea resonates so powerfully with me that I need to stop and replay the segment a few times.

I’d like to share once such idea that was raised in a conversation between Lex Fridman and Yaron Brook.

But a warning, things will get dark and gloomy for the next few paragraphs, but there is a silver lining at the end.

Important Note: This is not a transcription of the conversation. Instead, I’m providing my interpretation of the main ideas. I provide links at the end of this post if you prefer listening to the relevant segment or the entire episode of the podcast.

Losing Youthful Idealism

Why do people dismiss Ayn Rand? 

Yaron provides two reasons. First, her philosophy challenges people’s core beliefs. Second, and relevant to this post, she reminds them that they’ve lost their youthful idealism.

Yaron discusses this transformation in the context of academia, but there are parallels to any field.

Let’s imagine a kid named Fred.

Fred is young, and isn’t scared to dream. Anything seems possible, no matter how extravagant. Ask Fred what he wants to be when he grows up, and he says such things as doctor, astronaut, entrepreneur, and president.

But at some point, as Fred gets older, he starts to lose his youthful idealism. He enters the “norms of life”. He goes to college, starts a career, a family. He makes compromises on his dreams. He loses his passion.

He enters some field with passion, a desire to learn, and dreams to make a difference.

But instead of working on some world-changing project, he finds himself subjugated to working in some obscure subfield, working on “insignificant minutia”.

Having suffered this torturous process, he finds himself in his mid 30s, and with few accomplishments to show, especially none of those youthful dreams he had.

Even worse, Fred finds himself now part of the same system that squashed his dreams; he’s cynical, inflicting the same pain upon the next generation of youth.

Retaining Passion

As promised, now comes the silver lining. How we can retain our passion and achieve our goals.

Stay Curious

The people who are successful and change the world are the ones willing to make a life journey to solve the hard problems and ask the difficult questions.

We must hold on to our youthful curiosity, passion, and excitement.

In the last few months, I’ve made an effort to expand my knowledge and passions. This has consisted of listening to podcasts (eg: Lex Fridman Podcast, Hardcore History), reading books (eg: science fiction, philosophy, science), and enrolling in online courses (eg: “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking”, “Learning How To Learn”).

Accept Failure

Failure is the norm, and we must come to terms with it.

There’s the quote by Thomas Edison (or at least attributed to him often): “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Build upon the failure. When (not if) failure occurs, we will learn from it, and the next iteration will be even better because of it.

Additionally, Yaron reminds us that passion is what will carry us through these failures. If you are not passionate about what you do, failure could be devastating. But if you are passionate, then failure doesn’t matter because you are driven by the enjoyment of the process, not the result.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture

Without a holistic understanding of the system, we aren’t able to make the big leaps that are required to achieve our grand goals. 

Yaron states we have an integration problem in our world. We overspecialize and forget about how our component fits in with the larger system.

He admits that we can’t ever rid ourselves of the minutia, and that specialization can be necessary, but we must not lose sight of the big picture. We must remember to integrate.

Final Thoughts

This is just my interpretation of the thoughts conveyed in this discussion. Please check out the links below to hear the entire conversation.

Full Interview:

Relevant Segment: