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Photo by Howard Paley

“It is our knowledge — the things we are sure of — that makes the world go wrong and keeps us from seeing and learning,” — Lincoln Steffens

We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head. — Maria Popova

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do that. Because what the world needs are people who come alive.” — Howard Thurman

“Whenever a knight of the Grail tried to follow a path made by someone else, he went altogether astray. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s footsteps. Each of us has to find his own way. . . Nobody can give you a mythology.” ~ Joseph Campbell

What you think you know is less important than your willingness to learn. What inspires you and enlivens you is your path. Maria Popova wrote a piece on why your unread books are more important than your read ones. Knowing is problematic because we use it to create a rigid construct called “me”.

Holding on to that construct keeps us small.

Being an expert, one who knows, is an identity project. Learning is something else. It’s not treading a path that someone else made. A path with a heart is your own true way, a path that offers endless inspiration and learning.

I’ve tried a lot of different paths, maybe because my connection to my core self was shaken early. I threw myself at the thing that excited me the most, foreign language learning, but in spite of the highest scholastic grades I failed because I didn’t end up speaking at even a decent level. Fluency was my goal and I was confused that school couldn’t give it to me. I didn’t recognize my own talent, which was to listen and imitate live speech.

I turned to art, which was a borrowed path, and I learned a lot and created a body of work I’m proud of, but language remained my passion and obsession. Happenstance, if there is such a thing, led me to live surrounded by a foreign language for half my life. At least my talent wasn’t deferred, it just became a “side interest”.

I almost never tried something I wasn’t interested in, like car mechanics, unless it was something a friend wanted to share. Most of my paths were natural to me. The arts were a genuine interest, but ideas and language had and still have the most energy in them.

That’s what I’m doing here on the edges of Medium, test driving my lifelong interest in putting ideas into words. No, it’s not the complete package, but it’s an essential part of it.

The idea that something is or isn’t your path is a little too categorical for my case. I’ve done a lot of things that were in the neighborhood of my main path, but I can’t say those activities were not native to me. Yes, I did try tap dancing (minimal talent). I even tried modern dance but, although I’m a kinetic person, I couldn’t remember the movement patterns. I learn by trying. I knew I was an artist of some sort.

One of my paths may well be to simply try lots of different things. Having said that, here I am in Mexico, writing and listening to a foreign language. A new self is forming. I wonder where it will go. Probably it will go where it has always been going. I just have to go there by “feel”.

I like the idea of not being fixed on any one idea of myself. Umberto Eco manages to encompass this idea in his statement that the unread books are more important than the ones you’ve integrated into your identity.

So, keep it loose. Keep learning. That’s my advice.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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