When I was young, I questioned everything:
Why does it get dark at night?
Where does the sun go?
Why do I have to go to bed?
Why can’t I be a dinosaur?
Why do I have to go to school?
When I grew up, I kept asking questions:
Why are people so miserable?
What’s the point of life when we all die in the end?
Why do I have to get a job?
Why don’t we take time off during the week and work at weekends? Or in the middle of the night?
My curiosity led me into some interesting places – I spent time in therapy, meditating in monasteries, studying in libraries, writing and acting in workshops, and floating in the dark in sensory deprivation tanks.
I also spent a lot of time as a psychotherapist, which turned out to be a great career move for someone who liked asking questions:
What do you want?
What stops you getting it?
What would you do if this problem disappeared overnight?
What story are you telling yourself that makes the situation seem worse than it is?
What other story could you start telling yourself about all this?
Why are you with this person if you dislike them so much?
If you like this person so much, how could you show it better?
When I committed to being a writer, I had more questions:
Can I really do this?
Am I wasting my time?
Why don’t more people read my blog?
Why do my poems keep getting rejected?
I prided myself on my curiosity, and my capacity to question things that most people took for granted. But after a while I noticed some questions made me frustrated, others brought release.
And eventually I realised the big difference: there’s no point asking a question if you don’t listen to the answers.
You don’t have to agree with the answer, or even accept it. But if you’re just asking out of frustration, or to annoy people around you or criticise them, then it’s really just another form of complaining.
But if you do listen, you can learn a lot, about yourself as well as the world around you.
Most people go to work for good reasons – to take care of themselves and their families. Or because they haven’t figured out a way to avoid it. So if I was going to avoid getting a job, I would need to figure out a way of meeting my responsibilities by doing something else.
It gets dark at night because the sun is away on other business. But it gives human beings a chance to press the reset button and make a fresh start.
You can have your weekend in the middle of everyone else’s week, but it’s actually quite nice to have a break at the same time, so we can enjoy it together.
Most of those poems that got rejected weren’t ready to see the light of day. It’s a good job they didn’t.
And so on.
Whatever you do, never lose your curiosity. Never stop looking at the world afresh, and asking the kind of questions only a child or an alien or an artist would think to ask.
But don’t do it to complain, or to shift responsibility.
And don’t forget to listen to the answers.
Because wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, the answer to your question could be right in front of you. Staring you in the face.
You can hear an audio version of the article in this week’s episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 3’25”.