I’ve stumbled upon a reliable heuristic when it comes to writing. Here it is:
Start with a question.
Why though? First, a question is more interesting than an answer. It represents more possibilities and is therefore, more exciting. Second, I need to practice the art of asking good questions. Third, to ask a good question, you need to think about what you’re trying to learn. And you need to understand where the answer could fit into the constellation of knowledge you hold about a subject. Asking questions also sharpens your thinking skills, which is never a bad thing.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, someone who doesn’t ask questions is intellectually stagnant. They have ceased to grow and expand. So by ensuring you continue to ask questions, you can, to a certain extent, ensure you continue to improve.
The question I started with today is this: How much of what we want is desired only because we’ve seen someone else with it? This is part rhetorical and part literal.
I’ve been influenced by the work of Ryan Holiday. Through him I’ve learnt more about Stoicism and strategy than I have from many others. I’ve stolen the commons system that he learnt from Robert Greene and twisted it to my ends. He has his own marketing agency and travels the world consulting and speaking and I’m kind of jealous of that.
I suppose it happens to every young person. They find someone (or an image of someone) that they seek to emulate. A consequence of this? The young person does things and strives to be something he never would have had he not been influenced.
But there’s another effect. And it’s happened to me. I didn’t know what I wanted from my life. What I wanted to do and why. I still don’t if I’m honest. But our hearts and our minds find it hard to endure such an existential vacuum. So in it’s place, we assume the ambitions and desires of our newfound role model. For better or for worse.
As I’m maturing and becoming a better thinker, I’m beginning to understand these influences. I’m learning to separate ideas from ego and thus learn about how and why the two are intertwined. And one of the realisations that I’ve come to this morning is that our desires, quite often, aren’t ours. They’re formed in the image of what we think we should want. They’re shadows and silhouettes, assembled from the fragments of other people’s dreams.