Observing Without Intent

I’ve always known that I’m not special.

I’m unique, but there’s nothing innately special about me…or you, for that matter.

As a parent, that’s a hard message. “Yes, your bunny drawing is unique, but your drawing is no better or worse than anyone else’s bunny drawing.” Speaking that truth doesn’t win hearts and minds of other parents. Read my post about honesty..

Changing topics…

I was listening to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s MasterClass and he said something poignant, as he usually does.

“People often ask me what keeps me up at night. The questions that I don’t know to ask keep me up.”

I sat with that one for a few minutes.

When I have legit alone time, I tend to read. I tend to want to learn about something that will make me better. My brain is alway in a hyper state of “on-ness” – I like seeing how the world is connected and dreaming up the next big idea. But what Neil Degrasse Tyson taught me is that you have to find new questions to answer.

If it’s already been written, someone’s already thought about it. Weak.

I started journaling because of his MasterClass. Journaling is observing without intent. The truest form of content creation. I don’t know what I’m going to find when I journal. But taking the time to observe what’s around me has led me to ask more questions.

Every year, around this time, I constantly find dead bees. Last year, I just thought “meh, must be bee funeral season. That kinda sucks”. This year, I journaled about it. Through journaling, I noticed that it was only one section of our yard. I started researching why/how bees die and it turns out, bees enjoy lime blossoms but those blossoms are toxic to bees. There are two lime trees in that area of our backyard.

I observed a nest that was built in one of our awnings, and realized that the male bird (I found out it was a house finch!), consistently fed his babies. Why the dad and not the mom? This was an interesting question that I’m digging in to.

Some of us think life has patterns, and some of us feel that life in random. As Neil (I’ve listened to all of his MasterClasses so I can just call him Neil now) taught me, life is pretty predictable and as humans we try to find patterns and correlations that may not be there. Life is merely statistics. Sure statistics create patterns, but “man, I’m lucky because I always find the last package of toilet paper” is not a statistical pattern.

At first blush, the fact life is very predictable takes a little of the beauty out of it. But it also underscores how we’re not special. Sorry, parents who have the most special kids in the universe.

The funny thing about observing is understanding when something stops behaving as expected…stops being predictable. The greatest discoveries are made, simply because someone was mindful enough to observe the mundane: planets discovered, the theory of evolution created, natural disasters predicted…

This has nothing to do with digital marketing, but I hope it has your brain ready to take on the possibilities of the universe.

Tying this up in a bow, what Neil Degrasse Tyson taught me is that being innovative, well-respected, and successful in your career, isn’t about answering questions, it’s about finding new questions because you took the time to observe without intent. What he also reinforced is that we’re all space dust and what’s special in that is that we’re so much more alike than different. We’re individually unique, but not individually special.

The house finch, the bees, us…we’re just trying to survive and live our best lives on the planet called Earth, while hurdling through the unknown expanse called space.


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