Self Knowledge

An old friend of mine, who knows me quite well from my high school days onward, commented once that I like knowing things before I do them. I seemed to complain a lot about issues related to knowledge, and he was just pointing that out.

I got to thinking about this. Was this prerequisite I had of knowing before doing a weakness? Did it prevent me from taking on big projects with big rewards? Did it prevent me from moving quickly when quickness was called for? Yes and yes. Because I’m sensitive to the desires of others when I’m working for them, this tension between desiring knowledge before acting and the wishes for rapid progress can create a lot of stress. And, as I’m an impatient person to begin with, I can identify with the desire to move quickly and surely without a lot of farting around with books.

Recently, I’ve been taking on more project work of an explorative nature, with no clear answers up front or even a notion of how I’ll solve them. In the past, I have turned this type of work done, but in 2011 I’ve come to see that the situation where the unknowable looms in the future can be solved systematically under the right circumstances. Shifting my work model from “results delivered” to “results deliberated then delivered” was an important mental change; in short, I recognized that the time I spend solving problems on behalf of others is worth something, even when the client ultimately cares just about the result delivered.

That set the stage for the epiphany of this past week: process aside, what I really like is knowing things. I like knowledge, and I spend all of my time in the acquisition, grading, and organization of it. I like applying it to puzzling situations, and I like sharing what I’ve learned with others. This is just the way I’m wired: I’m excited about knowledge itself, and I don’t like being tied to any one problem domain. The problem, however, is that the kind of work I have traditionally been paid for is related to the particular knowledge I have applied within a particular area, interactive and graphic design being the primary fields. I’m also recognized by people I’ve worked with of being a reliable source of clarifying introspection and analysis, and this has increasingly come to the forefront.

How does recognizing that knowing things is exciting change the composition of my self-awareness and publicly-presented identity? First, I know that I don’t want to be a stuffy academic, or a pompous expert, or a pusher of my own dogma. In other words, it’s not the POSSESSION of knowledge that I draw my identity from. I think it’s more the pursuit of living knowledge–that is, knowledge that applies to the lives of people–that really interests me. Again, it’s that personal connection that matters.

This is a core insight, acknowledging my passion (?) for knowledge and its living applications. I can add it to the list of things that secretly please me: subjects that, for whatever reason, need no justification to me because it’s just what I like. The list as it currently stands is:

  • Cats! I just likes ’em and are mesmerized by them.
  • Kids figuring out how to beat The Man and discover their own powers
  • People overcoming self-imposed barriers and external challenges, particularly when it involves a burst of self-empowering realization or overcoming oppressive jerks.
  • And now: the pursuit and assessment of knowledge of all kinds, for its own sake, just because it might be useful.

I could say that knowledge fits into this list because it fits in with the kids and people I’m describing, but that would be to miss my own point. I like knowledge for its own sake. I like kids beating the man and people overcoming jerks because I find such stories uplifting. I don’t like them because I feel beholden to the people I’m describing, or feel any particular need to serve them. That’s not to say I don’t want to help people, of course. All I’m saying is that what speaks secretly and intimately to my deepest self, in ways that are probably not experienced by most people, are on a short list. Another way of putting it is that the things on this list have a tendency to fully capture my attention and pull me into the moment.

Another way of thinking of this knowledge thing is that I have collector tendencies, as far as knowledge goes. The business model for that is to become a purveyor of knowledge collection tools. Knowledge is a fascinating beast, coming in all kinds of forms and applications. It’s like magic. If I could be the knowledge-equivalent of a magician who is fascinated by all forms of magic, that would be it.

So, I’m updating the blog title and doing some rewriting of the description. This feels like a refinement of my identity online, which is exciting.