I’m the obsessive type. I’m ordered and process driven to a fault, but not quite (or at least, only rarely) to the point where this affects my ability to function. I’m continuously thinking about things like can I carry something else if I’m going in a certain direction— which is fine when heading out to run errands with the car, but which can stop me in my tracks, and cause me to turn in circles in place, before moving from room to room. I’m also obsessive about doing things. I’m the guy you want physically setting up your complex computer systems and networks—physically arranging everything. I’m the guy who got really into roller skating, bicycling, skiing, Aikido, scratch-building radio-controlled gliders, sailing… there’s a much longer list.
I learned one lesson on my own over the years and many obsessions: Do or do not. I am unable to “spend less time” on an obsession. I have to lean into it, or let go of it. Many of my obsessions paid off either as income or simply being useful to my personal growth. Being able to assess when continuing an obsession is not going to do either of those things for me is a hard-won skill.
But there are some heuristics you can use to guess whether an obsession might be one that matters. For example, it’s more promising if you’re creating something, rather than just consuming something someone else creates. It’s more promising if something you’re interested in is difficult, especially if it’s more difficult for other people than it is for you. And the obsessions of talented people are more likely to be promising. When talented people become interested in random things, they’re not truly random.
But you can never be sure. In fact, here’s an interesting idea that’s also rather alarming if it’s true: it may be that to do great work, you also have to waste a lot of time.
~ Paul Graham from, http://paulgraham.com/genius.html
Graham’s point about creation is a second lesson about obsession. I agree, and I think an obsession’s being about creation is critical. I stumbled really near this lesson a few months ago when I wrote Being Genuine for Open + Curious where I wrote…
A great conversation is one where we (and our partners) feel the joy of creation, even if that’s while discussing a contentious topic. We have little chance of being creative if we know, or think we know, where things are headed.
Creation is critical. I need to imagine the world differently, and then try to go and create that new world.