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On Curiosity

Posted on:July 17, 2022 at 10:25 AM (4 min read)

Tweet by Swapnil Agarwal

This is a self-reflection post on diving deep into what makes me tick.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” - Albert Einstein

I feel this quote. Strongly. (I had planned to start with another quote in the outline but now I’ll end with that instead.) Going a level deeper than most has expanded my worldview a lot.

When I was in my first year of college, I did 10+ online courses (MOOCs) covering almost all the major domains of my branch and it was one of the most exciting times of my life. I also did a lot of competitive programming. It improved my problem-solving but the dopamine hit you get after solving a complex problem is addictive. I remember I took over a week to solve one problem and I felt on top of the world after solving it (that green tick!).

I can see this pattern in school life as well. I was very excited when I learnt about mathematical equations before it was officially taught to us. I also used to carry a pocket diary and pen to note down anything I heard and didn’t know about to look it up later. Equations of motion explained a lot of things like why should you keep a distance from the vehicle ahead of you. The concept of periodic table was amazing. I was in love with RMO questions. Irodov was always challenging. But now my brain is wired like that, to solve problems. Trivialities don’t excite me anymore.

I didn’t like my corporate job because there were limited things I could do at my level - projects (and sometimes even solutions) came top-down. My manager used to call me a hacker as I was always trying to build proof-of-concepts, solving the next big problem. The core was me looking for the next challenge. And starting up from scratch was the biggest challenge of it all.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered impact. I saw my code save money. I saw the lives of users impacted. I talked to people and heard their problems. This was a game-changer. I didn’t know I could like something as much as my drive for curiosity. I doubled down on it. Having two things I like gave me optionality to design my life intentionally. I was previously dependent on work to fulfill my curiosity needs. Now I’ve decoupled them. Impact keeps me going at work. And I’m channeling curiosity through other outlets to satisfy my hunger and putting me through challenges. Like I read a lot of books now. I’ve also done 10+ CBCs in the last 3 years. Is it an addiction? I don’t think so. Is this a guilty pleasure? Big yes. This is more fun because unlike school, there’s no exam at the end. It’s purely for the sake of learning. If I don’t like something, I can just put it down. It’s like going out of comfort zone in a fun way.

As of today, I identify as a life-long learner. It gives me a high. I believe this is my time of peak curiosity so I want to do more of it while it lasts. You never know when the charm’s lifted. I’m working on taking it slower though. I don’t want to overdo it and kill my golden goose.

The best thing about it is that it compounds. It expands your worldview. I like knowing what makes the world run, and especially what makes other people tick. It’s like reading someone else’s source code. Someone else cannot get there in a day. You have to invest time and attention, making it a level-playing field. Over time, it becomes a moat. This gives me more incentive to sustain it.

At the end, I’ll leave you with the quote I intended to start this article with: 

“Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.” Bryant H. McGill

I recently stumbled upon an interesting article on Twitter saying that gratitude and love of learning correlate with higher well-being. Well, I’m grateful to be curious.

What are you most curious about?