The Good Sh!t Sticks

Chris Williamson, the host of the podcast Modern Wisdom and somebody I look up to, recently released a Q&A episode where somebody asks if he remembers everything he learns from the show.

Williamson hosts a wide range of guests: modern dating experts and Arctic-braving voyagers, DNA scientists and Navy Seal commanders.

No, he said. There’s no way to remember everything.

But the good shit sticks.

I think about how this applies to the pursuit of knowledge in my own life.

As kids in school, we’re told that the more facts we answer correctly, the more we know.

Our value is based on how many answers we can cram in our brains, and if you’re like me, that meant in the single marathon of studying the night or two prior to the test.

But the point of knowledge isn’t to remember facts — that’s not what life is. Life isn’t constructed with facts, but meaning.

It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I started reading to quench my curiosity.

Coincidentally, that’s also when I became obsessed with learning.

I was no longer studying to pass a test, but to understand myself and the world around me.

My favorite non-fiction books are about people, history, adventures, travel — stories I can learn from.

One of my favorites is the stellar biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I’ve read the book on three occasions, yet it’s still difficult to remember much of the information.

However, what’s captivating has stayed with me. Not the facts, but the lessons.

If I could distill the biography of Leonardo da Vinci down to a simple statement, it would be:

Retain a fastidious curiosity, and let that curiosity carry you through life.

I remember the stories of Da Vinci sketching a woodpecker’s tongue or the faces of Florentine strangers in conversation, just to understand how the body works.

This has given me a profound admiration for Leonardo and his undiminishing childlike wonder.

While reading Da Vinci’s biography, I wrote articles about his life and looked at the world through a more colorful lens.

Although I now forget most of the facts, the book changed who I was as I read it. Who I was becoming then has made me the person who I am today.

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten,” said the transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Even so, they have made me.”

I love this quote, because it’s Emerson deliberately saying that remembering what we read isn’t the point.

Just like Leonardo da Vinci physically studied the natural world so he could understand it and incorporate what he learned into his art, we should pursue what genuinely grips our heart and soul.

In that pursuit, we’ll change.

What we’re interested in might not matter to anybody else but us — but we’re no longer here to pass a test.

We’re here to discover who we are.

Pursue what’s genuinely interesting to you.

Let go of the pressure to remember, even of the pressure to understand.

Keep an open mind on the journey, and the good shit, the important, life-changing shit, will stick if it’s meant to.

Plus, it’s a freeing way to think.

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