pursuit doesn't have to be productive


“What is creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”—Elizabeth Gilbert

Today's thought process: a friend of a friend mentions that she is going to Switzerland on Monday to house sit. They have a lovely little Airbnb in Interlaken and are going to have a wonderful little Swiss adventure.

Cue my intense excitement on her behalf, and a subtle rekindling of a long forgotten wish of my own.

Visions of the Alps and the best yogurt of my life dance through my head.

It's been over a decade since I last went to Switzerland. I have family there and dual citizenship with the country. It's been a vague desire of mine to spend extended time living there "at some point."

One of my biggest misgivings about eventually moving abroad is that I'd like to have a more solid grasp of high German before returning for a longer period of time.

I took two years of German language class in college, but on the first day of the last semester I was taking it, I sat next to a sharply dressed, beardy fellow and became more enamored with my study buddy than the language...

In any case, I found learning a language in a classroom to be completely ineffective (and this coming from someone who generally excels in traditional education). Not only was I especially...distracted that term, but the class lacked much needed immersion.

Any time I've thought about picking up German since then, the prospect has sounded particularly boring, regardless of all the beautiful Swiss countryside I might promise myself.

But then today, I hear one comment and a flip is switched.

The idea of living in Switzerland still feels far off, but somehow closer than before.

I want to start learning German now.

Why not begin today?

So it starts. All consuming excitement. Immediate action. No second guessing.

I downloaded the audiobook of Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, the German version of the first Harry Potter book.

I listened while cooking, while washing the dishes, while reading along in the accompanying ebook, and while walking the dog. For hours.

I couldn't stop listening. I was fueled by that crazed excitement of a new passion.

Then I watched the entirety of Muzzy in Gondoland in German, a children's language movie I used to watch as a kid.

I compiled playlists on YouTube of various German movies and shows I want to watch.

I am completely entranced by the language, with none of my previous boredom in sight.

From nothing...to full blown obsession.

Does this mean I'll buy a one way ticket to Zurich tomorrow? No, it might still be a really long time before that happens, if ever. Future curiosities might lead me in another direction entirely.

Of course, simply consuming entertainment in another language does not make you fluent by any stretch.

I'll eventually need to seek out other resources, to speak and converse and fumble my conjugations.

But all it takes is the choice to let your curiosity take the lead rather than any need to feel like you have to have an end or outcome in sight.

Pursuit does not always have to be for a reason.

You do not have to feel guilty for straying from that hard-ingrained Protestant work ethic.

Let yourself wander. Let this enthusiasm fuel you, and do not question whether it is worth your time.

The tinder has been lit. The idea sparked, and here you are with my tiny flame of interest, making the simple choice to follow the smoke (even if it disappears before your eyes).

I recently revisited the book, Big Magic, in which Elizabeth Gilbert describes a slight personal pull to start a garden: "The whim was small enough that I could have ignored it. It barely had a pulse. But I didn't ignore it. Instead, I followed that small clue of curiosity and I planted some things."

As Liz Gilbert's gardening experiment grew, so too did her thirst for plant-related knowledge...which unexpectedly ended up as the basis for her 500 page novel, The Signature of All Things.

If she had ignored the tiny whisper in her heart to sow some seeds, perhaps she would have stumbled on some other literary inspiration. But we can't know that.

What we can know is that the novel she now has in the world would not have been written. If not for this creative off-shoot, she could have missed out on the book some consider her magnum opus.

You simply cannot know where your curiosity will take you.

What if a tiny inkling of interest leads you to your next creative endeavor?

That would be wonderful, wouldn't it?

The more diverse and engaging activities we pursue, the more likely we are to ignite new ideas.

But even so. Let's say that, like me, you suddenly become smitten with learning a language.

Perhaps you dive down the rabbit hole of learning and excitement...but you don't make use of this new skill. You don't use it for a job. You don't go to another country.

You enjoyed while you learned but then you redirected your efforts elsewhere.

Should you not have followed your curiosity in the first place? Should you regret the time spent?

I should hardly think so.

What is so wrong about curiosity for curiosity's sake? What is so wrong about learning for fun?

I don't just mean doing something for the journey rather than the outcome. I'm sure all of us have been told that ad nauseum.

More so, what I mean is pursuing something without agenda simply because it makes you happy.


Maybe what you do now is useful later, but let it be okay if it is not.

Maybe today's gardening doesn't turn into tomorrow's novel.

Maybe hours of Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen doesn't result in years abroad living out whatever romantic notion of rolling green hills, superb chocolate and wheels of Gruyère.

So what?

You don't have to make monetize every opportunity.

You don't have to build an empire out of your hobbies.

There doesn't have to be a tidy moral of the story that you can place in a neat box and tie a satin bow on top.

Simply doing something you like can be enough of a reason to do it.

And it just may lead you to your "next big thing."

But even if it doesn't? At least you'll know you had a damn good time doing it.

Let pleasure be a good enough reason for pursuit.

Do it with love and for the hell of it.


Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.

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