Making A Career Out Of Curiosity

South Africa: stamps and temporary residence p...
Image by Sem Paradeiro via Flickr

I recently met a photographer who spends more than 200 days (and nights) every year traveling the world. His latest trip had been to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana. We traded notes on our impressions, but also on the sheer joy of getting paid to roam the globe on someone else’s dime, using our skills wherever we end up, whether roaming the veldt or tundra.

“I’ve made a career out of being curious,” he said gratefully.

We had never met before, but because our careers are largely predicated on our ongoing willingness to jump into whatever subject our client wants, whether an Arctic village in December (for me, while at the Montreal Gazette) or a random writer (his work shooting me last week), we had an immediate understanding of, and appreciation for, what we do professionally.

Here’s a recent Times column about Philip Leakey:

Leakey and his workers devise and build their own lathes and saws, tough enough to carve into the hard acacia wood. They’re inventing their own dyes for the Leakey Collection’s Zulugrass jewelry, planning to use Marula trees to make body lotion, designing cement beehives to foil the honey badgers. They have also started a midwife training program and a women’s health initiative.

Philip guides you like an eager kid at his own personal science fair, pausing to scratch into the earth where Iron Age settlers once built a forge. He says that about one in seven of his experiments pans out, noting there is no such thing as a free education.

Some people center their lives around money or status or community or service to God, but this seems to be a learning-centered life, where little bits of practical knowledge are the daily currency, where the main vocation is to be preoccupied with some exciting little project or maybe a dozen.

Some people specialize, and certainly the modern economy encourages that. But there are still people, even if only out in the African wilderness, with a wandering curiosity, alighting on every interesting part of their environment.

The late Richard Holbrooke used to give the essential piece of advice for a question-driven life: Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.

I chose journalism for many reasons — perhaps the main one being the chance to get paid to learn and share what I find out.

My intense and unquenchable curiosity about the world remains undiminished, allowing me to explore subjects that intrigue me, tell others about them, and get paid for so doing. I know of no other work that would allow me, as journalism has, to sit and query everyone from a female Admiral to Olympic athletes to convicted felons, Prime Ministers and scientists, conducting interviews from Sicily to Salluit.

I still love that, so curiosity has also been the engine of my worklife.

What made you choose the work you do?

What aptitudes and qualities do you use in it…and are they what you wanted or hoped for?

7 thoughts on “Making A Career Out Of Curiosity

  1. Hmm. Since I haven’t reached a stage in life where I have a career yet, I know that in a perfect world, my career would involve writing and reading as much as possible. There are a few posts I can think of that involve this kind of work, but it’s not the easiest way to make a living.

    But that’s okay. You’re one of the examples for how it can be done :).

  2. Honestly, I work at a police department because I suited the security clearances they needed at the time I was looking for my first full time job (hello, previous internship at NATO!), but I manage to find the humor in it. I mostly enjoy it because it allows me to use the same skills that gave me my love of history and desire to write – I just love a good story!

  3. I will soon be leaving my position of ten years (in the education management sector) to embark on a 3-4 month ‘self-made sabbatical’ through Asia. As my husband and I tiptoe through Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, I hope that the curiosity I’ll be feeding will somehow lead me to the job I’m ‘meant’ to do. Even if I return to my old field after the trip is over, I hope I’ll feel satisfied knowing that I didn’t ignore the curious and creative part of me.

    1. Sounds wonderful! I like your self-description of nomad/nester.I think many people think you have to be only one or the other. I think you can be both, even alternating them.

      It will certainly awaken all sorts of new possibilities.

  4. “Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.”

    If there is anything that has gotten me as far as I’ve gotten, it’s most definitely my curiosity and a constant thirst for knowledge – to learn everyday, and not just know, but UNDERSTAND the whys, hows, and whos.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Pingback: On Knowledge « Tropewell

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