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What Creates Passion and Passionate People, and What Defeats it In Us? Interview with Gregg Levoy

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Rob: Now, this little conversation here reminded me of another idea that you brought up that I think about too and it's just the idea of beginner's mind. There are occasionally times when I'll tell somebody who is about to see a movie that I love or something like that, I envy your beginner's mind on this. So can you talk a little bit about beginner's mind and where that fits into this?

GL: Oh, I think it fits in eminently because it's the ability and the willingness, as an adult it would be the willingness, as in will; you have to will it to happen. To look at life through the eyes of children. See when we were toddlers, when we were young, the whole world is new we're all aliens. I mean children are essentially aliens in this world so everything is new to them and that's why they ask, according to Newsweek Magazine, up to a hundred questions a day. Now that would drive most parents and teachers out of their minds and unfortunately for the children, kids get that message and they stop asking questions. And they become ashamed of not knowing. This is I think one of the reasons why high schoolers are often mortified to not know something. You know, and I was at a Super Bowl party last year and I'm not a sports fan, I mean I'm a sports enthusiast in the sense that I'm a skier like you are. But I don't go to events, I don't follow football teams for instance, and throughout the entire game I'm asking one beginner's mind question after another: how come some fumbles are jumped on and some of them are avoided? How come - are they allowed to grab onto each other's hair and clothing during a game to make a tackle? How come everybody boos when somebody dances around in the end zone after a touchdown? You know, it's stuff that to me seemed like natural questions and fortunately there were one of two of the guys in the room who were willing to answer these questions for me because some people love being the knower and sharing information. One friend came up to me afterwards and said she was embarrassed for me, asking such clearly amateurish questions in front of a bunch of football freaks, and it never entered my mind to be ashamed to not know something. I mean most people don't know most things about most things. You know? But the willingness to continue cultivating beginner's mind keeps the world alive. It keeps things fresh, it keeps discovery happening on a regular basis.

Rob: You know it took me almost, maybe until after I finished college, to realize that it's great to ask questions and I think a lot of my younger time I was embarrassed to ask questions because everybody else must know and - maybe it was after I started doing public speaking that I realized that there are questions that if - I think I'm a reasonably intelligent guy -

GL: Yeah.

Rob: - and I figure if I've got the question then there are probably other people thinking it too and whether or not they do, I - it's okay to ask questions and it's okay not to know things.

GL: Exactly. I mean not knowing is the beginning of discovery and discovery to me is - half the enjoyment of life is peering under rocks and going to other countries and looking at other cultures and looking through observatory telescopes and scuba diving. So I see a world every bit as rich and diverse as what's going on up here in the terrestrial realm is under the ocean and I mean just discovery is half of the reason I feel passionate about life.

Rob: I think there's a quote, and I'm not sure I'm sure I'm getting it right, it's by a Chinese philosopher Mencius, and he said wisdom is having a child's heart.

GL: Absolutely, and this is why you know, educators refer to being a lifelong learner; that's when we stop learning we stop growing and I think there's a lot to that. There's a lot to that, it's the willingness to keep growing and learning, and especially if you find yourself in one of those situations where you're top down function has overcome your bottom up and you're stuck in a job you hate because of the paycheck, because of the security, because of the fear factor and you're letting yourself over ripen and rot on the vine. If you're not willing to push past that and create some new growth in some arena or leave the situation entirely, you're going to over ripen and rot on the vine.

Rob: Well let's talk about that because you write about it in the book. You write about how you had a job for ten years as a reporter in Cincinnati.

GL: Right.

Rob: And you started thinking about how you were dying there.

GL: Yeah.

Rob: And you decided you wanted to leave, but you didn't just leave, you had a plan and I love the way you describe in the book the way you approached this change.

GL: Yeah, well I eventually had a plan; my only plan for half a decade was to avoid the call. And I think that's - I mean you're a student o Joseph Campbell's, you know that after the call to adventure comes the refusal of the call. That's phase one -

Rob: Oh, oh, oh, I got to throw this at you.

GL: Go for it.

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