Ebbs and flows of enthusiasm

Soon after a new interest is pursued, interest quickly wanes

Something I’ve realized over the course of my long and wise 18 years in this world is that when I begin something that I’m really interested in, I pursue it overzealously. At first, I pour hours upon hours into it. It’s all I talk about, it’s all that’s really on my mind. Nothing can go wrong when I’m working on this thing. I think that I can solve all problems relating to it immediately and that I’ll become deft at it in no time. Call me crazy, but I feel like other people have experienced this feeling before.

I picked up a hacky sack in high school once and I thought I was going to be a champ at the sack. I would hang with friends and kick it around. However, after a mere three months, I stopped doing it. Not that I had faced any issues with it; I just lost interest. It didn’t appeal to me anymore. Though this may seem like a real problem—that I can’t commit to something when I want to, or that I’m too spontaneous— there’s a lesson to be learned here.

There’s a concept in Zen Buddhism called “shoshin,” meaning “beginner’s mind.” It’s this attitude that I’ve just described—an open and eager approach to a subject. This feeling is common when starting something new, hence “beginner’s mind”; exactly what I had when I picked up that hacky sack. But, it went away. Why? Because there’s something internal inside us that shuts off that flow of enthusiasm. I like to call it my inner Teddy Roosevelt because he does what he wants and knows what he wants. I don’t really know what I really like or want to do, but Teddy will let me know what’s good.

Whenever I try to do something random that I think I might like, he’ll give it a little “shoshin.” I’ll try it out for a short period of time. If he doesn’t like it, then he’ll revoke it, and poof! I don’t want to do it anymore. But when I find something that he approves of, then I’ll have this “beginner’s mind” for a long time. I believe that this is what develops us as people; yes, we need this attitude to expand our horizons, but we also need it to sharpen skills that define who we are. Because of these little Teddys running around in our heads, we all become more skilled at say, a musical instrument, or coding, since we have the enthusiasm to keep us going. Believe it or not, this attitude is what powers the greatest minds in the world. How do they accomplish so much? Because they cultivate their interests with as much zeal as they started with. “With beginner’s mind, there is boundlessness, limitless, an infinite wealth,” as Saadat A. Khan said.

So maybe I won’t become that hacky sack master that I first wanted to be. Or that first heat runner in the 400m. But I guess that’s a good thing, so that I can focus my “beginner’s mind” on what I like to do.