About Tom McDermott

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” ~ Samuel Johnson

What Have I Learned & What Can I Teach You?

I’m a teacher first and foremost – through and through; it’s who I am and what I do best as a result.

However, I’ve never taught in our education system. I spent most of my career teaching in the technology industry, and have been teaching about curiosity and purpose for the last 10 years.

I didn’t realize it until much later in life, but I’ve been teaching since I was a kid; it’s why many of my friends said “Tom, you’d be a great teacher.” – I just didn’t see what they saw in me. It’s what I’ve always, naturally done best. Regardless of the job/position/organization I have been a part of – it’s what my colleagues and customers most appreciated most about me, and it’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.

Whether it’s over coffee with a friend, dinner with my children or a loved one, working with a single student or a classroom full of students, or speaking to a larger audience, I’ll be helping people ask better questions in order to find the answers they’re looking for. That’s why I’m here.

However, what I also discovered about myself many years ago is, that while I had been very successful teaching, I wasn’t teaching what I personally cared most about. I certainly cared that I was helping people – I’ve always loved helping people in any way I can, but I finally came to the realization that I personally cared very little about the subject I was teaching – I just cared that I was helping them, and that gave me some satisfaction. But that wasn’t enough. Something was still missing.

Then I discovered that was also true for the vast majority of teachers; while they loved helping their students, most teachers weren’t teaching what they cared most about – what they most loved learning about themselves.

This was a revelation for me, and I wondered how this could happen to so many of us; especially teachers! You would think that all teachers were teaching what they most loved to learn about. But that’s not the case.

As I began to dig deeper, I also found that to be true of project managers, marketers, writers, software developers, customer support representatives, salespeople, leaders and even entrepreneurs; while successful by all traditional standards, the vast majority of society was not working on what they cared most about and what they personally, most loved learning and talking about.

That doesn’t mean that most people don’t enjoy their job or the people they worked with, but it does mean that the vast majority of the population would rather be doing something else, “if they could.” All you have to do is ask them.

I found this shocking, but incredibly interesting… So I kept wondering and digging for answers to my own questions.

Naturally, my next question was; if money wasn’t an issue what would I be teaching? If I could teach anything I wanted, anywhere in the world, and my family responsibilities didn’t prevent me from doing anything I wanted to do, what would I most want to teach? What would I most love to teach? What would I love to teach for the rest of my life?

It didn’t come to me wright away though. People weren’t really talking about passion yet, so I didn’t think about it that way – I first thought about the books on my shelves and the kinds of things I gravitated towards my whole life.

  • What do I most enjoy learning about?
  • What have I always enjoyed learning about?
  • What kinds of books and magazines did I always spend my own time and money on?
  • What will I always want to learn more about?
  • What kinds of things do I most enjoy talking to people about?
  • What am I most intrigued by when people share their stories, insights and ideas with me?
  • What do I tend to most focus on?
  • What am I most intrigued by and curious about?
  • Where does my mind go?
  • Where does my mind want to go?
  • Where does it like to go?
  • Where does it most often go?
  • What do I most often daydream about?  Not worry about, but wonder about?
  • What kinds of things have I always wondered most about…?
  • What questions have I never found answer to, that I’m still very curious about?

Then I realized, that while I had been teaching about technology for most of my career, I didn’t spend much of my own time learning about it. Of course I was initially intrigued by computers when I first got started, and I learned quite a bit over the years; otherwise I wouldn’t have been successful teaching for all of those years. However, I finally realized that I mostly learned what I “needed to” for my job/career to “be successful,” and not what I most wanted to learn. Evident by the fact that only about 1% of my bookshelves were filled with books on technology.

That was an enormous epiphany!

Here I was, flying around the world, teaching internet security to colleges and universities, Fortune 500 companies, along with governments and military services around the world. Yet, I spent most of my time learning about something completely different – I was learning far more about what I was personally and profoundly curious about. And, since I had to travel extensively for work, I spent the vast majority of my time on planes, and in coffees shops and hotels, reading what I personally wanted to learn about, and it was very rarely technology related.

Then I had another epiphany; my company was not benefiting from my sense of wonder! Which means, they’re also not benefiting from my creativity or imagination, and neither was I!! At least not professionally.

Wow!

The vast majority of my bookshelves were filled with books on psychology and human behavior, career guidance and finding your life’s work, along with books on humanity and improving the human condition, from the great philosophers of the world.

That’s where my mind wanted to go – that’s what I most wondered about.

I also realized that these were the newspaper and magazine articles I was most drawn to.

But I also realized that I didn’t enjoy learning about psychology and human behavior generally, nor did I ever want to become a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Nor was I curious about things like childhood development, addiction or anything like that; I was far more intrigued and curious about “how and why we make the choices we make in life?” and “how are beliefs drive our choices; individually and collectively.”

That was also true about the books and articles I read about career guidance and finding your life’s work; although I was searching for those answers for myself, I was more intrigued by and curious about “how others make those choices” – how do people figure out their career and life’s work? What are the different beliefs about a job, versus a career, a passion, a purpose and life’s work? Why do we believe what we believe? And who’s to say that these are “the right” choices? Especially since so many people seemed to be in the wrong role/job/career…

I found myself searching for more answers to questions like:

  • What are our schools teaching us about life and what we should do with our own?
  • What are the foundational beliefs behind our school system and how is that driving what we’re taught inside and outside of the classroom?
  • Are they serving their own interests and are those in direct conflict to the best interest of each child?
  • Has the primary purpose/focus of our education system changed?
  • What is the primary purpose/focus of our education system?
  • Is telling children to “get a good education so they can get a good job” the high bar we really want to set?
  • Should all of k-12 be focused on “giving children the skills they need for the jobs that are out there?”
  • Is that really what’s best for our children and us collectively?
  • Wouldn’t it be better if we spent more time helping children discover where and how they can do their best work?
  • Wouldn’t it be better if we spent more time helping children discover where they can make their greatest impact?
  • Wouldn’t it be better if we spent more time helping children discover where they’re needed most in the world?
  • What is the short and long term impact for each child if we don’t?
  • What is the short and long term impact to society as a whole if we don’t?
  • How happy are we as a society with the choices we’ve made and the lives we live?
  • Although we’re clearly making advances in science and technology, what percentage of these advancements are truly improving the human condition and our experience while we’re here?
  • Are we learning from the past, while discovering new and better answers to our questions and challenges so that we improve the human condition and experience; for ourselves, for us collectively and for generations to come?
  • Are each and every one of us contributing and helping advance humanity, or is the vast majority of population simply working for a paycheck to put a roof over their heads and to feed their children?
  • Is this all we want for ourselves and each other?

These are the kinds of questions I was always asking myself…

I was also very intrigued by and curious about the theories the authors had on these various subjects, and I often found myself challenging their methods, theories and beliefs in my own head. But I also found myself talking more about it openly and wanting to more and more.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like most of the answers I was finding… But I was certainly learning a great deal!

So I continued to wonder if there were better answers out there…

It certainly didn’t seem like it, since the vast majority of society was doing something other than what they’d love to be doing… So I kept searching for answers.

Then one of my favorite quotes from Einstein popped into my head, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curios.” Yes he was!

However, while he was obviously an incredibly curious soul, he wasn’t passionately curious about everything. He was clearly most curious about how the universe worked. More specifically, he seemed to be most passionately curious about the relationship between space and time. And this his where his discoveries came from.

That’s when it hit me – that’s what all the Greats did! While they certainly loved what they did, that’s not “why” they did what they did; they were first and foremost, profoundly and passionately curious about what they did!

Samuel Johnson was absolutely right; curiosity is in great and generous minds – it is their first passion and their last!

All the Greats spent their lives chasing down the answers to their own most burning questions. They would go to the ends of the earth, and to the ends of the universe for some, to find the answers to their questions!

René Descartes said “So blind is the curiosity by which mortals are possessed, that they often conduct their minds along unexplored routes, having no reason to hope for success, but merely being willing to risk the experiment of finding whether the truth they seek lies there.”

This is what all great thinkers do. Actually, spend a great deal of their time daydreaming and wondering!

What I didn’t realize until then was that I was searching for answers to my own most profound questions. Questions that I had since childhood, that were mostly buried in my subconscious mind.

I grew up in a big family that I got lost in, and I often wondered at a young age what my value was, even to my own family… I was a runt in the middle of the family and I never felt like I got much attention compared to my other siblings. So often wondered if I had any value to my own family? And if not, then do I have any value to the world?

I wasn’t using words like “purpose” back then, but I wondered…

  • Do I have a unique value to the world?
  • Do I have something to give that nobody else does?
  • If so, what is it?
  • Why is every human being born different?
  • What is our diversity truly all about?
  • Are we all unique for a reason other than nature/biology..? i.e. Is there a more profound reason for our uniqueness?

These were the kinds of things I wondered about as a child. This is where my childlike sense of wonder loved to play! But, since none of my family or friends seemed to be curious about these things, I kept my questions to myself.

Then I had another epiphany – I lost my childlike sense of wonder as a young child!

I realized that “school” had actually discouraged me from learning what I was most curious about. They never actually said “don’t wonder about those kinds of things Tommy,” but it was inferred by other things they said and did.

When our teachers, parents and society tells us to “get a good educations so we can get a good job,” they’re telling every child that they should most wonder about, care and want to learn about the subjects that they believe are most important. And, what we most wonder about and want to learn about is not nearly as important.

Consequently, I stopped caring about these questions and I stopped wondering. Consciously anyway.

Then I had another epiphany. The reason I didn’t like school, wasn’t because I didn’t like to learn – I desperately wanted to learn; I just wasn’t interested in what they wanted to teach me! I don’t know why I wasn’t curious about math, history or science… I just wasn’t.

But I was an incredibly curious child! Every child is! And every child wants to learn! They just don’t all want to learn the same things.

Then I had another epiphany; not only is this why I “got lost” in school – why I stopped caring about school, but this is probably why most children loose their sense of wonder!

Some believe that we likely loose our sense of wonder in school because we’re focused on consuming the content that they shovel our way, and that the focus on answers and critical, competitive learning environments have a dampening effect on curiosity.

While that may also be true, what I’ve found is that we’re all naturally curious about different things. And I believe that’s how it should be!

The world needs us to be curious about very different things and all kinds of things! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have diverse music, art, literature, architecture, fashion, interior and exterior design, engineering, transportation or technology – we wouldn’t have diversity of thought!

We have to stop telling children to be curious about what we believe is most important, and help them discover and cultivate their own personal curiosity and sense of wonder.

As an example, while I do believe programs like STEM are useful, and there are thankfully plenty of children who are incredibly curious about one or more of those subjects, not every child is, and we have to stop pushing them to be!

Of course we can and should “encourage” children to explore a variety of subjects, but we can’t and shouldn’t push them to learn what we believe is most important.

This is how and why so many of us loose our childlike sense of wonder! And it starts in our first year of school when we tell children to stop daydreaming!

I understand that we want and need children to focus, but how bout first asking them what they’re daydreaming about? How bout first asking them what they’re wondering about? By telling them to stop daydreaming, we’re telling them that what they wonder about – what they care about doesn’t matter. And this is when we begin to lose so many children.

Then we begin to put pressure on children to enjoy and focus on the subjects we want them to learn – things that other people think and believe re most important – things that simply don’t intrigue many children. More pressure is added when we tell them that they need to get good grades, otherwise they won’t “get a good job” and they won’t “succeed.”

That when our beautiful, childlike sense of wonder begins to turn into worry!

As each year goes by, more and more pressure from parents and teachers, makes many children worry more and more. They also worry about fitting in, being too fat or too skinny, too short or too tall, too smart or too dumb. Then they worry about having boy friends and girl friends while still trying to fit in. Then they begin to worry about challenges at home just as much as in the classroom, the lunchroom or on the playground, their academic, drama or sports club. Then they worry about getting a job, and whether or not they should go to college or whether they can afford to.

Then they get into the workforce and they worry about the paycheck and putting a roof over their own head, their relationships and their family, love and loss.

Sadly, the vast majority of society spends far more time worrying about life than wondering about life, and it’s because most have lost their childlike sense of wonder!

We have to realize that curiosity is “the desire to learn” – a yearning, longing, craving and eagerness to learn! We’re all born with it, but our education system and culture nearly wipes it out!

Einstein said “it’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” and he’s right! But it does survive, and it is still inside each and every one of us, we just have to discover it and ignite it!

We need to help every child and person discover what they most want to learn – what they most desire to learn – what they would love to spend their lifetime learning about.

This is the best way to truly create lifelong learners!

As a result, we’ll have far more contributions to humanity! We’ll have more kinds of music, art and literature, more advancements in medicine, formal and empirical sciences, architecture and engineering, transportation and travel. But this will also help us find new answers and solutions to all kinds of things – we’ll have far more new discoveries and solve far more problems than we’re currently solving!

Then I had another epiphany; maybe this is the underlying root cause to the engagement problem in the workforce!

Most of us lost our childlike sense of wonder. As a result, the vast majority of the worldwide workforce, 87% according to Gallup, is not naturally intrigued by and in awe of the work they do.

Wow! How sad and unfortunate is that!?!? Both for us individually and collectively!

Then I had another epiphany; this is the underlying root cause as to why we’re not solving as many problems in the world as we should be!

We’re not solving the education problem, or poverty, famine and disease, problems in our communities, cities, state and national governments, in and among nations, and even armed conflicts in the world – because the vast majority of society is not tapping into their natural curiosity and sense of wonder to solve the problems they would most love to solve!

That’s a problem!

Then I remembered one of my favorite quotes from Aristotle;

“Where your talent and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation.”

Holy cow – another epiphany! I finally realized what I would love to teach for the rest of my life! I finally realized what the world needed most from me… I finally realized what made me unique. I finally realized what my purpose is!

Yes I need to teach, but more specifically, I need to share my epiphanies and discoveries with the world, about the power and elegant nature of our own curiosity and sense of wonder! And that’s what Ill be teaching for the rest of my life.

Please let me know if I can help you find better answers to your questions.

Sincerely,

MySignature

 

 

 

Here’s the rough cut video version, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.