Maria Popova: What was important for me, as a younger person, was figuring out ways to beat the school system at its own game and do really well in exams. I basically studied the mechanics of how tests work. I did all the reading, but I did it for the sake of feeling like I was doing well, rather than learning. And then there was a turning point, I can’t remember exactly when it was. I stopped caring about grades and the external reinforcement. I became interested in learning. Maybe it was a form of rebelliousness, I don’t know. I became interested in learning about things that I was not being taught in school. I did a lot of my own alternative reading, outside of the curriculum. And this transition from worrying about external reinforcement to personal learning and curiosity is how Brain Pickings was born. It happened only years later, but that’s where it all came from.
Interviewer: Was there a specific moment, or person, or book that sparked this rebellious learning, your turning point?
Maria Popova: I don’t believe in that “Eureka!” myth. Everything meaningful is incremental.
It’s a false prophet, this notion of the turning point or epiphany. I think of it like the blossoming of a flower. We are always interested in the flower, but not the tedium of the blossoming. But that process from bud to blossom is when things really happen. It may be less compelling. So all this goes to say, I don’t have a single turning point. But there was a cumulative push.
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