How To Be More Interesting

Not one to fit any conventional molds, Mark Zuckerberg caught the internet’s attention when, on September 2022, he dropped a video showcasing his mixed martial arts skills.  

Since 2009, Mark Zuckerberg has set a new year’s resolution that he reframed as “personal challenges” and has followed through with them every year until 2019 when he stopped publicly announcing them.

Thanks for reading Michael’s Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

His personal challenges ranged from mundane to imaginative and included:

2009: Wear a tie every day to work.

2010: Learn Mandarin. Zuckerberg studied Mandarin to communicate better with his wife’s family.

2011: Be vegetarian or eat meat only if he killed the animal himself.

2012: Code daily.

2013: Meet a non-Facebook person every day.

2014: Write a thank-you note daily.

2015: Read a book every two weeks. See his book recommendations here.

2016: Build an AI for his home and run 365 miles.

2017: Meet someone from every US state.

2018: Focus on fixing Facebook’s platform-abuse problems.

2019: Host public debates on the effects of tech on society.

Aside from being a Silicon Valley tech billionaire, Zuckerberg is objectively interesting. Setting personal challenges that are meant for us to grow in some way we are currently lacking leads to good outcomes, even if we miss our targets.

                                     Sir Richard Francis Burton

“Scheherazade had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.”

Richard Francis Burton, One Thousand and One Nights: Complete Arabian Nights Collection

A Victorian explorer, polyglot who spoke 29 languages (not a typo), soldier, swordsman, soldier, scholar, botanist, diplomat and author.

Notable achievements include:

1853 Documented his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in disguise as a wandering Dervish. Burton’s Arabic and knowledge of Islam and it’s customs allowed him to remain undetected, even as he entered inside the Kaaba at the center of the Meccan mosque.

1854 First European expedition to Harar Ethiopia.

Translated 1001 Arabian Nights and Kama Sutra from Sanskrit to English.

Languages spoken: 1. English 2. French 3. Occitan (Gascon/Béarnese dialect) 4. Italian Neapolitan Italian 5. Romani 6. Latin 7. Greek 8. Sairaki 9. Hindustani a. Urdu 10.Sindhi 11. Marathi 12. Arabic 13. Farsi 14. Pashto 15. Sanskrit 16. Portuguese
17. Spanish 18. German 19. Icelandic 20. Swahili 21. Amharic 22. Egba 23. Asante 24. Hebrew 25. Aramaic 26. Many other West African & Indian dialects.

The bibliography of Burton’s written works is both voluminous and varied in scope (ethnographies, bayonet and falconry manuals as well as poetry).

By no means near a complete list of Burton’s accomplishments, it is a notable highlight of some of his accomplishments. The tales involving Burton are larger than life and worth a further read.

A curious mind, a product of Victorian England and both an adventurous and enterprising spirit.

Some people live more than one life in a life span, Burton lived about ten.

“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

Healthy intellectual curiosity can take our lives in unimaginable directions. The Italian Renaissance, notable for outstanding craftmanship and polymaths, Da Vinci was the culmination of the High Renaissance in Florence. There were other impressive Renaissance artists around the same time period; Michelangelo Buonarotti and Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino come to mind but none possessed the intense curiosity comparable to Da Vinci. We know about Da Vinci’s overactive imagination through his notebooks featuring studies of optics, turbulence, mechanics, astronomy and bird flight.

Imagine Da Vinci dissecting and study cadavers to make his portraits and paintings more realistic. Studying bird flight to develop plans for a flying machine. The study of mechanics for building mechanical lions for a pageant for the Duke of Milan. Studying turbulence and anatomy for working out the flow of blood through the heart and painting realistic hair curls. Da Vinci was obsessed with knowing as much as was knowable during his time.

The paintings, drawings and sculptures Da Vinci produced were otherwordly masterpieces, but he is also known as well as he is for the contents of his notebooks. Da Vinci never attended formal schooling but let his intellectual curiosity guide his development.

Some people through fate and proxy to momentous events shape history and live fascinating lives but for regular folk, no intentional choices will place them near such circumstances.

We do have a choice, we can make our own lives more objectively interesting by avoiding imitative desires we learn from our peers. Curiosity and envy can look similar when viewed by another. Interest from others from conspicuous displays of wealth and status often arise from envy. By knowing ourselves and pursuing the interests that speak to us, we can live more fulfilling lives. What makes the above figures interesting is their intrinsic motivation. Sure recognition and accolades are nice, but even without external validation, these individuals were possessed by some kind of muse and embraced their originality.

We can go broad or deep with our interests. Effort and mastery are up to us.

Following your intellectual curiosity will lead to a rich life and will add depth and texture to your personality.