Life in the Box: Interested?


How many things are you interested in? Can you count them?

This number—is it more than 10? Less than a thousand? Unlimited? And, of your top thousand interests, how strong is your interest?

I started asking myself these questions a while back, after interviewing a young man named Jamie Aaron Kelley, who had only 5 things that interested him. As he explained it, he was different from most people because he had so few interests, but the balancing factor was that he was extremely interested in all five topics.

One of his top interests was–drum-roll, please–Elvis Presley.  Learning about Elvis and memorizing all of his music became this high school boy’s life’s work. And, yes, Jamie, who began as an Elvis performer at the age of three, still performs music as an adult.

I admire that he was, and is, so clear about his likes and dislikes, and that he has been able to focus his talents towards his passion. But, before I talked with him, I’d never thought about how the number of things you’re interested in could affect your life so profoundly.

Lots of us have been told to “follow our passion.” We’ve heard, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” This would be easy if we all just had one or two passions. If you have many interests, it’s really hard to follow just one path.

Having always been interested in hundreds of things, I see myself as Jamie’s opposite. I’m interested in starting projects, learning a little bit, then dropping them to learn something new. Follow the shiny new ideas! For me, the bright flame of passion flares when an idea blinks into being, fits with some question or puzzle in my mind, then falls to earth like sparks after fireworks.

The little flits of attention from one project to the next don’t always seem to amount to much. I’m noticing this even more since my retirement. I’m not part of a limited structure such as a business with set goals and frameworks. There’s no “proof of performance.”

What I’ve found is that if I put those hundreds of interests into mega-categories, like “creating” or “writing,” I give myself at least a bit of direction. I seem to have a general “scribe” archetype going for me. I can observe that my pulse quickens when I hear a story that surprises me.

For instance, my nearly deaf next-door neighbor, whom I had assumed was deaf due to his age, just told me that he lost his hearing in the Air Force–where he worked as one of the earliest helicopter engineers. They didn’t wear ear-covering safety devices back in the 1950s. They spent their creative energies designing ways of outfitting helicopters to suite different purposes–from medical triage to bombing mid-air.

Maybe there’s a story there! I guess being interested in just about everything suited my career choice way back when; and it still suits me today because there are unlimited numbers of stories to share, and, luckily, I also have many options of how to share those stories outside of the television box.


Nancy Heather Brown is an Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she uses gems from this treasure trove of life stories to add sparkle to her reflections on the creative process both inside and outside the box. 

Jamie Aaron Kelley’s official web site