“Do Not Seek To Follow In The Footsteps Of The Wise, Seek What They Sought.”

This quote is from Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. I heard it quoted by John August during an episode of the Scriptnotes podcast, one of my weekly must-listens.

It’s rare that I stop a podcast, rewind it, and transcribe it word for word, but this was one of those times. I had to pull over as I was driving at the time, but I knew this quote was important.

For the last ten years or so, most of my adult life I guess, I’ve been obsessed with reading non-fiction books. I think it stems to a false belief that somewhere, in one of these books, if I just read enough to find the right one, is the answer to all of my questions, and all of my problems. It must be there! The promises on the back covers of these books claimed to have the answers that I was seeking, who was I to doubt these blurbs from other famous authors?

This bit of wisdom from 400+ years ago just threw that belief out the window. I knew it didn’t work that way, yet I still persisted in my fruitless search.

If you posed a question I could probably tell you exactly what Tim Ferriss or Gary Vaynerchuk or Seth Godin would say, with proper and inflection and everything. It’s rather pathetic the amount of time I’ve spent listening to and reading the words of these guys, with not much to show for it.

I’m inferring a bit but I believe that this quote is saying that each of our paths will be different, and following the path of another won’t work. The path to enlightenment or knowledge or understanding or answers is to seek what they have sought. What were these authors after? What is it that we should be seeking?

With this new direction in mind, there are some changes I’m making in my life that will allow me to seek my own path and find what it is I’m looking for. If you’re like me, subscribed to too many email newsletters, with a backlog of books to get through, might I suggest you do the same.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.