J.R.R. Tolkien and Lifelong Pursuits

I was in New York this week for client meetings and media interviews.  Found some time to swing by the Morgan Library and Museum to explore a visiting exhibit focused on J.R.R. Tolkien.  Talk about a lesson in the value of spending a lifetime in the pursuit of creating something special!

Tolkien’s goal was to create a mythology for England; an epic story line of heroes and events to rival the great legends of Norse mythology.  He started thinking about this project as a schoolboy, as evidenced by the exam booklets on display where he had scribbled drawings of maps, characters, and settings for his stories.

What’s truly amazing is that he basically spent his entire life creating this alternate world.  For over seventy years, he imagined and considered and debated and created.  And in the end, he inspired countless others to imagine and create.

Here are some of the things that I learned (or was reminded of) while touring this exhibit:

  • Tolkien was fascinated by languages, especially Finnish.  He created an Elvish language among many others, in both spoken and written forms.  He literally designed new scripts and would write out letters and stories entirely in these new languages.

  • He drew original illustrations for his books, including the cover artwork.  He thought deeply about the landscapes which were inspired by the English countryside.

  • Maps were a key part of his process.  Tolkien sketched out maps of all of Middle Earth, and this exhibit included one weathered and frayed drawing that he apparently carried in his pocket for decades.  When he was writing certain parts of the stories, he would draw specific maps to help him visualize the action sequences.

  • He first came up with the basis for Middle Earth as a young boy, and in his later years he was still creating and improving on the world he had designed.

That last point really stuck with me as I reviewed all of the materials in this amazing exhibit.  He literally devoted his entire life to this pursuit.

This idea of lifelong learning and development is one of the things that attracted me to the financial industry in the first place.  Coming out of my undergraduate studies in music and psychology, I was very happy with the idea of learning a great deal about a discipline of which I knew very little.

Not all those who wander are lost...
— J.R.R. Tolkien

When I first arrived in New York, I was encouraged to meet a number of other industry novices, all eager to learn as much as they could.  I was ever more encouraged as I started to meet investors that had been in the industry for decades and were still learning.

I remember attending my first industry conference in the early 2000’s where I saw seasoned market participants raising their hands and asking questions of the presenters.  This was an industry in which I could always be learning, always be growing.  I had discovered a lifelong pursuit, and I was hooked.

In the words of one of my early mentors, I strive to “always be a student of the markets.”

As I walked around the Tolkien exhibit this week, I realized that he had created an absolutely overwhelming amount of content.  But he was able to do so only after he had learned a great deal.

He created entirely new languages and writing systems, but only after he had learned and studied the intricacies of the Finnish language.

He was able to develop an entire mythology for the Britons, but only after he had explored other mythologies of past civilizations.

He learned, then he created.

Learn.  Create.  Repeat.

Wise words for authors, musicians, artists… and even investors.


PS- if you’re looking for some places to learn, try my previous posts on books you should be reading, as well as my YouTube channel relating behavioral psychology to investing!

Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. Please see the Disclaimer page for full details.