Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it will save you.
Curiosity is one of the most important doorways to feeling joy and aliveness. It is a state of mind, an ability to look at the world with fresh inquiring eyes. The thrill of not yet knowing, of discovery and wonder.
As kids, it is second nature. We have all seen the look of joyful wonder on the faces of children, even in response to things that may strike us as mundane.
As we acquire knowledge and experience, we travel down the path of curiosity less often. As we grow older, our egos discourage us from asking “stupid” questions. Curiosity for curiosity’s sake is not viewed as productive and eventually the path overgrows, a faint forgotten imprint.
When was the last time you skipped down curiosity’s meandering path, eyes wide open with wonder?
People often seek coaching because they would like to regain their zest for life, lost somewhere on the way towards security and comfort. Success within a field, or mastery of a role, can exacerbate the feeling that each day becomes an endless repetition. Slowly the world starts becoming smaller, less colorful, less interesting.
I have always considered myself to be a curious person. But I too came face-to-face with the deadening effect of curiosity gone. I was in my mid-thirties, managing two successful mutual funds, with $7 billion under management.
I had enjoyed the effort of bringing the two funds into the world. Every day brought new challenges and there was much to learn. However, those days were now behind me. I had become an expert in my field and much of my day felt like it was on autopilot.
My dwindling curiosity was the canary in the coal mine. I heeded its stark warning, decided to get back above ground, into fresh air and the light of the sun. I left my career without knowing what was next. I decided to get curious about who I really was, without my career or title.
At first my inquiry went nowhere. Fundamental questions like “what do I want”, were met with silence. How could I not know what I truly wanted or made me happy? It was scary and disorienting, like watching the needle on a compass spinning without its true north.
Only later, with the benefit of hindsight, do I realize I was approaching these questions of meaning, not with curiosity, but with the mindset of a problem-solver. And why wouldn’t I? That was the skillset I had been honing and been rewarded for, first in school and later in my career.
While curiosity and problem solving may both pose questions, they are fundamentally different. Problem solving is often result-oriented and involves questions that feel narrow and less alive. Curiosity, on the other hand, is driven by wonder and its inquiries feel expansive. Joy arises while looking at the world through wondering eyes, not necessarily from deriving an answer.
Curiosity is an innate part of being human. Yet just like other skills or muscles, you need to practice the skill of staying curious or it will atrophy. Imagine being able to walk through your day more like Mary Oliver in “The summer day”.
“Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
Mary Oliver so beautifully captures the childlike ability to turn the mundane into an alive connection with the world. She shows us, that to be curious is to be present to our life.
Feeling like life is running on autopilot or that you are stuck?
This may be boredom. A busy schedule, a change of job or another vacation, might offer a momentary fix but it does not get to the root cause of this feeling. To address this requires looking at the world through the lens of curiosity, a skill many of us have to relearn.
You don’t need to make any drastic changes to reignite curiosity. Begin by getting curious about your life. Starting a sentence with “I wonder…” is an open inquiry and a surefire sign of curiosity.
At first it may feel unnatural, but stick with it. One of the most important components of any practice is repetition. Challenge yourself if need be. Make it a point to start 10 sentences a day with “I wonder…”. Before long the world will start to feel a whole lot more interesting.
To “live like your life depends on it” (my coaching mantra), I believe curiosity is absolutely necessary. You can't be bored and curious at the same time. I feel fortunate to be a coach, since it allows me to be present and curious with each of my clients. It feels vibrant and alive.
It’s time to open your eyes and wonder.
It’s time to get curious.