“Mommy, why does broccoli grow in little trees?”
At four, Henry probably asks me, on average, 75 questions a day. (Come to think of it, I should actually count one of these days… It might be well over my estimate.) And although it occasionally drives me crazy, his questioning is a testament to the inherent curiosity every single one of us are born with: that desire to engage with the world and the sheer joy found in learning something new.
For many of us, that level of curiosity is all but lost somewhere between nursery school and adulthood, and by the time we become a responsible member of society we’re more concerned with the tangible results of learning something (ie going to a college class so we can pass the exam and get a job after graduation) and focus on how we can do it in the most efficient way. Which, in my own experience, can suck the inherent joy out of the whole process.
And when we head along this path of productivity, we miss some things. The incredible insights gained from reading books that interest us, the way our worlds expand when we take time to learn about someone’s life that looks really different from our own, the joy of mastering a new skill even if it has nothing to do with our day job.
Oscar Winning producer, Brian Grazer, believes curiosity is so powerful that he wrote a book on the subject, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. In a recent interview about the book, he advised:
Ask real, genuine, thoughtful questions. If you keep doing that and start creating a constellation of dots in the world you’re living in, they’ll connect and change your life. They’ll offer you opportunities you never thought existed. They’ll help you find purpose. They’ll increase your level of knowledge. They’ll improve your social life, your dating life, your relationship with your kids. All of those things will happen.
Ready to bring a little more curiosity into your day-to-day? Read on for 3 ways I’m seeking to be more curious in my own life…
1 – Approach challenges with a beginner’s mind.
The phrase “beginner’s mind” comes from Zen Buddhism, and it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, just as a beginner would.
Albert Einstein famously said:
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
Einstein approached problems with an open mind, one that didn’t let preconceived notions get in the way of seeing or doing something in a completely new way.
How to cultivate a beginner’s mind? Get outside your comfort zone and expose yourself to areas of life where you wouldn’t consider yourself an expert. If you usually read nonfiction, pickup a great novel and immerse yourself in beautiful writing. If your date nights usually include drinks and dinner, why not hit up a live show or gallery exhibit to shake things up. As someone who loves a routine, I’ve found that simply doing something different in all facets of life never fails to open my mind to a new point of view.
2 – Take time to ask questions.
The other day, I got a massage from a tiny woman named Jenny at the not-at-all-fancy massage spot in our neighborhood. Jenny is from Thailand and doesn’t speak great English, and though I’m usually one who loves some peace and quiet during my massage, something about her piqued my curiosity.
As I asked questions about her life, these are just a few of the things I learned about Jenny: she speaks fluent German, is a certified yoga instructor, and went all the way through culinary school. After moving to the US, she ran a popular Thai restaurant to support her and her young daughter, where people came from miles around for her shrimp pad thai and mango sticky rice. She dcided to enroll in massage school at night, because she’d always been fascinated with the body’s structure and the healing power of therapeutic massage. When I expressed my admiration at her many talents, she quickly corrected me and said:
We all have great talent living within us, but we have to be engaged with the world and curious enough to discover and awaken it.
Jenny inspired me more than she’ll ever know, and that encounter was a vivid reminder of how much fun it is to discover someone’s story, especially when it comes as a surprise. And everyone has a story to tell.
On that note, one of my current goals is to be a better listener, and much of that comes from asking good questions and learning to listen with an open mind. I’m working on a post for next week about how to ask better questions, so comment below if you have any tips!
image by claire huntsberger
3 – Be a disruptor.
In case you haven’t noticed, the world we live in is changing rapidly. Especially working in the world of digital publishing, the only sure thing about my industry is that no one knows exactly what the future holds. What worked for me at one point in my career may not work in the future, and it’s up to me, as Einstein also said, to “never stop questioning” and always consider new ideas and new ways to create.
Approaching your work or creative passion with curiosity allows you to “disrupt” the status quo and innovate. As Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech at Stanford, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” When we admit that we don’t know it all and choose to engage with the world in a deeper way, life feels like a wild adventure, and suddenly success means achieving far more than we may have even dared to dream.