Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “If a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow [her child] with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” Not knowledge, not skill–but curiosity!
Yet curiosity is something we already have from the moment we arrive in the world. It’s the desire to reveal something more–or something new–that propels us to grow. The toddler will try everything and anything–no matter the consequences (broken lamps? burned fingers? Most of us, along with our kids, have done it all!).
But too often, we come to a place where we just accept what we think we’ve learned–or what we see in front of us–as the established, unmovable truth: It’s always been (or been done) this way, and so it IS. The thing is, life is never stagnant, and even “truths” are nuanced and sometimes subjective. That’s why we need to question things more. Stretch our imaginations in new ways. Curiosity can help to move us from where we are now to our next level of becoming. As Karen Berg said, “We are born to grow and manifest all that we are meant to do.” And curiosity is part of what can make that possible!
In his book Radical Curiosity, Seth Goldenberg discusses how part of being deeply curious is daring enough to deconstruct what we already know so that we can build it anew. The famous jazz legend Miles Davis deconstructed many different musical genres to create his own trademark sound. Elon Musk deconstructed the current understanding of physics to create a new kind of car battery. Sometimes we have to undo (or unlearn or unthink) the old ways before we can build something newer and better. Inherent in curiosity is the willingness to replace what is with what might be.
And that’s how we can use curiosity to help us with our inner growth as well. Albert Einstein said that if he were given exactly one hour to solve a problem with his life on the line, he’d spend the first 55 minutes devising the right question to ask. “Once I had the right question,” he said, “I could easily answer it in five minutes.” But how do we get to those questions that will unlock the most helpful answers for us?
The “right” question is the one that guides us to a clearer view of our own motivations, needs, and desires.For instance, if there’s an area in your life that feels stuck or off, ask yourself where the root cause lies. Be specific, as in, Why am I ignoring so-and-so and avoiding calling them back? You may find that it’s not about them at all; rather, it’s about your need to protect your time. Or maybe it IS about this person–perhaps they tend towards negativity, and you are an empath who absorbs it all. By “deconstructing” what’s happening, we begin to clear space for new ways of doing and being.
The same goes for allowing curiosity to keep us from making assumptions about others. David Foster Wallace tells the story of a fumbling, seemingly inept bank teller who was holding up a line of impatient customers. Some were hedging on anger when, quietly, the manager came out and apologized to those waiting. He explained that this teller had just learned that her entire family had been in a terrible auto accident and were being rushed to the hospital. The point? Instead of jumping to a conclusion when we don’t know why someone says or does something, we can call on our curiosity to help us stop and reframe our perspective. Instead of feeding our assumptions, we can ask, What is going on here that I’m not aware of? Then, even if we’re not in a position to find out, we’ve created space for the benefit of the doubt.
Curiosity is transformative. It calls us to be free, to take risks, to open ourselves and our minds to the fresh air of possibility. Rav Berg mused that too many people fall into dull routines: they eat the same breakfast, take the same routes to work, go to the same lunch spot, etc…. which he said was like “living the same day for 70 years.” Instead, he encouraged us to keep moving, growing, and exploring, so that we might “live one day as 70 years.” By his count, by staying curious and active, we can stretch our days and live well in our thousands, right?
This week, look beyond what you think you know. And don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo!
I remember going out for daily jogs during a stay in Waikiki some years back. Because everything felt so fresh and exciting, I found myself changing up my route–wondering what I might discover along that bend or down that new stretch of shoreline. One day, the beach was crowded with a surfing competition underway. So I veered from the commotion and headed down a quiet street, where I happened upon some locals who were running together. My curiosity led me to follow them… and before long, I was standing at the base of Diamond Head, a picturesque volcano that’s been dormant for around 150,000 years! I had JUST been reading about that place and had hoped to get there. And remarkably, thanks to my curiosity, there I was!
Some say that curiosity is child’s play–that we need to grow out of it and be “adults.” Well, I’m here to say the opposite: we need to grow into our curiosity! In doing so, we’ll help unlock our greatest potential. There’s a magic that happens when we allow ourselves to question more… wonder more… play more. Dare more. We can take the back roads and leave our assumptions by the wayside.
So instead of asking, What should I do today? ask, What is POSSIBLE for me today?
And from there, let your fairy godmother get to work!
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