I've always been deeply, fundamentally curious about the world.
As a kid, I remember that my most fundamental idea of playing - even my earliest memories - were based entirely on curiosity. I've always had a burning desire to discover and understand new things.
I was continually fascinated by new places- especially hidden or difficult-to-access places.
New tools or appliances held huge interest for me... how did they work? What was inside the box? Could it be improved upon?
More than once, my mother would come home to find the phone disassembled, or the toaster not-quite-working because I couldn't figure out how to get all the springs back in the right position after I'd secretly disassembled it.
But even despite the central role that curiosity played in my life...
I never understood its significance.
It felt more like a burning desire, than an intention.
I was at its mercy, like a cat who can't stop batting at the exposed electrical wires dangling from the wall... even though it might lose a life or two in the process.
So, how has Curiosity improved my life?
The Basic Benefits of Being Curious
Looking back, I can see some huge benefits of being deeply curious...
It was fun
I was simply never bored, there was always something to discover.
It was exciting to discover new things, and understand new things. Somehow, I got a huge emotional reward for every new discovery. It was addictive.
It led me to learn new things
When my mother was too busy to read me The Hobbit, I couldn't bear not knowing what was next in the story, and I absolutely had to learn reading, so I could keep going into this marvelous story.
I'll tell you, it wasn't the easiest book to try to learn reading from, but at 5 years old I had zero perspective on that... and curiosity drove me all the way through to the end of the book.
Certainly I didn't understand it all - maybe 30% comprehension of the story at most - and I even missed essential plot points that I didn't discover until years later ( like, I didn't know that a Starling was a bird ) ... but I was forever changed in the respect and fascination I had for good books.
When my dad brought home a computer, I had to learn how to program it, and make it do cool things. I loved the idea that here was a box, with a million hidden mysteries inside. It was a puzzle I had to solve.
My dad didn't know much programming, so I taught myself BASIC, and later Pascal, and then C and C++. By high school, I was proficient enough that my Computers teacher asked me to teach the class for 6 months, which was brilliant.
It helped me conquer some of my fears
Especially as a young child, I was quite scared of heights, but overwhelming curiosity had me climbing tall trees and clamoring about on rooftops. I just had to know what was up there. These secret, inaccessible, unexplored places were special to me, because I could know things about them that no one else did.
I was also strongly claustrophobic... but had to know what was in the attic, or in any cave I could find.
I was also afraid of getting lost... but curiosity drove me to get lost many times in my home town, walking through forests, or following a stream, until I couldn't find my way home. Eventually I'd have to ask some kind stranger to drive me back to my town.
I'm aware now that those 3 fears;
- Acrophobia ( fear of heights )
- Claustrophobia ( fear of small spaces )
- Mazeophobia ( fear of getting lost )
... are far better tempered.
Even in my adult life, curiosity has driven me to challenge other fears-
Fear of rejection, Stage fright, Fear of public speaking, Fear of getting lost, Fear of failure, and more.
But, these things - as valuable as they were - were just the beginning.
The Deeper and More Significant Benefits of Being Curious
Here's the profound realization, that led me to write this article.
When I stop and reflect on my life and where curiosity has taken me, I notice something immensely powerful happening.
Every single thing I've ever been curious about- and allowed myself to follow that curiosity, has been "right" for me. It has benefited my life and grown me in fundamental ways that are so significant now, I cannot imagine my life without them.
The best way I can describe this is-
Curiosity is the voice of your core values, calling your attention to what's important.
Many times, I've felt curious about things that I then chose to ignore. I struggled with perfectionism, and thought I would suck embarrassingly- or I was unwilling to fail, or it seemed to challenging or too expensive an investment in time and money.
Eventually, I decided "I was ready." And, opened the door to something new to my world, that my curiosity has been bugging me about for ages.
And my life was forever changed.
One of the best examples for me here is learning dance. I've always found dance amazing- the degree of physical control, power, beauty that a high level dancer has is breathtaking.
The ability to take music, and turn it into something completely different.
The ability to be that present, and connect with the music, yourself, your own body, the floor, the audience, your dance partner, the other dancers in the performance... these abilities looked like magic.
My perception was that there was absolutely no way these things could be learned, or that I could benefit from working towards them.
How wrong I was.
Among the areas in my life that I've invested time, attention and money, dance has been by far one of the most rewarding ever. Second, only, maybe to psychology and self-development.
Here's the thing though.
What if I had never opened that door?
What if I had never decided... "I'm ready"... ?
Reflecting on this is what's giving me so much clarity on the importance of curiosity in life, and in the importance of following it.
When you feel-
"I wonder...", or
"Wow, that's interesting...", or
"I've always wanted to learn X..."
Don't let anything hold you back.
Those are your deepest core values speaking.
Follow that impulse.
Where Curiosity has Taken Me
Today's personal reflection helped me see this clearly.
Here's where curiosity has taken me so far in my life, and some of the benefits I've gotten from following it...
- Learning reading
- Learning to program computers ( Became the foundation of my career, and most of my business startups )
- Learning to teach
- Learning to start a business ( I've started 36 so far )
- Studying psychology, and self-development ( Led to founding BROJO )
- Japanese culture, learning basic conversation skills, cooking skills, and starting a Japanese taiko drum performing group ( I performed 500+ times, including at the Rugby World Cup )
- Meditation, and Vipassana
- Writing, and creating videos, like this blog
- Dance, which as an awkward intellectual geeky type dude, was hugely disconcerting. I started with zero body sense, and the benefits I have gotten here are astonishing.
- Travel, to Russia, Europe, and New Zealand, which showed me that culture has a huge impact on your day-to-day enjoyment of life, and how you think, and feel
- Scuba diving in Mexico ( Mind-blowing experience )
- Bodybuilding and nutrition
- Dating, relationships, love and sex ( Lots of memorable, wonderful experiences )
On reflection, here are some things I'm curious about that I haven't really opened the door to exploring.
- Quantum physics, and the nature of the universe
- Large scale public exposure, like speaking at major conferences
- Building and running large worldwide organizations
- Writing a book
- Writing fiction novels
- Building large open source projects
- Learning to fly
- Chef-level cooking
- Virtual reality, and augmented reality
I'll have to keep thinking, but that's a pretty good start.
A Reflection Exercise for You
Let's do an exercise.
Grab a sheet of paper, and make a list of anything you've ever been curious about. Anything at all, this is just for you.
List them all.
Now, next to each, write a number from 1 to 5.
1 means "mildly curious" and 5 means "incredibly curious."
Sort your list, with the 5's at the top.
Which ones have you been ignoring, and why?
Which ones should you be investing more time in?
What are the core values behind each of these, that drive them into your awareness?
I want you to keep that list handy, and keep updating it when you discover new things you're curious about.
Pick one, and begin pursuing it. Give yourself time to adjust- clearly, you were holding back for some reason, most likely a fear- don't expect that fear to suddenly disappear.
Instead, commit and give yourself some months to figure out what exactly it is that investing in this can give you.
If you'd asked me at the beginning of my dance journey, "what will you get from this?" I could not have answered you. Now I can list at least 50 major things.
Nice work, you have your map.
Now follow it.
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