Stay Curious

I wrote this one to encourage my girls to cultivate an attitude of intellectual curiosity. To never be done learning. My hope is that they don't wait to be rescued, but instead, rescue themselves.


In college, I earned a degree in Managerial Economics. I also took a jumble of classes in English, math, science and the other usual subjects.  I don't remember any of the content, 20 years later. If my job depended on that knowledge, I would be in trouble indeed.  

Much of what you learn today will slide into irrelevance even as you endeavor to master it. This may seem like a colossal waste of time -- why spend so much energy memorizing and reciting content that is destined for the mental trash bin?  

The reason is that the content of your studies is not necessarily the point of your education. Knowledge can be transient and facts obsolete, but the wisdom that comes from learning critical thinking and the confidence we gain by mastering a subject can help us live happier, more fulfilled and productive lives.  

Sometimes, in the process of learning, we grow frustrated and forget how far we’ve already come -- how much we’ve already learned. We’re all geniuses if you consider our ability to stand upright and walk, to learn languages and conceptualize ideas in writing and speech. Think of all you mastered before you even reached the age of three!  Let the confidence of "I can" grow from the realization that "I already have." You already mastered countless subjects. You can master more.

"The man who doesn't read books has no advantage over the man who doesn't know how to read." - Mark Twain

I'm asking you to have faith in your own limitless ability to learn and grow. Please don’t let the fact that you haven't yet done something stop you from trying to do it. You may not have the capability yet, but you certainly have the capacity!

To live an amazing life, it helps to regard the unknown as more inviting than ominous. To be curious and cultivate the skills of investigation, imagination and problem-solving will give you the best chance of having a bright future.  Let me explain.

The world is changing faster than we can imagine, and the future isn't yet visible. The path ahead only emerges after each new bend in the road, and so we must adapt quickly and confidently to each new challenge. Unlike generations before us, we have no map to follow, no GPS to guide us.  

How do we navigate a landscape that is still under construction, or doesn’t yet exist?  I believe we need to grow along with it; to evolve as it evolves. The fuel for this continuous renewal is our curiosity, our wonder about how things work and why things are the way they are. A questioning mind is the wedge we drive into the oyster’s shell to reveal the pearl waiting to be discovered. The good news is that curiosity is a habit, and a habit is something that can be learned and cultivated.

“Live as if you would die tomorrow. Learn as if you would live forever." - Gandhi

If the TV isn't working, what is your reaction? Do you investigate the problem and hazard a few fixes, or do you immediately call the Customer Service number? Do you have a  genuine interest in what caused the problem, or do you just want it resolved so you can get on with watching your show? What if you decide you want your bedroom painted a different color? Do you take on the job from start to finish, or do you hire someone else to choose the color and prep and paint the walls?

A curious person knows that challenges are not obstacles to be outsourced; they are opportunities for discovery! Fairy tales talk of princesses waiting to be rescued, but the modern world has made damsels in distress of us all, men and women alike. We become dazed and confused the moment the toilet malfunctions or Google goes down.  

You may be skeptical. You may question whether it would have made any difference in your life if you’d been the one to install your ceiling fan. What possible difference would it have made if you’d been the one to change the oil in your car?  Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things if you are the one to tile your own bathroom floor?

Just as with learning algebra or memorizing a part in a play, the specific skill you master may not matter much, but the habit of being curious, challenging yourself and trying new things builds creative confidence. And that is what is life-changing. Anyone can hire their problems away, but a confidence born of action builds self-reliance, and that can’t be bought at any price.  To the self-reliant, a roadblock doesn't mean sit down and wait; it beckons you forward as a call to adventure and learning.

Try not to slip into a passive life. Helplessness is a learned behavior. Don't wait to be rescued. Seize every opportunity to rescue yourself.  As American Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you."

Life is a process of becoming. It begins with a fearless knowing that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. You must know in your core that nothing is impossible if you're curious and willing to do the work.

I wish for you to fall in love with learning and make the attempt to master new skills and knowledge. I wish for you never to be finished exploring what is still unknown to you. Today's mysteries are tomorrow's common knowledge.

I wish this for you and for all those I love. I hope to hear in your voice a note of optimism and a tone of ease and comfort in your own hard-won abilities.   I hope you can trade the fear and trepidation of “I’ve never done that before” for a self-confident, "I’ll give it a go" attitude.  

The canvas of your life can either be the size of a postage stamp -- limited and constrained -- or the length of a city-block mural.  The choice is yours. I hope you choose to fall in love with learning and live bold, brave and big. I wish your life to be a wonderful painting full of new adventures never finished.

Stay curious, rescue yourself, and keep painting!

FURTHER READING

Self-Reliance
By Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mastery
By Robert Greene