“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” — Albert Einstein
Have you ever been amazed at the curiosity of a child? Listening for seemingly hours on end to questions of, “What’s that?” and “Why? But Why? but WHY?” I have. And it can be exhausting. But at the same time it makes me wonder, how are they so curious All. The. Time? So I became an observer of my wonderfully curious children. And I realized, that this is the first step to having the curiosity of a child.
Step 1: Become an observer.
Becoming an observer is an essential part of being curious. If you aren’t looking around, noticing your environment, or looking at things from a new perspective, then it’s going to be hard to find anything to be curious about. We need to get in the habit of wondering. Think about a child – your own, maybe a niece or nephew, grandchild, or the child you vaguely saw playing at the park the other day. They are relentless observers. It is usually when I am hoping that my kids don’t realize I’m sneaking a snack when one (or both!) inevitably ask, “Mom, what are you eating? Can I have some?” They notice Everything. They notice the bad word you say under your breath, or the complaints you say casually about a friend. They notice the way you stand when you’re thinking about something, or how you fidget when you’re tired. They notice when you go out of your way to serve a stranger, or when you are doing your best to be a good friend. My kids always know when I’m sad, even when I think I’m hiding it. They are professional observers of everything. So how do we follow suite?
Step 2: Be Intentional.
We can’t just keep going around in our daily drudgery and hope that we will start to notice things more frequently. It won’t happen if you do. It is true that some things might jump out at you and scream, “NOTICE ME!” But not most things. We can create routines and habits in our lives to instill curiosity in our daily routines. That often times means you need to break habits. Making and breaking habits is a blog post all on its own, so I will suffice to say that it is possible and takes time. That’s why we keep persisting (much like a child always persists) in our efforts.
But right now, you can come up with small things you can do to remind yourself to observe. Maybe an alarm in your phone to stop for a few moments thinking about what you’ve accomplished so far. What is holding you back today? How do you feel? What is your environment like? Or you could write on a sticky note and place it on your dashboard in your car to remember you want to be intentional today. You could write something on your bathroom mirror so you start your day with curiosity. Brainstorm and find out things that will work best for you.
So now we are recognizing that we often don’t notice things out of our routine, and we are committed to being intentional in our observations. Awesome. Now what else can we take after children in order to create a state of natural curiosity? After they notice something, they always start talking about it. They don’t know how to have an inner conversation, it’s always out loud. But this will inevitably lead to…
Step 3: Asking Questions.
This can be tough for an adult who wants to maintain the persona of a professional, of a person competent in their field, one who already knows. But asking questions is essential to developing the curiosity of a child, as well as to our personal growth as an individual. Progress is never made in any aspect of life without a question being asked first. Imagine if Thomas Edison didn’t ask how lightning functioned (no electricity), or if Michelangelo didn’t ask what could be painted on a ceiling (no Sistine Chapel). Now think of the following questions that I was asked in the past week by one or both of my children (ages 5 and almost 3), and think about how you would feel if you had this question and needed an answer from another person:
“What does ‘available’ mean?”
“How do your baby teeth fall out?”
“Is she having a baby, or is she just fat?”
“Why does daddy go to work?”
And then just yesterday my daughter asks me, “But mommy, How do you make music?” Good question kid.
What would you feel if you didn’t understand a word someone said in a meeting, or if you needed to ask how a seemingly basic process worked in your field. Would you cover up your questions with statements that say you know all about it even though you have no clue? Or, in front of colleagues, a boss, a spouse, a group of friends, an idol, or whomever it might be, would you chalk up the courage to ask? Feeling vulnerable yet? Good.
Step 4: Be Vulnerable (aka Humble).
It is nearly impossible to ask questions, be curious, and get inspired, unless we are willing to show our vulnerabilities. We can’t think that we know it all and are so awesome at everything we do if we are going to live life creatively. So we need to recognize that we are not perfect. We might be very experienced (or not), we might know a lot of people (or none) in the business, we might have had many successes and failures (or small amounts of both), and no matter which side of the parenthesis you are on, you need to be humble about it. Because there are two sides to pride.
There is the side that shows how you know everything you will ever need to know – Bow down to me thou who art lesser than I in experience and knowledge. (No one wants to work with someone like that.)
And there is the side that says you don’t know anything and you almost gloat over that fact – I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, but feel sorry for me and give me a chance! (No one wants to work with you either.)
So there is a balance. If you have a full bucket of experience, share what you have with others in a way that creates strong relationships instead of strong envy and resentment. If you have an empty bucket, don’t wave it around looking for pity. Hold it with confidence, filling it with your dreams until you have the concrete fulfillment of them. And do everything you can to fill it with what you need to get there. Because you will get there. And don’t be afraid to feel vulnerable, because there is a strength that shows itself when you do. We have a plaque in our home that says, “Asking dumb questions is better than fixing dumb mistakes.” And that is so true.
Step 5: Be Curious and Don’t Stop.
Congratulations! You have set reminders to help you remember to observe out of your routine. You have been intentional, looking for things you can learn and do differently On Purpose. You have mustered up the courage to ask questions, be vulnerable, and be humble about your own circumstances (which I forgot to mention also means not to compare where you are to where someone else might be). So now please don’t stop. Keep going and going and feeding your inner child’s curiosity. Don’t let your adult self build walls around the most important part of your creative process. It will be glorious to see what happens next.
Right now I’m curious about what creates the sweet spot in making bread, between letting it rise not enough and too much. (Did you know you can ruin bread by letting it rise Too much? I didn’t, and I’m trying to learn why that is! I must learn if I am to make any bread I try delicious.) Please share with me what you are curious about in the comments, and then we can work on getting creative together!