Personal Development

Living on Purpose: Insatiable Curiosity

In Habitually Living on Purpose, I mentioned how I am focusing on habits this year in an attempt to live according to my Life on Purpose statement: My Life on Purpose is a joyful life of freedom, continuous learning, encouraged and supported creativity, insatiable curiosity, and prolific creation, driven by passion and a desire for excellence, powered by a healthy body and soul.

Previously, I wrote about working on habits to help me work on the “powered by a healthy body” aspect of my purpose statement, then switched to focus on the “continuous learning” part. Today I’ll talk about living a life of “insatiable curiosity.”

Years ago, at my last day job, I attended a corporate event on creative thinking. At the time, I was working on a project that was late. I was in crunch, and I was working long hours. I figured taking off a couple of hours to see a famous author talk about how to be creative wasn’t going to make a major difference to the project’s timeline, and this was one of those once-in-a-blue-moon events, paid for by the company, so I went.

I later found out from my project lead that my producer at the time was unhappy with that decision. He thought I should have been spending that time working on the late project.

To this day, I do not regret having gone to the event anyway.

Michael J. Gelb was the featured speaker. He’s the author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, a copy of which was given out to each attendee of the event. Part of the talk mentioned a learning process that incorporated failure, which I wrote about when I was trying to learn how to shoot a basketball through a hoop after years of not playing.

Anyway, I’m rereading the book all these years later because one of the “seven steps to genius every day” is part of my life on purpose statement. Gelb says that Leonardo da Vinci was insatiably curious, and so curiosit√† is one of the seven da Vincian principles of the book.

Leonardo’s inquisitiveness was not limited to his formal studies; it informed and enhanced his daily experience of the world around him.

One of the exercises to help you cultivate an open, questing frame of mind is to keep a journal. Leonardo carried one with him everywhere, and he would write down all manner of notes on any topic, usually all on the same page. He meant to organize them later.

Two years after I met Gelb and had a chance to talk to him, I finally started my own journal. I took a regular composition notebook, and on the front I wrote “Da Vinci Curiosit√†.”

My journal, inspired by Michael Gelb's book

Unfortunately, I don’t write it in it daily. If anything, I write in it once a month, although never on purpose. It’s not a real habit, but in an effort to cultivate my curiosity, it might be the next one I try to instill.

My early posts are fascinating to reread (at least for me). I can see plenty of notes from books I was reading, such as Life On Purpose: Six Passages to an Inspired Life. In fact, this notebook is where I kept plenty of my thoughts about the book and where I wrote down my answers to the questions and worked out the exercises.

On November 9, 2008, I was jotting down some notes in preparation for a week-long vacation in Iowa, which I would spend with friends I haven’t seen in some time. My intention was to use this time to get away from my usual environment so I could think hard about my future. I wrote three goals for that trip:

  • figure out how to quit job
  • figure out business plan
  • figure out what I want out of life

What just amazed me was that November 9, 2009, exactly a year after I wrote those notes, was the day I had finally made the decision to quit my job. It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance, almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.

Now, as I said, I don’t use it daily or keep a regular journaling schedule, but perhaps I should make it a regular habit. Instead of dumping all of my thoughts on a semi-monthly basis, perhaps it would be more beneficial to write weekly or even daily.

Normally, I write to get my thoughts collected. What I usually do is reread at least the last few entries to give me some more context, and then I write updates on the past notes while recording recent events and developments. It’s like having a mini-retreat for myself, giving myself a place to step back and see how things are going in the grand scheme of things, or even analyze some aspect in minutiae.

I have to make time for it, which can be difficult to do when there are a billion other things to do, so I usually go for more than a month between entries. If I make it a regular habit, however, time is scheduled for it by default.

One thing I wanted to do was start documenting things I come across that I want to learn more about. For instance, if I’m reading a book and there’s a word I don’t recognize, I normally try to get the context from the rest of the sentence. Recently I’ve started looking up words I don’t know as I came across them, and it makes all the difference.

The great thing is that I am not limited to using just this notebook. I could blog, tweet, post on Google+ or Facebook, and suddenly my insatiable curiosity becomes a social event, inviting other people to help in the search for more knowledge.

Even if a small notebook isn’t convenient to carry around, my cell phone has an app called “Tape-a-talk” which I like to use when I’m on my daily walks and an idea or thought comes to me. I hit the record button and start talking, and later when I’m at my desk, I can listen to the recordings to make action items out of. What if I used it more often to ask myself questions about the nature of the world? “Note to self: Why can’t you look directly at a solar eclipse?” “Note to self: Where can I find a clean, reasonably priced motel room?” “Note to self: I saw some fantastic, majestic trees today. Ask the sheriff what they are called.” Stuff like that.

When you’re a child, you are constantly trying to learn about your world and how to move through it. When you get older, it’s common to “put away childish things” and stop looking at the world with a child-like wonder. \

Who has time to figure out how or why things work? You’re too busy! We have so much information available to us that it’s easy to want to shut off the spout. I know that I could get sucked into Wikipedia if I start clicking links within an article, so I make a conscious effort not to in order to get productive work done, but I’ve also unwittingly stifled my curiosity.

Also, people don’t like you being so nosy, and you can get into a lot of trouble. After all, curiosity killed the cat.

But as my friend likes to say in response to that line, “But satisfaction brought it back.”

Six years after attending that talk by Gelb, I’m still finding inspiration from it. Imagine if I would have spent those two hours merely doing more crunch work. In satisfying my curiosity about what the presentation on creative thinking would be about, my life is better for it.