Another official Year of Living Curiously is coming to an end. It has been an adventure that has taken me down the street and around the world—from gun stores to strip clubs, from inside crematoriums to inside volcanoes, from board rooms to pot shops, from Wiccan rituals to Voodoo readings, from exotic animal clinics to remote bat caves, from typhoon damaged to volcanic damaged islands, and from alligator-filled backyard bayous to oxen-plowed front yard rice paddies. I have loved being inspired by remarkable people hidden behind seemingly ordinary lives.
Living curiously has created inspiring adventures and allowed me to find mystique in the mundane of daily life. It has taught me beneficial new angles of understanding gained by judging compassionately. It has revealed powerful insights that give the word reward its multitude of meanings in life and in work. It will do the same for you.
I learned a lot—even more than these lessons.
These are my 20 favorites:
You can find the mystique in the mundane.
Pack curiosity wherever you go and prepare to be amazed. Mystique and mystery are available to you at your nearest strip mall and at the checkout line at the local pharmacy (where you might meet a petite pharmacy tech back from guarding an infamous al Qaeda prisoner in Afghanistan and now dispensing your anti-malaria pills).
Talking to strangers is worth the risk.
You may love that a conversation with a stranger in the Cleveland airport leads to her surprising you in the Lima airport. You may get into the stranger’s car and be taken to the stranger’s childhood home. There she may dazzle you with an exotically delightful Peruvian meal surrounded by uncountable Catholic figurines. This experience could also inform your tastebuds that they do not appreciate the taste of grilled guinea pig.
You could see that a remote, self-sufficient culture (like rural Louisiana) may not benefit from the same policies as a highly populated, interdependent culture (like New York City). A newer, independent culture (like the United States) may not benefit from the same policies as a culture that has been tribal for centuries (like the middle east).
The remnants of best and worst intentions (foreign aid, donated military equipment, the debris of peace-keeping efforts, resource grabs, etc.) are often hard to distinguish from one another.
If you’re curious, ask.
Follow your curiosity. When I have had a choice between following my curiosity and looking stupid, following my curiosity and offending someone, or allowing fear to stop me from following my curiosity, here is what I’ve found: I have never regretted choosing curiosity over looking smart; I have sometimes regretted allowing my curiosity to accidentally offend someone; and I have always regretted allowing fear to squash my curiosity.
I’m not suggesting that you should offend someone to satisfy your curiosity, but if asking out of curiosity is not appreciated, do not give up. You’ll often find that there’s a better way or a better time to ask.
You could die.
You may think you can avoid the fate of death if you ignore it or work hard to avoid it. Perhaps I was in avoidance mode because I didn’t really think about filling out advanced directives and updating my will until we were finalizing our itinerary for Iceland. Before we left to plunge 500 feet into a volcano and climb on our bellies into a remote (and collapsible) ice cave, we did at least start the whole end-of-life planning process. We got a bit busy before the trip and didn’t finish, but now we have.
We all define adventure differently. For some, it is driving through a new part of town with the doors unlocked. For others, it is base jumping off a mountain. All of these could kill you…as could unfortunate genetics or bad luck catching you before adventure does.
The right balance of experiencing versus documenting is hard to achieve.
You could miss most of the Harry Potter exhibit and ride because you were trying to document instead of enjoy. To make matters worse, your driver’s license could cover the lens to your iPhone camera and you could miss both experiencing and documenting the sexy, holographic goblins at Gringotts. Severe motion sickness from viewing the entire experience from behind your camera could be your reward.
Experiencing versus documenting…this is a tough one. It’s true that when we document we miss experiencing, but it’s also true that documenting creates opportunities to create and retrieve new and different memories. Sharing and connecting with friends is so much more fun with pics and vids. Hmm.
You don’t have to be rich to have adventure.
It’s good to be aware of and curious about what having certain privileges affords, but living curiously is a mindset that doesn’t come with a price tag. This fact makes the adventurous life that comes from living curiously accessible to everyone and from everywhere.
Being surprised is usually worth the cost of being wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I am often wrong. Seldom do I realize it. How would I know when I feel so right? Because of this, and the fact that I have rarely been awarded for being wrong, I’m not used to recognizing and acknowledging the ‘wrong’ feeling. The main reward for being wrong is being surprised. This can be bad. It’s usually good.
I was surprised to learn that fuzzy monkeys can be assholes and thieves, and sucky leeches are kind of cute.
A good plan involves getting lost.
If you didn’t get lost, you could have missed out on finding that amazing restaurant, meeting those delightful hitchhikers, getting that personal tour, and understanding the extent of silent poverty hidden beside so much glamour.
Good ideas are hard to define…and harder to execute.
Living curiously is an excellent idea generator. Still, many good ideas seem so obvious that they’re not obvious. Many of the good ideas I have had I either forgot when I woke up, found someone else beat me to it, or I didn’t take the time to examine the theory that I may have stumbled upon a good idea. Thankfully, a few good ideas slithered through.
Once good ideas are defined, executing on them is harder. Living curiously helps by questioning pithy platitudes like, “Never quit” or “It was meant to be” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and replacing those with one snarky acronym that could stand in for a sincerely curious question: WTF?
Curiously asking and answering the question, WTF, can help spot, define, and take action on new ideas.
Humans are strange, cool creatures…who ultimately want the same things.
No matter where you go and who you meet, we all want similar stuff. Once we get our basic needs met, we all want to matter. Remembering this about people and applying curiosity to how you can help them achieve it reveals answers to profound problems.
Thinking preposterously may lead to solving the impossible.
Preposterous ideas are underrated. This is particularly true when we don’t elevate curiosity ahead of criticism, judgment, fear, and complacency.
For example, giving homeless people homes without worrying about teaching them a lesson or having them somehow “earn it” is crazy talk. It has, however, reduced homelessness. Just ask Lloyd Pendleton.
The way that’s best for us is not necessarily best for them.
You will see that it’s very hard to decide what is best for people based on what is best for us. Trying to think like others is not as helpful as curiously thinking what they are thinking. It sounds the same. It is not.
It’s hard to know.
Knowing means choosing, and rarely is there only one right answer. When faced with choice A or B there are many hidden choices lodged between those two seemingly lone choices. These are the options that curiosity reveals. Elevating curiosity makes not knowing easier. It also makes decision making smarter.
Pride is weird, but we all need some.
What makes us prideful is tied to our need to matter.
For example, the Confederate flag stood for bad, racist stuff. It also stood for Southern pride. Many find the two symbols inseparable. Many others do not. It makes me curious if it’s ever safe to take away one chunk of pride without replacing it with another.
Morality and legality are not universal.
In Iceland we ate a hotdog. When we asked why it tasted so different from hotdogs back home, the reply made us kind of gag. “I don’t know. It’s pretty normal stuff…sheep, pig, horse.”
In the Philippines we were able to go places with our driver that other drivers could not go. Our driver knew someone in the government that allowed him to pay the police for a special police license plate that made it safe to explore places that would be otherwise be dangerous. We didn’t complain.
Eating food will connect you…the weirder the better.
You will make countless new friends from around the world because you’ll eat their unusual, indigenous food. They won’t believe the “crazy lady” who will eat a slimy wood worm, a partially developed duck embryo egg, and a chunk of putrid and rotted shark (among other delicacies). This will lead to numerous curious conversations, invitations to adventures…and free cocktails!
Transient relationships can change your life.
Staying in guesthouses is a great way to meet people with whom you can share homemade moonshine and learn secrets of local politics that could have international implications. You will stay out late until it is early and laugh until your stomach hurts. You will or will not become Facebook friends, but you will never forget those nights.
You can probably do it.
When you see your friends living curiously, it is something they have chosen to do. You can do it too. One day will be the last chance you have to live curiously. From this day to that day can be chosen for you or designed by you. Curiosity is your best design tool.
All amazements become mundane if you’re not careful…and even if you are.
The first golden Buddha or majestic cathedral that you feast your eyeballs on will blow your mind. The first breath of fresh pine needles on the muddy trail will awaken your nostrils. The first few times you hear howler monkeys will excite and delight you. The amazing choices at the exotic grocery store will confuse and entice you. Living curiously will help prevent the mystical from becoming mundane just as it will help you find the mystique in the mundane.
Here’s a brown-drink toast to elevating curiosity and living curiously. Do you want to live more curiously?
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The book, Living Curiously: How to Use Curiosity to Be Remarkable and Do Good Stuff is launching Spring, 2016. There will be special announcements and offers to all Tribe of the Curious members. Join if you’re curious.
This is what the book & speaking bosses came up with. What do you think?
Becki works with people who want to learn how to use curiosity strategically to make better decisions, generate new ideas, and live more fulfilling and adventurous lives.